The Origins of Rice Agriculture: Recent Progress in East Asia
Crawford, Gary W., Shen, Chen, Antiquity
Knowledge of rice domestication and its archaeological context has been increasing explosively of late. Nearly 20 years ago rice from the Hemudu and Luojiajiao sites [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] indicated that rice domestication likely began before 5000 BC (Crawford 1992; Liu 1992; Yan 1990). By the late 1980s news of rice from the south-central China Pengtousham site a thousand years older than Hemudu begum to circulate (Bellwood et al. 1992; Hunan 1990; Pei 1989). Undocumented news of silvas having a median date of 11,500 BP with domesticated rice has recently made the rounds (Normile 1997). In addition, the first domesticated rice in Southeast Asia, once thought to be to be older than the first rice in China, is not as old as once thought (Glover & Higham 1996: 422; Higham 1995). Finally, wild rice (Oryza rufipogon) was reported to be growing in the Yangzi valley, well outside its purported original range, making domestication there plausible (Yan 1989; 1990; 1997). Significant progress continued to be made in the 1990s and unlike research on other major crops, the literature is generally not accessible to western scholars, with some exceptions (Ahn 1993; Crawford 1992; Glover & Higham 1996; Higham 1995; MacNeish et al. 1997; Underhill 1997).
The 2nd International Academic Conference on Agricultural Archaeology (IACAA) convened in Nanchang, China in October, 1997 to assess the new archaeological, biological and ethnohistoric information pertaining to the evolution, spread, and production of rice in East Asia. Among the nearly 70 papers presented at the Nanchang conference were half a dozen on phytoliths, a similar number on the botany and evolution of rice, while the remainder covered a wide range of archaeological and historic topics related to rice. Additionally, preceding the conference was the publication of an edited volume on the origin and differentiation of Chinese cultivated rice (Wang & Sun 1996). The 36 chapters deal primarily with new archaeological or archaeobotanical data (seven papers); anatomical and morphological studies (five papers); and genetic research (17 papers). Many of the chapters also explore taxonomic issues. In this essay we update the current status of our knowledge of the origins of rice agriculture based on highlights of the conference and in the context of the recently published record. We focus on two themes: the new archaeobotanical evidence for rice agricultural origins in East Asia and identifying and understanding the role of the wild ancestors of domesticated rice.
New archaeological evidence
The number of sites from which rice remains have been reported from all periods in China vary from between 110 and 140, depending on the author (Tang et al. 1993; Wei 1995; You & Zheng 1995). These sites are predominantly younger than 5000 BC. About half are in the middle Yangzi valley while the remainder are distributed from south China to the lower Yangzi, as well as a few from the Huanghe (Yellow River) valley. The middle Yangzi valley comprises the Yangzi River and its main tributaries between the western end of the Three Gorges and the mouth of Lake Poyang (Poyang Hu) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].
After 4000 BC the Middle Neolithic Daxi culture dominates the Middle Yangzi (TABLE 1 and [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]). Early Neolithic predecessors of Daxi indicate a complex developmental history (An 1994; He 1989; Lin 1990; Lin & Hu 1993; Meng 1993). To the north of Daxi is the Lijiacun Complex dating from 6000-7000 BC. To the south in Hunan province the earliest Neolithic site is reportedly Yuchanyan (9000-8000 b.c.) (Yah 1997). These Early Neolithic populations appear to have been using rice, but how early its use began, when it became domesticated, and under what circumstances are issues under investigation.
Table 1. Chronology of Early Neolithic in the Middle Yangzi Valley, based on calibrated years BC Xiajiang Area Dongting-Hu Area 2000 3000 Daxi Daxi 4000 Lower Tangjiagang Complex(? …