Locating agricultural origins in Mexico and Italy

I know that domestication is not an event, but a process. I know that most crops and livestock were probably domesticated more than once, in more than one area. I know all this, but I’m still a sucker for papers that come up with specific times and places for the origin of agriculture. Papers such as Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal and Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín‘s in the latest GRACE:

Sympatric distribution of the putative wild ancestral populations of maize, beans and squash indicate the extreme northwest Balsas-Jalisco region as a possible locus of domestication.

The paper is a review. It synthesizes a host of paleoecological, archaeobotanical and molecular data. Meanwhile, another paper, this time in the Journal of Archaeological Science, applies matrix mathematics to a somewhat different, though related, problem: the arrival of wheat in Italy. The authors looked at a selection of old emmer landraces from all around Italy stored in the German and ICARDA genebanks.1 They developed a matrix of genetic distances among these based on microsatellite data. They then calculated matrices of geographical distances among the landraces based on different putative places of arrival of the crop around the coast of Italy. The two matrices showed the closest correlations for arrival sites located in northern Puglia, the heel of Italy. That corresponds with where the earliest Neolithic sites are found.

Now, I wonder, when will someone apply this method to maize, beans and squash molecular data and test mathematically Zizumbo-Villarreal and Colunga-GarcíaMarín more “qualitative” inferences?

  1. The question of why they did not obtain material from an Italian genebank is one that I am loath to explore, for fear of what I might find. []

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