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Phytoliths and rice: from wet to dry and back again in the Neolithic Lower Yangtze

Weisskopf, A; Qin, L; Ding, J; Ding, P; Sun, G; Fuller, D; (2015) Phytoliths and rice: from wet to dry and back again in the Neolithic Lower Yangtze. Antiquity , 89 (347) pp. 1051-1063. 10.15184/aqy.2015.94. Green open access

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Abstract

More than half of the world’s population today relies on rice as its main staple food, and the expansion of rice farming has had a major impact on Asian environments. The trajectories from wild to cultivated to domesticated rice and the development of more intensive arable systems, provided a basis for the development of social complexity in China, mainland Southeast Asia and parts of India (Glover and Higham 1996; Fuller and Qin 2009; 2010). The spread of wet rice agriculture has also been linked to methane expansion and global warming (Ruddiman et al. 2008; Ruddiman 2013; Fuller et al. 2011). Distinguishing between wet and dry farmed rice in archaeological contexts is key to understanding developing rice systems and their role in both socioeconomic change and environmental impacts. One method of determining changes in arable system is to analyse ecological community groupings in the weed assemblages, which has long been applied in Europe (e.g. Jones 1995; Charles et al. 2003), and more recently to rice cultivation (Fuller & Qin 2009; Weisskopf et al. 2014). In the present contribution we present a new method and illustrate it by application to sites from a sequence in the Lower Yangtze region of China. In this paper we use differing ratios of phytolith morphotypes that are divided into those that are genetically predisposed to produce silica bodies in grasses (fixed) and those morphotypes that are formed only when there is sufficient uptake of water (sensitive). Madella et al. (2009) developed this model using ratios of short to long cell phytoliths from the leaves of grasses from the Triticaceae family to understand winter cereal irrigation (of wheat or barley) in arid zones in the Near East. Jenkins et al. (2011) expanded this, also using Triticaceae, with experimental work in Jordan to further interpret Near Eastern water management. Here, this model is taken a step further and, using ratios of fixed and sensitive cells from all available Poaceae in the phytolith assemblages, applied to ethnographic rice field samples from India and Chinese archaeological sites that provide a sequence of change from ca. 5000 BC to 2300 BC.

Type: Article
Title: Phytoliths and rice: from wet to dry and back again in the Neolithic Lower Yangtze
Location: UK
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2015.94
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2015.94
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2015.
Keywords: China; Neolithic; cultivation; archaeobotany; irrigation; ecology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1462908
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