Pre-agricultural plant management in the uplands of the central Zagros: the archaeobotanical evidence from Sheikh-e Abad
Whitlam, J, Bogaard, A, Matthews, R, Matthews, W, Mohammadifar, Y, Ilkhani, H, Charles, M
Vegetation History and Archaeobotany
© 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Prior to the emergence of agriculture in southwest Asia, increasingly sedentary human communities were experimenting with a diverse range of wild plants over a prolonged period. In some cases, this involved the cultivation of taxa that would go on to be domesticated and form the foundation of future agricultural economies. However, many forms of plant use did not follow this trajectory, and in multiple places farming was only taken up later as an established ‘package’ of crops and management practices. In this paper, we present new archaeobotanical evidence from the Early Neolithic site of Sheikh-e Abad in the central Zagros mountains of western Iran. Sheikh-e Abad is unique in being the only settlement known to date within southwest Asia that lies at an altitude above 1,000 m and which has occupation spanning the agricultural transition (9800–7600 bc). Thus, it provides a rare opportunity to examine pre-agricultural plant management strategies in an upland zone. Our analyses of the plant remains from Sheikh-e Abad suggest that from its earliest occupation the site’s inhabitants were ‘auditioning’ a group of locally available wild grasses, which ultimately were never domesticated. We discuss the possible reasons for this from a socio-ecological perspective, considering both the biology and ecology of the plant species in question, as well as the ways in which they were potentially managed.