Millet and Pseudocereals: New Insights into Archaeobotany, Plant Domestication and Global Foodways

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Farming Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 November 2023) | Viewed by 18585

Special Issue Editors

Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA
Interests: archaeobotany; isotope study; plant domestication; archaeology of food; millet

E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Bioarchaeology Research Centre of Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
2. Lithuanian History Institute, Vilnius, Lithuania
Interests: central Asia; archaeology; archaeobotany; China prehistory; food history, preparation technology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last two decades, plant sciences, and archaeobotanical investigations into a group of small-grained crops, around 40 taxa originating from several continents and collectively known as Millet, have transformed our understanding of ancient cropping systems and human foodways. Here, we view Millet in its broadest taxonomic definition—small-grained cereals—including what is commonly known as Asian, Indian, African millet, as well as pseudocereals, quinoa and buckwheat. They share common features such as short growing seasons, modest water requirements, and general ecological hardiness that once sustained more than half of the ancient world. There has been a lot of recent momentum which has moved Millet from a poorly understood peripheral resource (and therefore less investigated scientifically compared to their large-grained counterparts, e.g., wheat, rice, and maize) to a well-charted core feature of plant domestication and its early globalization.

This Special Issue celebrates the flourish of this recent research trend, with focuses on domestication, environmental adaptation, culinary practices, biogeography, and cultural significances of millet and pseudocereals.

Dr. Xinyi Liu
Dr. Giedrė Motuzaitė Matuzevičiūtė
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Agronomy is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • millet
  • archaeobotany
  • C4 pathway
  • isotope
  • archaeogenetic study

Published Papers (10 papers)

Order results
Result details
Select all
Export citation of selected articles as:

Research

19 pages, 4362 KiB  
Article
Long-Term Responses to a 5.3-ka BP Climate Event and the Absolute Dominance of Foxtail Millet in Early Longshan (4800–4300 BP), Southern Loess Plateau, China
by Zejuan Sun, Xiaoyi Wang, Xiaojuan Wang, Qingzhu Wang, Yang Liu, Bingyan Wang, Lin Guo and Xuexiang Chen
Agronomy 2024, 14(1), 105; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy14010105 - 31 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1082
Abstract
Abrupt climate events profoundly impact human societies, both environmentally and socially. However, existing research predominantly concentrates on immediate responses, overlooking long-term consequences. This study, centered on the Guojiazaoyuan site in the southern Loess Plateau, explores the enduring effects of a 5.3-ka BP climate [...] Read more.
Abrupt climate events profoundly impact human societies, both environmentally and socially. However, existing research predominantly concentrates on immediate responses, overlooking long-term consequences. This study, centered on the Guojiazaoyuan site in the southern Loess Plateau, explores the enduring effects of a 5.3-ka BP climate event that transformed the local subsistence system. Through detailed analysis of archaeobotanical evidence, specifically floral remains dating to 4800–4300 BP obtained via flotation, significant post-event shifts in agricultural practices and food strategies are revealed. Notably, there is a clear prioritization of foxtail millet cultivation, a shift towards diversified food sources, and the introduction of new livestock. These changes represent strategic adaptations aimed at bolstering resilience and reducing vulnerability to future climatic challenges. The southern Loess Plateau developed an agricultural pattern with foxtail millet as the dominant crop, although different patterns were observed in surrounding regions during the early Longshan period (4800–4300 BP). Emphasizing the importance of a long-term perspective, particularly in agriculture and food security, the findings contribute to a broader understanding of how ancient societies coped with environmental changes. These insights are pertinent to ongoing discussions on climate resilience and sustainable agriculture. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

14 pages, 3980 KiB  
Article
Adaptability of Millets and Landscapes: Ancient Cultivation in North-Central Asia
by Alicia R. Ventresca-Miller, Shevan Wilkin, Rachel Smithers, Kara Larson, Robert Spengler, Ashleigh Haruda, Nikolay Kradin, Bilikto Bazarov, Denis Miyagashev, Tserendorj Odbaatar, Tsagaan Turbat, Elena Zhambaltarova, Prokopii Konovalov, Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, Anke Hein, Peter Hommel, Brendan Nash, Ayushi Nayak, Nils Vanwezer, Bryan Miller, Ricardo Fernandes, Nicole Boivin and Patrick Robertsadd Show full author list remove Hide full author list
Agronomy 2023, 13(11), 2848; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13112848 - 20 Nov 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2192
Abstract
Millet is a highly adaptable plant whose cultivation dramatically altered ancient economies in northern Asia. The adoption of millet is associated with increased subsistence reliability in semi-arid settings and perceived as a cultigen compatible with pastoralism. Here, we examine the pace of millet’s [...] Read more.
Millet is a highly adaptable plant whose cultivation dramatically altered ancient economies in northern Asia. The adoption of millet is associated with increased subsistence reliability in semi-arid settings and perceived as a cultigen compatible with pastoralism. Here, we examine the pace of millet’s transmission and locales of adoption by compiling stable carbon isotope data from humans and fauna, then comparing them to environmental variables. The Bayesian modelling of isotope data allows for the assessment of changes in dietary intake over time and space. Our results suggest variability in the pace of adoption and intensification of millet production across northern Asia. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

16 pages, 12304 KiB  
Article
The Neglected Plant Resources in Chinese Archaeobotany: Revealing Animals’ Feed during the Pre-Qin Period Using the Flotation Results in Northern China
by Liya Tang, Anqi Yang and Kai Han
Agronomy 2023, 13(9), 2191; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13092191 - 22 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1265
Abstract
The functions of non-agricultural crops unearthed from archaeological sites mainly pertain to their usage as livestock feed. However, the studies of livestock feed have predominantly relied on qualitative analysis, which often lacks descriptive objectivity and relies heavily on subjective feelings and experiences. In [...] Read more.
The functions of non-agricultural crops unearthed from archaeological sites mainly pertain to their usage as livestock feed. However, the studies of livestock feed have predominantly relied on qualitative analysis, which often lacks descriptive objectivity and relies heavily on subjective feelings and experiences. In this paper, we aim to address this gap by focusing on quantitative analysis, utilizing macro-plant remains from the data of seventy-five archaeological settlements and one archaeological investigation in northern China spanning the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age, as well as stable isotope analyses of carbon and nitrogen. This research delves into various aspects, including the exploration of the plant resources and livestock farming and the categorization of feed types for cattle and pigs in captivity. By employing quantitative analysis, we can gain a more comprehensive and objective understanding of these subjects. This approach aligns with studies on ancient livestock management and feed diversity. In essence, the discussion of civilization development and social changes during the Pre-Qin period holds significant value when considering forage analysis, just as crop analysis has proven insightful. By focusing on the quantitative analysis of non-agricultural crops and their role as livestock feed, we can shed light on important aspects of ancient societies and their agricultural practices. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

15 pages, 1608 KiB  
Article
A Brief History of Broomcorn Millet Cultivation in Lithuania
by Giedrė Motuzaitė Matuzevičiūtė and Rimvydas Laužikas
Agronomy 2023, 13(8), 2171; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13082171 - 18 Aug 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1877
Abstract
The eastern Baltic region represents the world’s most northerly limit of successful broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) (hereafter, millet) cultivation in the past, yet this crop has been almost forgotten today. The earliest millet in the eastern Baltic region has been identified [...] Read more.
The eastern Baltic region represents the world’s most northerly limit of successful broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) (hereafter, millet) cultivation in the past, yet this crop has been almost forgotten today. The earliest millet in the eastern Baltic region has been identified from macrobotanical remains which were directly dated to ca 1000 BCE. Between 800 and 500 BCE, millet was one of the major staple foods in the territory of modern-day Lithuania. Millet continued to play an important role in past agriculture up until the 15th century, with its use significantly declining during the following centuries. This paper analyses both the archaeobotanical records and written sources on broomcorn millet cultivation in Lithuania from its first arrival all the way through to the 19th century. The manuscript reviews the evidence of millet cultivation in the past as documented by archaeobotanical remains and historical accounts. In light of fluctuating records of millet cultivation through time, we present the hypothetical reasons for the decline in millet use as human food. The paper hypothesizes that the significant decrease in broomcorn millet cultivation in Lithuania from the 15th century onwards was likely influenced by several factors, which include climate change (the Little Ice Age) and the agricultural reforms of the 16th century. However, more detailed research is required to link past fluctuations in millet cultivation with climatic and historical sources, thus better understanding the roots of collapsing crop biodiversity in the past. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

12 pages, 2990 KiB  
Article
An Interplay of Dryland and Wetland: Millet and Rice Cultivation at the Peiligang Site (8000–7600 BP) in the Middle Yellow River Valley, China
by Jiajing Wang, Yahui He, Yiyi Tang, Li Liu, Yongqiang Li, Xingcan Chen and Wanfa Gu
Agronomy 2023, 13(8), 2130; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13082130 - 14 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1158
Abstract
The Peiligang culture (ca. 9000–7000 cal. BP) represents the first Neolithic settlements in the middle Yellow River Valley, marking the beginning of millet and rice farming in the region. While previous studies have focused primarily on identifying cultivated cereals, less attention has been [...] Read more.
The Peiligang culture (ca. 9000–7000 cal. BP) represents the first Neolithic settlements in the middle Yellow River Valley, marking the beginning of millet and rice farming in the region. While previous studies have focused primarily on identifying cultivated cereals, less attention has been given to plant harvesting and processing practices or environmental conditions. To address this gap, we present new phytolith data from the Peiligang site (8000–7600 cal. BP) to make three key contributions. First, we show that the Peiligang people utilized two microhabitats: hillslopes for dryland millet cultivation and alluvial plain for wetland resources. Second, we combine our findings with other archaeological evidence to reconstruct the environmental conditions of the Peiligang site, suggesting that it was a water-rich habitat. Finally, by analyzing phytolith remains of plant processing waste in middens, we reconstruct how people harvested and processed millets and rice at the site. This study sheds light on the plant-based subsistence strategies employed by the Peiligang people and offers insights into the environmental factors that contributed to the development of early farming in the middle Yellow River Valley. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

14 pages, 1225 KiB  
Article
Archaeobotanical Insights into Kañawa (Chenopodium pallidicaule Aellen) Domestication: A Rustic Seed Crop of the Andean Altiplano
by Maria C. Bruno
Agronomy 2023, 13(8), 2085; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13082085 - 08 Aug 2023
Viewed by 1836
Abstract
Kañawa/Cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule Aellen) is the lesser-known cousin of the domesticated Andean pseudocereal quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.). In 1970, Daniel Gade hypothesized that Andean farmers may have domesticated volunteer wild kañawa plants that occupied quinoa or potato fields after [...] Read more.
Kañawa/Cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule Aellen) is the lesser-known cousin of the domesticated Andean pseudocereal quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.). In 1970, Daniel Gade hypothesized that Andean farmers may have domesticated volunteer wild kañawa plants that occupied quinoa or potato fields after observing that they could survive harsh climatic events such as drought or frost. To revisit this question of kañawa domestication, this paper provides an overview of the current botanical, genetic, and archaeological knowledge of kañawa domestication. It then provides patterns in the presence of wild and domesticated kañawa seeds from archaeological sites in the southern Lake Titicaca Basin of Bolivia, spanning the Formative and Tiwanaku periods from approximately 1500 BCE to 1100 CE. This archaeobotanical evidence supports Gade’s hypothesis that kañawa was a later domesticate, not appearing until after 250 CE. Regional paleoclimatic evidence of frequent climatic fluctuations lends support to the argument that kañawa contributed to a diversified food supply, which could provide a buffer against climate risks. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

19 pages, 4267 KiB  
Article
Unveiling the Dynamics of Millet Spread into Xinjiang: New Evidence of the Timing, Pathways, and Cultural Background
by Duo Tian, Jingbo Li, Yongqiang Wang, Zhihao Dang, Xiangpeng Zhang, Chunchang Li and Youcheng Xu
Agronomy 2023, 13(7), 1802; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13071802 - 06 Jul 2023
Viewed by 1540
Abstract
Xinjiang, in Northwestern China, was a key point in the prehistoric trans-Eurasian network of exchange and played an important role in facilitating the dispersal of crops across Eurasia. Millet crops were first cultivated and used ca. 10,000 years ago in Northern China, from [...] Read more.
Xinjiang, in Northwestern China, was a key point in the prehistoric trans-Eurasian network of exchange and played an important role in facilitating the dispersal of crops across Eurasia. Millet crops were first cultivated and used ca. 10,000 years ago in Northern China, from where they spread via different routes, leaving intriguing traces in various sites across Xinjiang. This paper presents the latest data on millet in Xinjiang. By employing a multidisciplinary approach, including radiocarbon dating, archaeobotanical evidence, and carbon isotope datasets, this study explores potential routes by which millet entered Xinjiang and traces its expansion from the third millennium BC to the 10th century AD. The research highlights the significant role of millet in shaping the ancient economies and cultures of Xinjiang and Central Asia, while also underscoring the importance of further investigation to uncover the complex pathways of its dispersal across Eurasia. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

13 pages, 2424 KiB  
Article
Pottery Impressions Reveal Earlier Westward Dispersal of Foxtail Millet in Inner Asian Mountain Corridor
by Eiko Endo, Shinya Shoda, Michael Frachetti, Zhanargul Kaliyeva, Galymzhan Kiyasbek, Aidyn Zhuniskhanov, Xinyi Liu and Paula Doumani Dupuy
Agronomy 2023, 13(7), 1706; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13071706 - 26 Jun 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1725
Abstract
The Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC) has been identified as a major pathway for the westward dispersal of millet from Northern China, where it was initially cultivated. Cross-disciplinary investigations are necessary to distinguish cultivated millet taxa from their wild relatives and to clarify [...] Read more.
The Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC) has been identified as a major pathway for the westward dispersal of millet from Northern China, where it was initially cultivated. Cross-disciplinary investigations are necessary to distinguish cultivated millet taxa from their wild relatives and to clarify the social context underlying millet adoption in novel environments. Despite the ambiguity in distinguishing Setaria italica from Panicum miliaceum or other Setaria species using conventional analysis of charred macro remains, recent attention has focused on the time gap between the introduction of S. italica to IAMC following P. miliaceum. Here, we employed a pottery impression casting method on materials from four Bronze Age sites in eastern/southeastern Kazakhstan to investigate the surface textures of grain impressions on the surface of pottery containers. We successfully identified both millets (Setaeria and Panicum) from three of the sites, Begash, Tasbas, and Dali in the IAMC. Based on our findings, two species of millet were introduced to the region within a much shorter range of time than previously estimated. In addition, the current evidence supports the premise that these cereals were likely utilized for human consumption. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

18 pages, 2922 KiB  
Article
Early Millet Use and Its Environmental Impact Factors in Northern Shaanxi, Northwest China
by Zhikun Ma, Shu Liu, Jincheng Song, Hua Zhang, Linlin Zhai and Xiujia Huan
Agronomy 2023, 13(5), 1272; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13051272 - 28 Apr 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1540
Abstract
Northern Shaanxi is important in understanding the ancient use and northward spread of foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum). Nonetheless, due to the lack of millet remains, AMS radiocarbon data, and environmental background, the emergence, crop [...] Read more.
Northern Shaanxi is important in understanding the ancient use and northward spread of foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum). Nonetheless, due to the lack of millet remains, AMS radiocarbon data, and environmental background, the emergence, crop structure, and environmental factors of millet use in northern Shaanxi remain ambiguous. To address this knowledge gap, a systematic survey was conducted along the Beiluo River. Forty-two relic units at 19 Neolithic sites were selected for analysis through phytolith, AMS radiocarbon dating, and spatio-temporal approaches. Phytolith and AMS radiocarbon dating analyses traced the utilization of millets in the Beiluo River to 6280 cal. BP. In addition, broomcorn millet was more prevalent than foxtail millet during the Neolithic period, although the prevalence of the latter increased during the late Longshan period. Spatio-temporal analysis demonstrated that millets initially appeared in the Beiluo River during the Yangshao period, gradually moving away during the Longshan period, which was probably first related to the nearest rivers and then the spread of cattle and sheep. However, the millet cultivation altitude remained at 1400 m throughout the Yangshao and Longshan periods. Collectively, these findings provide evidence for the use and northward spread of millets in northwest China. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

13 pages, 2190 KiB  
Article
The Origins of Millet Cultivation (Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica) along Iberia’s Mediterranean Area from the 13th to the 2nd Century BC
by Natàlia Alonso and Guillem Pérez-Jordà
Agronomy 2023, 13(2), 584; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy13020584 - 17 Feb 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1939
Abstract
The introduction of the cultivation of millets (Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica) along Iberia’s Mediterranean zone appears to stem from different origins which themselves hinged on their own specific historical developments. The earliest traces in the northeast, presumably of trans-Pyrenean origin, [...] Read more.
The introduction of the cultivation of millets (Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica) along Iberia’s Mediterranean zone appears to stem from different origins which themselves hinged on their own specific historical developments. The earliest traces in the northeast, presumably of trans-Pyrenean origin, were brought to light in Bronze Age contexts (13th century BC) in Western Catalonia, notably in the Cinca River Valley. The different species of millets from southern and eastern Iberia, by contrast, come from later 10th–8th century BC contexts under Phoenician influence. Their expansion can be linked to the cultivation of fruit trees (vineyards and others) throughout the 9th–7th centuries BC. The cultivation of millets into the intermediate geographical zone between these two areas is difficult to characterise as it is not possible to identify either a northern or southern in-fluence. In any case, different types of millet saw a wide expansion from the 7th century BC onwards, especially in settlements in the hinterland of the colony of Emporion. This study thus focuses on the history of the cultivation of millets along Iberia’s Mediterranean zone from the Late Bronze Age to the Second Iron Age. Full article
Show Figures

Figure 1

Back to TopTop