Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences | 2021
From extensive collection to intensive cultivation, the role of fruits and nuts in subsistence economy on Chinese Loess Plateau
The transformation from hunting-gathering to the intensive cultivation of cereals, fruits, and nuts has long been discussed. This study combines archaeobotanical evidence from seeds/stones and wood charcoal with historic texts to record the changing role of fruits and nuts in ancient diet on the Chinese Loess Plateau. At the early stage of millet domestication, extensive collection of wild fruits and nuts likely made a vital contribution to the food supply. During the Yangshao period, cereals became the dominant food resource with declining numbers of fruits/nuts, implying a shift from largely gathering to crops cultivation. An increase in the number and ubiquity of Prunus remains during the Longshan time potentially signals the beginnings of fruit cultivation that gains momentum in the Xia-Shang period. Our results indicate that the beginning of fruit cultivation probably coincided with the rise of early urbanism, as seen in West Asia. However, in contrast to West Asia, where arboriculture is seen as prerequisite for the social changes that underpinned urbanization, less evidence for the transformation of fruits and nuts associated with craft specialization was seen in ancient China. As fruits were traditionally used as luxury food and dedication to ancestors, we speculate that the connection between fruits and feasting probably motivated ancient farmers to invest long-term labor into the planting and further the domestication of fruits in China.