Jun
03
2006

New sprouts: researchers find earliest crops -- figs


Old Fruit: Researchers in the Middle East have discovered that people 11,400 years ago were planting fig trees, the earliest known planted crops.
It’s that time of early summer to dig out the packets of seeds, dig in the dirt a little bit and get that garden ready.

And this week researchers have found new evidence for what may be the oldest cultivated crop known to be grown by man.

Digging in ruins near Jericho on the West Bank, researchers have found the remains of figs that they believe are the first intentionally planted crops by man. According to dating sciences applied by the researchers, the figs were grown about 11,400 years ago. That’s about 1,000 years earlier than the previously believed-to-be earliest crops of wheat, barley and chickpeas.

What the researchers found were nine small figs in the ruins of a building. They were charred, which preserved them in a condition that allowed them to be analyzed using dating methods. The date of the fire was able to be determined by carbon-dating the remains of the fire.

It’s a bit of a twisting road to figuring out how people of that era could plant the figs. The figs themselves were sterile, not allowing for them to produce seeds that could grow new fig trees. That led researchers to figure out that people were planting stems of tree shoots into the ground to create new fig trees. This process would make fig trees to become domesticated before other fruit-bearer such as grapes, olives or other fruit plants.

The findings of the researchers were published this week in the journal Science.

There was no evidence that earlier man used the newly farmed figs to make fig newton cookies.

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