Modelling domestication

Archaeobotanical evidence and genetic modelling of domestications. Images by R. Allaby/ D. Fuller

Cultural practices, selection pressures and genetic expectations

Harvest rice orissa domesticated

The transition from economies based solely on gathering, hunting, and fishing to economies of food production is often regarded as among the most pivotal developments in cultural evolution after the evolution of anatomical and behavioral modernity. The evolution of domesticated crops, i.e. crops that are genetically adapted to being propagated by humans is a key part of this transition. Domestication has been a key topic in evolutionary biology since Darwin, and a major topic of archaeological interest since Gordon Childe defined the ‘Neolithic Revolution’ in the 1930s.

Nevertheless, it is only recently that substantial datasets of systematically collected, well-identified and quantified archaeological plant remains from which the domestication process can be directly observed in plant species. As such data has become available it has revealed a must slower process of domestication than had been logically predicted in previous generations. Nevertheless, there appear to be parallel processes in unrelated species from different parts of the world. These observations have raised important questions about the underlying processes of genetic change and selection pressures due to human activities.

Grain size increase and lighter colours are characteristics of domestication

This research network aims to better document the archaeobotanical evidence for changes in plant morphology, both spatially and chronologically and compare these data across species. This provides important insights into the tempo of the evolution of the domestication syndrome, and relates it to the cultural context in which it was selected for.

In addition, the network is exploring the genetic signatures for domestication, both in modern crop genetics and through simulations in order to better interpret the impact of geographic and population genetics on the co-evolution of humans and their crops. Genetic evidence and archaeological data also provide information of the number of times that domestication has occurred geographically and culturally independently. Collaboration with Gregor Larson provides the potential for developing comparisons between plant and animal domestications.

This network is interlinked with the Early Rice Project.

Related outputs

  • Fuller, DQ (2007). Contrasting patterns in crop domestication and domestication rates: recent archaeobotanical insights from the Old World. Annals of Botany 100(5), 903-924. ISSN: 1095-8290
  • Fuller, DQ. (2008) Recent lessons from Near Eastern archaeobotany: wild cereal use, pre-domestication cultivation and tracing multiple origins and dispersals. Pragdhara (Journal of the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology Department)18: 105-134
  • Allaby,R., Fuller,DQ & Brown,T. (2008). The genetic expectations of a protracted model for the origins of domesticated crops. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 105(37), 13982-13986. ISSN: 0027-8424
  • Allaby, R. G., DQ Fuller and T. A. Brown (2008). Reply to Ross-Ibarra and Gaut: Multiple domestications do appear monophyletic if an appropriate model is used. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 105(49): E106 [published online]
  • Purugganan, Michael D. & Dorian Q Fuller (2009) The nature of selection during plant domestication. Nature 457: 843-848
  • Fuller, D.Q (2009). Contrasting patterns in crop domestication and domestication rates: recent archaeobotanical insights from the Old World (translated from English by Chen Xuguo & Zheng Yunfei) Dongfang Kaogu [Oriental Archaeology] 5: 189-225 [in Chinese]
  • Fuller, Dorian Q and Robin Allaby (2009). Seed dispersal and crop domestication: shattering, germination and seasonality in evolution under cultivation. In Fruit Development and Seed Dispersal (edited by Lars Ostergaard), Annual Plant Reviews Volume 38. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp. 238-295.
  • Fuller, D. Q. (2009) Advances in Archaeobotanical Method and Theory: Charting trajectories to domestication, lost crops, and the organization of agricultural labour. In New Approaches to Prehistoric Agriculture, edited by Sung Mo Ahn and June-Jeong Lee, 2009, Seoul Sahoi Pyoungnon. Pp. 14-59
  • Fuller, Dorian Q, Robin G. Allaby and Chris Stevens (2010) Domestication as innovation: the entanglement of techniques, technology and chance in the domestication of cereal crops. World Archaeology 42(1): 13-28
  • Robin G. Allaby, Terence A. Brown, & Dorian Q Fuller (2010) A simulation of the effect of inbreeding on crop domestication genetics with comments on the integration of archaeobotany and genetics: a reply to Honne and Heun. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 19(2): 151-158 
  • Larson, G., R. Liu, X. Zhao, J. Yuan, D. Fuller, L. Barton, K. Dobney, Q. Fan, Z. Gu, X-H. Liu, Y. Luo, P. Lv, L. Andersson & N. Li (2010). Patterns of East Asian pig domestication, migration and turnover revealed by modern and ancient DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107 (17): 7686-7691
  • Fuller, D Q. (2010) An Emerging Paradigm Shift in the Origins of Agriculture. General Anthropology 17 (2): 1, 8-12
  • Purugganan, M and DQ. Fuller (2011). Archaeological data reveal slow rates of evolution during plant domestication. Evolution 65: 171-183, doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01093.x
  • Manning, Katie, Ruth Pelling, Tom Higham, Jean-Luc Schwenniger and Dorian Q Fuller (2011) 4500-year old domesticated pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) from the Tilemsi Valley, Mali: new insights into an alternative cereal domestication pathway. Journal of Archaeological Science 38 (2): 312-322
  • Fuller, DQ. (2011). Finding Plant Domestication in the Indian Subcontinent. Current Anthropology 52(S4), S347-S362
  • Fuller, DQ, Willcox, G., Allaby, R. G. (2011) Cultivation and domestication had multiple origins: arguments against the core area hypothesis for the origins of agriculture in the Near East. World Archaeology 43(4), 628-652
  • Fuller, DQ (2012) New archaeobotanical information on plant domestication from macro-remains: tracking the evolution of domestication syndrome traits. In Biodiversity in Agriculture. Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability (eds. P. Gepts, T.R. Famula, R. L. Bettinger, S. B. Brush, A. B. Damania, P. E. McGuire, C. O. Qualset). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 110-135.
  • Fuller, DQ, Willcox, G., Allaby, R. (2012). Early Agricultural Pathways: moving outside the 'core area' hypothesis' in Southwest Asia. Journal of Experimental Botany 63: 617-633.
  • Fuller, DQ, Asouti, E., Purugganan, M. D. (2012). Cultivation as slow evolutionary entanglement: comparative data on rate and sequence of domestication. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21(2): 131-145.
  • Lucas, L., Colledge, S., Simmons, A., Fuller, DQ. (2012). Crop introduction and accelerated island evolution: archaeobotanical evidence from ‘Ais Yiorkis and Pre-Pottery Neolithic Cyprus. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany  21(2): 117-129
  • Asouti, E., Fuller, DQ. (2012) From foraging to farming in the southern Levant: the development of Epipalaeolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic plant management strategies. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21(2): 149-162.


  • Leverhulme Trust Grant (2009-2012) to Robin Allaby (with Dorian Fuller as collaborator), on modelling the genetic expectation of a protracted domestication process.
  • NERC Project Grant (2009-2012), ‘Was Barley Locally Adapted to Ancient Nubia’) to Robin Allaby (with Dorian Fuller as Co-Investigator).
  • National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCENT) Catalysis meeting grant (for a interdisciplinary workshop held in April 2011).

Network Members:

  • Dorian Fuller
  • Robin Allaby, University of Warwick (Plant genetics & ancient DNA)
  • Michael Purugganan, New York University (Genetics & Genomics)
  • Gregor Larson, Durham University (Livestock genetics, ancient DNA)
  • Dolores Piperno, National Museum of Natural History (Archaeobotany of Neotropics)
  • George Willcox, CNRS, Jales France (Archaeobotany of Near East)
  • Eleni Asouti, University of Liverpool (Archaeobotany of Near East)
  • Chris J. Stevens, Wessex Archaeology Ltd.; IoA Honorary (archaeobotany formation processes, weed ecology)


Further information:

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