Institute of Archaeology


Early Rice Project

A question of great significance for archaeology and palaeoclimate studies is how one of many wild marsh grasses in the genus Oryza became the world's most productive crop and one of the largest non-industrial sources of atmospheric methane. Rice is the most productive of agricultural crops in the world today and featured in the agriculture of South and East Asia since prehistoric times and supported early urban cultures in the Ganges valley of India and the Yangtze valley of China.

The development of rice agriculture is hypothesized to have caused massive demographic growth, followed by geographic population expansion. The present project is developing and applying new methods for identifying the earliest cultivation of rice (pre-domestication cultivation) and how later cultivation systems diversified, including the distinctive between irrigated 'wet' rice and rainfed 'dry' rice. The latter distinction in important, because it is wet rice that contributed substantially to greenhouse gases through the emission of methane.

Our archaeobotanical results are providing the first archaeological test of the hypothesis that anthropogenic modification of global climate through methane emissions began in prehistory.

This project includes the study of modern farming sites across Asia in order to develop a model of rice and associated plants for each site.  This will make up a 'modern analogue assemblage' from which to examine archaeobotanical weeds assemblages in both the seed evidence and phytolith evidence. These weed assemblages include diagnostic factors attributed to the different methods of rice farming, and distinguishing wild from domesticated rice. These weed assemblage indices are being applied to archaeological sites in the Lower Yangzte region dating between ca. 5000 BC and 2000 BC, the site of Baligang in Central China, and to late prehistory and early historic sites in Orissa, India and Sri Lanka.

This project is interlinked with the Domestication, Darwinism, artificial selection, natural selection, and entanglement project and the SEALINKS project.

Related outputs


  • Fuller, DQ & Harvey,E., Qin,L. (2007). Presumed domestication? Evidence for wild rice cultivation and domestication in the fifth millennium BC of the Lower Yangzte region. Antiquity 81 (312), 316-331. ISSN: 0003-598X
  • Fuller, DQ & Sato,Y. (2008). Japonica rice carried to, not from, Southeast Asia. Nature Genetics 40 (11): 1032. ISSN: 1061-4036
  • Fuller, DQ, Qin, Ling & Harvey, Emma (2008). A critical assessment of Early Agriculture in East Asia, with emphasis on Lower Yangtze rice domestication. Pragdhara (Journal of the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology Department) 18: 17-52
  • Fuller, DQ., Qin,L. & Harvey,E. (2008) Evidence for a late onset of agriculture in the Lower Yangzi region and challenges for an archaeobotany of rice. In Sanchez-Mazas,A., Blench,R. Ross,M.D., Peiros,I., Lin,M. (ed.) Past Human Migrations in East Asia. Matching Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics. London: Routledge, 40-83 ISBN 978-0-415-39923-4
  • Fuller, DQ., Qin,L. & Harvey,E. (2008). Rice archaeobotany revisited: Comments on Liu et al (2007) Antiquity 82 (315), on-line
  • Fuller, DQ & Qin,L. (2008). Immature rice and its archaeobotanical recognition: a reply to Pan. Antiquity 82 (316), on-line
  • Fuller, DQ., Ling Qin and Emma Harvey (2009) An evolutionary model for Chinese rice domestication: reassessing the data of the Lower Yangtze region. In New Approaches to Prehistoric Agriculture, edited by Sung Mo Ahn and June-Jeong Lee, 2009, Seoul Sahoi Pyoungnon. Pp. 312-345
  • Fuller, DQ [Fu Daolian] and Qin Ling (2009) The botanical archaeology in research of rice agricultural origin, (translated from English by Hu Yuqin). Nanfang Wenwu [Southern Cultural Relics] 2009-3: 38-45 [in Chinese]
  • Fuller, DQ, Ling Qin, Yunfei Zheng, Zhijun Zhao, Xugao Chen, Leo Aoi Hosoya, and Guo-ping Sun (2009) The Domestication Process and Domestication Rate in Rice: Spikelet bases from the Lower Yangtze. Science 323: 1607-1610
  • Fuller, DQ & Qin, Ling (2009) Water management and labour in the origins and dispersal of Asian rice. World Archaeology 41(1): 88-111
  • Fuller, DQ, Yo-Ichiro Sato, Cristina Castillo, Ling Qin, Alison R Weisskopf, Eleanor J. Kingwell-Banham, Jixiang Song, Sung-Mo Ahn, Jacob van Etten (2010) Consilience of genetics and archaeobotany in the entangled history of rice. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 2: 115-131
  • Hosoya, Leo Aoi, Yo-Ichiro Sato and Dorian Q Fuller. 2010. Editorial: the archaeobotany of early rice agriculture in Asia. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 2: 57-59
  • Castillo, Cristina and Dorian Q Fuller (2010). Still too fragmentary and dependent upon chance? Advances in the study of early Southeast Asian archaeobotany. In B. Bellina, E. A. Bacus, O. Pryce and J. Weissman Christie (eds.) 50 Years of Archaeology in Southeast Asia: Essays in Honour of Ian Glover. Bangkok/ London: River Books. Pp. 91-111
  • Fuller, DQ. 2010. Le riz domestiqué en Chine. La Recherche 447 (Dec. 2010): 54-57 [in French]
  • Fuller, DQ. and Ling Qin (2010) Declining oaks, increasing artistry, and cultivating rice: the environmental and social context of the emergence of farming in the Lower Yangtze Region. Environmental Archaeology 15 (2): 139-159
  • Fuller, DQ, van Etten, J., Manning, K., Castillo, C., Kingwell-Banham, E., Weisskopf, A., Qin, L., Sato, Y., Hijmans, R. (2011). The contribution of rice agriculture and livestock pastoralism to prehistoric methane levels An archaeological assessment. The Holocene 21, 743-759
  • Fuller, DQ and Alison R. Weisskopf (2011) The Early Rice Project: from Domestication to Global Warming. Archaeology International 13/14: 44-51 [on-line]
  • Kingwell-Banham, Eleanor and Dorian Q. Fuller (2012) Shifting cultivators in South Asia: Expansion, marginalisation and specialisation over the Long-Term. Quaternary International 249: 84-95
  • Fuller, DQ, Asouti, E., Purugganan, M. D. (2011). Cultivation as slow evolutionary entanglement: comparative data on rate and sequence of domestication. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21(2): 131-145.
  • Fuller, DQ (2012) Pathways to Asian Civilizations: Tracing the Origins and Spread of Rice and Rice Cultures. Rice 4(3-4): 78-92 [on-line] DOI 10.1007/s12284-011-9078-7

Other outputs

  • Radio interview on Canadian Radio (CBC) program Quirks and Quarks, segment on 'Taming the wild rice' aired 11 April 2009.
  • Knowledge exchange pilot program (June-November 2010)
    The following activities were lead by Harriet Martin who was employed for 5 months as an Outreach officer by the Early Rice Project.

    • Schools Outreach programme. Approach letters with brochure and outreach opportunities were sent to approx 50 A-level schools with Archaeology subjects, with subsequent follow-up with individual schools.
    • Taster Activity for Early Rice Project, July 2, 2010. 22 A-Level students aged 16-17 with interests in Biology, Chemistry, Zoology, English, Archaeology took part in archaeobotanical activities, involving introductory sessions to the technique and the Early Rice Project followed by sample sieving and separating archaeobotanical remains according to morphological traits. This included looking at phtytoliths and different seeds through microscopes.
    • Festival of British Archaeology, July 28, 2010. The main activity involved individual visitors potting their own rice plant from a selection of seeds. Brochures on the project were available and supporting materials on rice plants, agriculture and domestication. Seed samples, plants, and microscopes were available to look at morphology and diagnostic traits, such as spikelet bases. Potting activities involved compost, soil, seeds and related materials which were then watered for each visitor to take home with them. On each pot was a sticker of the Early Rice Project which encouraged the visitors to write into the website with developments of their rice plants. Several reports were received and a page was made on the website to receive them.  The activity was open to all ages, with approximately 40 visitors to the rice activity throughout the day, mostly parents and children under 10 years, plus several adults interested in agriculture. Total visitor numbers for the Festival of British Archaeology open day was over 100 visitors.
    • Young Archaeologist Club, October 16, 2010. The October YAC meeting for 15 members, ranging from 8-16 years, centred on the Early Rice Project, including a short powerpoint presentation followed by activities in 3 distinct phases: (1) Flotation stations to float soil samples in order to extract organic material;(2) Sieving stations to allow YAC to sort the organic materials (from a separate sample) in order to look at plant morphology and diagnostic indicators; (3) Rice Potting as a chance to build and bring a memento home with them, i.e. a rice seedling/ mini-paddy in a plastic bottle. This puts in context the concept of analogue models and the current application of archaeobotanical methods within the Early Rice Project.
    • Bloomsbury Festival, October 23 and 24, 2010. The Bloomsbury Festival is a large celebration of the area and involves contributions from the many businesses, organization and Universities within. Many of these activities took place in Russell Square where the Early Rice Project ran activities open to the public from a 6x3m marquee over the two day event. Activities were similar to those run for the Young Archaeologist Club and centred around flotation, sieving, and potting rice plants to take away. Participants were assisted by several Undergraduate Archaeology students who worked with the public and monitored activities. A display board with project information was produced and on display during the event.


  • NERC Research Project Grant (2009-2012)
  • British Academy Sino-British Trust (2006-07)
  • Funding for Bloomsbury Festival outreach activities (2010)