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Tracing the Epipalaeolithic origins of plant management in southwest Asia

Project description

How the interaction between humans and plants paved the way for agriculture

We do not yet have a complete understanding of how hunter-gatherers first got involved in the management of plants. Mainly using plant remains found at archaeological sites, the European Research Council PalaeOrigins project will explore how Epipalaeolithic (23 000 to 11 600 years ago) hunter-gatherers were handling their land and plant resources. It will also investigate whether the climate or cultural dynamics led to plant-food production. The project will introduce a holistic and high-resolution approach to examining plant-based subsistence.


The transition from foraging to farming represents one of the most transcendental shifts in the history of humanity. Decades of research in southwest Asia have shown that this process culminated with the development of Neolithic agricultural systems c. 10 ka cal. BP. Yet, how it started, that is, how hunter-gatherers became, for the first time, engaged with the management of plants, continues to be largely undetermined. Palaeorigins aims to fill this major gap of knowledge. Benefiting from the exceptional Epipalaeolithic archaeobotanical materials that are now available (c. 23-11 ka cal. BP), it will ask: To what extent were Epipalaeolithic hunter-gatherers managing the land and the plant resources around them? Did climatic factors trigger plant resource intensification, or were cultural dynamics, like the need for specific foodstuffs, that first motivated plant-food production? To achieve such an ambitious aim PalaeOrigins will pioneer a holistic and high-resolution approach to study the plant-based subsistence. It will use a unique combination of traditional and most novel archaeobotanical materials, state-of-the-art stable isotope analyses, computational science, and theoretical models to: 1) Reconstruct the distribution and availability of plant resources during the environmental shifts of the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene; 2) Determine how plant procurement strategies, land uses and management activities articulated during the Epipalaeolithic period; and 3) Define hunter-gatherers' food culture, assessing their plant-food selection, processing and consumption practices. Taken together, PalaeOrigins will move beyond traditional Neolithic-centred paradigms to explain the origins of plant-food production. It will open up new research horizons, merging science and theory, to elucidate the nature of the human-environment interactions that paved the way to agriculture, and ultimately, changed the course of our history.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 436 150,00
48940 Leioa

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Noreste País Vasco Bizkaia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 436 150,00

Beneficiaries (3)