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Cultural practices, selection pressures and genetic expectations
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. 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
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