Plant domestication in the Neolithic Near East: The humans-plants liaison

Shahal Abbo*, Avi Gopher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Plant domestication is often discussed as a form of mutualism between humans and crop plants. Ethnographies provide records of a multitude of adaptive strategies employed by human societies with varying degrees of reliance on manipulation of wild plant resources. These manipulations have included vegetation clearance, controlled burning, pruning, coppicing, tilling, sowing and more. Such activities can be viewed as cultivation of wild plants (known as “pre-domestication cultivation” in the Near Eastern research milieu, or in a somewhat different framework as “low level food production”), often considered a necessary step leading to domestication. Since cultivated fields are constructed niches, Niche Construction Theory (NCT) has recently been recruited to provide a theoretical evolutionary framework for explaining plant domestication. This review on plant domestication in the Near East discusses elements that we consider intimately related to the abovementioned trajectories of thought: the concept of “pre-domestication cultivation”; the view that domesticated plants arose via evolutionary mutualism; and the conceptualization of plant domestication in terms of NCT. We review and discuss the logic of these approaches, their biological, cultural and archaeological foundations; and highlight their association with the old “dump heap” scenario. We argue that based on the biology of the Near Eastern crop plants and the available archaeological evidence, these approached and respective arguments are inadequate. Rather, we contend that the biological idiosyncrasies of the Near Eastern founder crops depict a picture of a knowledge-based and conscious domestication that emanated from the newly emerging Neolithic world view and Humans-World relationships.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number106412
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Antidomestication
  • Coevolution
  • Human agency
  • Low-level food production
  • Mutualism
  • Near East
  • Niche construction theory
  • Plant domestication
  • Pre-domestication cultivation


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