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Sedentism and plant cultivation in northeast China emerged during affluent conditions.


The reasons and processes that led hunter-gatherers to transition into a sedentary and agricultural way of life are a fundamental unresolved question of human history. Here we present results of excavations of two single-occupation early Neolithic sites (dated to 7.9 and 7.4 ka) and two high-resolution archaeological surveys in northeast China, which capture the earliest stages of sedentism and millet cultivation in the second oldest center of domestication in the Old World. The transition to sedentism coincided with a significant transition to wetter conditions in north China, at 8.1-7.9 ka. We suggest that these wetter conditions were an empirical precondition that facilitated the complex transitional process to sedentism and eventually millet domestication in north China. Interestingly, sedentism and plant domestication followed different trajectories. The sedentary way of life and cultural norms evolved rapidly, within a few hundred years, we find complex sedentary villages inhabiting the landscape. However, the process of plant domestication, progressed slowly over several millennia. Our earliest evidence for the beginning of the domestication process appear in the context of an already complex sedentary village (late Xinglongwa culture), a half millennia after the onset of cultivation, and even in this phase domesticated plants and animals were rare, suggesting that the transition to domesticated (sensu stricto) plants in affluent areas might have not played a substantial role in the transition to sedentary societies.

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