The origin of cultivation and proto-weeds, long before neolithic farming

Ainit Snir, Dani Nadel, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Yoel Melamed, Marcelo Sternberg, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Ehud Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Weeds are currently present in a wide range of ecosystems worldwide. Although the beginning of their evolution is largely unknown, researchers assumed that they developed in tandem with cultivation since the appearance of agricultural habitats some 12,000 years ago. These rapidly-evolving plants invaded the human disturbed areas and thrived in the new habitat. Here we present unprecedented new findings of the presence of "proto-weeds" and small-scale trial cultivation in Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old hunter-gatherers' sedentary camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel.We examined the plant remains retrieved from the site (ca. 150,000 specimens), placing particular emphasis on the search for evidence of plant cultivation by Ohalo II people and the presence of weed species. The archaeobotanically-rich plant assemblage demonstrates extensive human gathering of over 140 plant species and food preparation by grinding wild wheat and barley. Among these, we identified 13 well-known current weeds mixed with numerous seeds of wild emmer, barley, and oat. This collection provides the earliest evidence of a human-disturbed environment-at least 11 millennia before the onset of agriculture-that provided the conditions for the development of proto-weeds, a prerequisite for weed evolution. Finally, we suggest that their presence indicates the earliest, small-scale attempt to cultivate wild cereals seen in the archaeological record.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0131422
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - 22 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work forms part of the Ph.D. dissertation of A.S. at Bar-Ilan University. We thank Simcha Lev-Yadun (Haifa University) for comments and improvements on earlier versions of this paper; Hagar Lashner and the Herbarium staff of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for their aid; Avi Shmida (Hebrew University) for providing Rotem records; also Yael Mahler-Slasky and Anat Hartmann-Shenkman for lab assistance and Carly Golodets for editorial help. This project was generously supported by Israel Science Foundation Individual Research Grant 711/08 “Economic diversity and space use between occupations of Upper-Palaeolithic Ohalo II: A multi-layer spatial analysis of plant remains” for E.W. The excavation project was generously supported by the Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation, the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 831/00), the Jerusalem Center for Anthropological Studies, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the MAFCAF Foundation, the Stekelis Museum of Prehistory in Haifa, the National Geographic Society, the Israel Antiquities Authority. Special thanks are due to the Zinman Institute of Archaeology (University of Haifa). Last but not least, we are most grateful to George Willcox and two anonymous reviewers for excellent comments and suggestions that significantly improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Snir et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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