for National Geographic News
An assortment of 11,400-year-old figs found in Israel may be the fruit of the world's earliest form of agriculture, scientists say.
Archaeologists from Israel and the United States say the find suggests Stone Age humans may have been cultivating fruit trees a thousand years before the domestication of cereal grains and legumes, such as peas and beans.
Previously, the oldest cultivated fruits were thought to be olives and grapes found in the eastern Mediterranean that were dated at about 6,000 years old.
Researchers behind the new study discovered the ancient figs at the Gilgal archaeological site in the Jordan Valley near the city of Jericho (see map of Israel.)
The nine carbonized figs were small but ripe and showed signs of having been dried for human consumption.
The finding adds a new twist to the story of agricultural origins.
The so-called agricultural revolutionwhen ancient humans began to domesticate cropsis now increasingly seen as a long and multifaceted transition, as humans gradually shifted from scattered planting of wild grains to farming with domesticated varieties.
Early-agriculture specialist Mordechai Kislev, of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, says fig cultivation may amount to a previously unknown phase of this transition, fitting between the sowing of wild grains and the raising of domesticated cereal crops.
"Domestication of the fig seems to comprise a new stage," Kislev said.
Kislev is the lead author of the new study, along with Anat Hartmann, also of Bar-Ilan, and Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University.
The researchers report their findings in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.
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