The origins of food production in north China: A different kind of agricultural revolution


  • Part of a US-PRC research team that has been conducting research in China for more than twenty years, Bettinger, Barton, and Morgan are interested in human behavioral change over the last eighty thousand years in the western Loess Plateau, specifically in relation to the appearance of anatomically modern humans, rapid climatic change, environmental deterioration during the Last Glacial Maximum and Younger Dryas, the shift from Pleistocene to Holocene climatic regimes, and the origin of millet agriculture.


By roughly 8,000 calendar years before the present (calBP), hunter-gatherers across a broad swath of north China had begun small-scale farming of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica).1–6 According to traditional wisdom, this early millet farming evolved from the intensive hunter-gatherer adaptation represented by the late Pleistocene microblade tradition of northern China,2, 7 termed here the North China Microlithic. The archeological record of this hunter-gatherer connection is poorly documented, however, and as a result the early agricultural revolution in north China is not as well understood as those that occurred in other parts of the world. The Laoguantai site of Dadiwan, in the western Loess Plateau, Gansu Province, PRC, furnishes the first complete record of this transition, which unfolded quite differently from other, better known, agricultural revolutions.