Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization

Research Article

Approaches and constraints of using existing landrace and extant plant material to understand agricultural spread in prehistory

Huw Jonesa1, Diane L. Listera2, Mim A. Bowera2, Fiona J. Leigha1, Lydia M. Smitha1 c1 and Martin K. Jonesa3

a1 NIAB, Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0LE, UK

a2 McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK

a3 Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK


The potential for the phylogeographical analysis of cereal landraces to determine the initial patterns of agricultural spread through Europe is discussed in relation to two of the first cereals to be domesticated, emmer wheat (Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum) and barley (Hordeum vulgare). Extant landraces available from germplasm collections have a patchy distribution, largely being confined to regions of rugged upland topography, and the phylogeographical patterns observed may be due to ‘overstamping’ by more recent crop movements. Phylogeographical studies of non-viable historical landrace material held in herbarium and old seed collections and found in historical buildings have the potential to fill in the gaps in time and space. We explore the importance of precise geographical provenance and the limitations of this in extant and historical material. Additionally, we consider the effect of various chemicals and the preservation of DNA in the historical material.

(Received December 19 2006)

(Accepted October 25 2007)

(Online publication May 23 2008)


These two authors are equally contributed to this paper.