Wandering wheat

Back in the 1960's, Jack Harlan, a devoted American agronomist harvested wild wheat in southeastern Turkey as if a gatherer would do 10,000 years ago. He first tried using only his hands; hand-stripping the mature wheat ears, then he tried using a replica of an ancient sickle, a razor-sharp flint blade embedded in a wooden handle. He was quite efficient, though apparently lacking the expertise of the ancient men who lived in the same spot thousands of years ago. 

Dr. Jack Harlan was one of the founders of the modern plant genetic sources and a specialist on the domestication of crops. His Anatolian harvest was one of the earliest examples of experimental archaeology in Turkey, reaping wild wheat as if it would have been done in Neolithic times, both using the hand-stripping method and using ancient tools. Though the former was less efficient, both methods proved to be quite effective, a crop of 2.05-2.45 kilograms per hour could easily be harvested. That amount reaped about 46 percent of actual grain, so it was easy to have a yield of one kilogram of grain per hour. At this rate, a family would be able to harvest a year's supply easily within three weeks during the harvest season. 

Harlan is long gone, but wild wheat patches still wander in the Anatolian landscape. One fascinating fact about Anatolia is the ancient wild wheat varieties that still exist, popping up in certain areas, usually not far from ancient Neolithic sites. In the province of Diyarbakır, occasional batches of wild wheat grow near hillsides close to Ergani, and further south, on the outskirts of the Karacadağ Mountains. When I was on an expedition trip for mapping the food heritage of southeastern Turkey two years ago, I was astonished to hear about the wandering wild wheat;...

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