First example of ancient cultivated rice discovered in Central Asia

Related Articles

Rice is an important source of food, with around half the world’s population using rice to supplement their diet.

The origins of how rice spread and the ecological adaptation of cultivated rice are still one of the most important issues which currently concerned by global archaeologists, biologists, and agricultural scientists.

In recent years, archaeobotany and molecular biology studies have shown the originally cultivated rice was domesticated into japonica rice (Oryza sativa japonica) in the lower Yangtze region, China, 10000 years ago, then spread to Japan, South and Southeast Asia.


About 5000-4000 years ago, the cultivated japonica rice spread to South Asia, hybridized with the native wild rice, gradually form the indica rice (Oryza sativa indica) and become the main crop in South Asia today.

However, in recent years, research on the origin and spread of rice have mainly focused on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. At present, we still know very little about when and how rice spread into West Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Central Asia region, as an important node in the ancient Silk Road cannot be ignored, because it is the “crossroad” of world civilization.

Therefore, studying the time and location of rice emergence in Central Asia can help us restore the spread process about of rice agriculture and add an important part for the early crop globalization research.

Recently, Li Xiaoqiang research group in Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IVPP, CAS) and other researchers in College of Cultural Heritage, Northwest University, China, Institute of Archaeology, Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences reported their latest research about the agricultural remain in Khalchayan site, Uzbekistan, which published in the Science China: Earth Science. Researchers investigated 11 sites on the northern bank of the Amu Darya from Bronze Age to Arabian period and found carbonized rice remain at Kalchayan site.

With archaeobotany, chronology method and other local archaeological records, researchers provide a new physical evidence for the spread of rice to western Asia and the exchange of eastern and western civilizations along the ancient Silk Road.

Khalchayan site is a city site in southeastern Uzbekistan. Researchers use flotation method obtain large amount of botanical materials at a cultural layer in southwest part of the site. The AMS 14C dating results showed that the age of the rice remains in the site are 1714-1756 cal. B.P., which in Kushan period. In addition to the rice remains, carbonized wheat, 2-row barley, pea, millet, grapes, flax and other crops were recovered at the site.

These crops include both West Asian and East Asian origin, which illustrates a diverse and complex oasis farming system. Because rice cultivation requires a lot of heat and water then wheat and millet, make it difficult to cultivate in arid regions in early times. But combining the carbonized rice remains with the records of the irrigation system existing in other local oases agricultural archeological sites during Kushan period, researchers believe it has the possibility of cultivation rice locally during that time.

Morphological studies show that the carbonized rice remains are japonica rice, and their morphology is similar to the remains found in some sites in southern China and northwestern India during the same period. That indicating the possibility of rice in Central Asia was spread from South Asia. Meanwhile, when rice appeared in Central Asia, Kushan Empire has already established in northwest India and conquered most part of Central Asia and South Asia.

The imperial expansion and political unrest may have further fueled the dispersal of crops across Inner Asia. The emergence of rice may also indicate the beginning of the rice-based diet culture gradual integration with the local wheat-based diet system in Central Asia and finally form Central Asia diet system today, like baked dough (Naan), pilaf and barbecue.
The rice remains in Khalchayan site is the first well reported rice remain in Central Asia.

It is also one of the few ancient cultivated rice found without in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. It has a great value for further understanding the exchange process of the early agricultural activities in the Southern Himalayan route, and also provided a new evidence to explain how rice further spreads westward to Iran, Europe, and Africa, where rice cultivation activities exist today.


Header Image Credit – Public Domain

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

10 British Iron Age Hill Forts

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

Stabiae – The Roman Resort Buried by Mount Vesuvius

Stabiae was an ancient Roman town and seaside resort near Pompeii, that was largely buried during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in present-day Italy.

Astronomers Accurately Measure the Temperature of Red Supergiant Stars

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Researchers Overturn Hypothesis That Ancient Mammal Ancestors Moved Like Modern Lizards

The backbone is the Swiss Army Knife of mammal locomotion. It can function in all sorts of ways that allows living mammals to have remarkable diversity in their movements.

Archaeologists Discover one of Poland’s Largest Megalithic Tomb Complexes

Archaeologists excavating in Poland have discovered a large megalithic complex, containing several dozen tombs dating from 5500 years ago.

New Technology Allows Scientists First Glimpse of Intricate Details of Little Foot’s Life

In June 2019, an international team brought the complete skull of the 3.67-million-year-old Little Foot Australopithecus skeleton, from South Africa to the UK and achieved unprecedented imaging resolution of its bony structures and dentition in an X-ray synchrotron-based investigation at the UK's national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source.

Popular stories

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

Exploring the Avebury Stone Circle Landscape

The area was designated part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites by UNESCO in 1986, in recognition for one of the most architecturally sophisticated stone circles in the world, in addition to the rich Neolithic, and Bronze age remains found nearby, such as the West Kennet Avenue, Beckhampton Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill.