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China Exclusive: Chinese archaeologists discover world earliest millets
Updated: 2005-09-02 16:14

Chinese archaeologists have recently found the world earliest millets, dated back to about 8,000 years ago, on the grassland in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

A large number of carbonized millets have been discovered by Chinese archaeologists at the Xinglonggou relics site in Chifeng City.

The discovery has changed the traditional opinion that millet, the staple food in ancient north China, originated in the Yellow River valley, Zhao Zhijun, a researcher with the Archaeology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua on Friday.

Carbon-14 dating shows that the millets were from 8,000 to 7,500 years ago. The ancient millets still keep some features of wildness, said Zhao.

Archaeological discoveries show that the main cereals, including wheat, barley, rice and maize all originated 10,000 to 8,000 years ago.

"The new discovery indicates that millet was no exception," said Zhao.

He said that China has two centers of agricultural origin. The southern region had rice as the main crop and the northern region had millet as the main crop.

Academic circles both at home and abroad have conducted in-depth research into the origin of rice in recent years. But the origin of north China's dry-farming has not been paid enough attention by researchers, said Zhao.

However, archaeologists from Britain and Canada have shown great interest in the new discovery.

"The research into millet is becoming a new focus of archaeology," said Zhao.

He explained that many experts believe research into the origin and spread of millet may shed new light on exchanges between the ancient civilizations in the east and west.

It is a shared opinion that the exchanges between the east and west should be dated back to a time much earlier than the "Silk Road", a trading route between Asia and Europe about 2,000 years ago.

Some experts have found evidence that an ancient tribe nomadically traversed the vast Eurasian grassland about 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, helping to promote exchanges between the ancient civilizations in the east and west.

Millets were mainly distributed at the southern areas of the Eurasian grassland in ancient times. The new millet discoveries were located at the east end of the Eurasian grassland, said Zhao.

Archaeologists hope to use these new findings to illuminate the origin and transmission pathways of millets, Zhao added.

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