News 2018 September

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Domestication des plantes, 2108, Errance / Actes Sud

This book is a reference about the beginnings of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, where many plants cultivated in Europe find their origin. The first edition was published in 1988 in English. We offer this French translation of the fourth English edition (2012).

The authors combine briliantly the archeobotanical, botanical and genetic data to reconstruct the origin of crops. Only these disciplines can be used to document this early period, long before the invention of writing and the emergence of iconography. This book has become a cult reference as well for archaeologists as for geneticists. It offers indeed what I call a first level synthesis, which relies critically on primary scientific publications. As can be seen in the bibliography, such references are numerous, deal with very precise items, need to be analyzed critically and are in addition largely inaccessible for the lay reader.

Later, with Mesopotamian tablets, Egyptian illustrations and hieroglyphs and biblical, Greek and Roman writings, we get into the domain of historians and linguists. Unfortunately, syntheses are old or lacunar in those domains. Specialists have a lot of work to do. This is necessary to allow plant historians to write second level syntheses, integrating historical, linguistic, ethnological and cultural data.

This book is a result of a fruitful collaboration between a German archaeobotanist, Maria Hopf, and an Israeli geneticist-botanist, Daniel Zohary. The fourth edition was carried on by an Israeli archaeobotanist, Ehud Weiss. Daniel Zohary will not see this book, as he died on December 16, 2016 in Jerusalem. I am sad of this, because I made this translation as a tribute to such a captivating person. I bear in mind fascinating field excursions on the heights of Jerusalem, discovering the progenitors of our crops. I also remind animated discussions on this issue at the Council of Europe.

No other region in the World benefits today of such a synthesis. This is largely the result of history, since for many centuries, researchers have mostly been Europeans or persons steeped in European culture, who were seeing the "Holy Land" as the origin of their civilisation, integrally including crops. Fortunately, science is slowly internationalising, but we are still far from having data corpuses as reliable for the other regions of the World as we have for South-East Asia and Europe. The Amaricas benefit from the attention of US researchers, but other regions are left aside ; it is difficult today to trace the history of relationships between Africa and India, for example.

  • Zohary, Daniel ; Hopf, Maria & Weiss, Ehud, 2018. La domestication des plantes. Traduction, introduction et compléments par Michel Chauvet. Arles, Errance / Actes Sud. 330 p. English title: Domestication of plants in the Old World: the origin and spread of domesticated plants in South-West Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean Basin.
Michel Chauvet
11 September 2018