Apr 3rd 2019

The William Sumner Memorial Lecture

Melinda Zeder, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

What Braidwood got right: Rehabilitating Iran and the Eastern Fertile Crescent as a center of agricultural origins

In the 1950s, archaeologists Robert and Linda Braidwood led the first systematic expeditions to Iran, Iraq, and Turkey focusing on one of the most significant beginnings in human history: the origin of agriculture.

The Braidwood expeditions were also the first to involve teams of scientists to document the process and context of the domestication of crop and livestock. In the 60s and 70s, the focus of archaeological studies of early agriculture shifted to the Western Fertile Crescent (modern day Israel and Jordan).

Since then, Iran and the rest of the Eastern Fertile Crescent has been portrayed as a backwater region lagging far behind the transformative innovations of the west. Recently, the application of new scientific methods to original collections from Braidwood and other early excavations in Iran and adjacent areas, as well as new excavations in the region, have overturned this notion. Not only has Iran and the rest of the Eastern Fertile Crescent been shown to be the heartland of domestication of a number of crop and livestock species, but Braidwood’s original explanation for these events has also turned out to be largely correct.

This lecture reviews the history of research on agricultural origins in the Eastern Fertile Crescent and the landmark new studies that have rehabilitated it as a major center of domestication and agricultural emergence.

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