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Journal Article

Transition from wild to domesticated Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) Revealed in Ceramic Temper at three middle Holocene sites in Northern Mali


Fuller,  Dorian Q.
Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Fuller, D. Q., Barron, A., Champion, L., Dupuy, C., Commelin, D., Raimbault, M., et al. (2021). Transition from wild to domesticated Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) Revealed in Ceramic Temper at three middle Holocene sites in Northern Mali. African Archaeological Review, s10437-021-09428-8. doi:10.1007/s10437-021-09428-8.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-3DE9-E
Imprints of domesticated pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.) spikelets, observed as temper in ceramics dating to the third millennium BC, provide the earliest evidence for the cultivation and domestication process of this crop in northern Mali. Additional sherds from the same region dating to the fifth and fourth millennium BC were examined and found to have pearl millet chaff with wild morphologies. In addition to studying sherds by stereomicroscopy and subjecting surface casts to scanning electron microscopy (SEM), we also deployed X-ray microcomputed tomography (microCT) on eleven sherds. This significantly augmented the total dataset of archaeological pearl millet chaff remains from which to document the use of the wild pearl millet as ceramic temper and the evolution of its morphology over time. Grain sizes were also estimated from spikelets preserved in the ceramics. Altogether, we are now able to chart the evolution of domesticated pearl millet in western Africa using three characteristics: the evolution of nonshattering stalked involucres; the appearance of multiple spikelet involucres, usually paired spikelets; and the increase in grain size. By the fourth millennium BC, average grain breadth had increased by 28%, although spikelet features otherwise resemble the wild type. In the third millennium BC, the average width of seeds is 38% greater than that of wild seeds, while other qualitative features of domestication are indicated by the presence of paired spikelets and the appearance of nondehiscent, stalked involucres. Nonshattering spikelets had probably become fixed by around 2000 BC, while increases in average grain size continued into the second millennium BC. These data now provide a robust sequence for the morphological evolution of domesticated pearl millet, the first indigenous crop domesticated in western Africa.