Wonders: Time Travelers in the Field; February 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Morrison, Morrison; 2 Page(s)
Near the southeast corner of Turkey, gentle basalt slopes many miles wide surround a long volcanic ridge. The land is raw and rocky; patches of soil allow some farming, but livestock graze seasonally on seas of wild grass. Much of that grass cover is in two wild species of the same genus as modern wheat, along with their cross, called wild einkorn. Ten or twelve thousand years ago people hereabouts had been reaping demonstrably similar primitive wheats for sustenance.
There in late summer only 25 years ago, a man walked slowly again and again through the golden stands, a paper sack in one hand, stripping ripe heads with his free hand in the ancient fashion. That collector was no time traveler but an American agronomist, Jack R. Harlan. A crop geneticist, who had spent by his own words "a quarter of a century harvesting wild grass seeds." Harlan was skeptically reenacting plausible early steps toward the world of cereal domestication, by which we are nearly all fed on grass seeds like a trillion canaries.