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Late Bronze Age agriculture and the early westward transmission of rice at Luanzagangzi, Northern Xinjiang, China

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posted on 2024-02-05, 06:00 authored by Sullivan Heywood, Michael SpateMichael Spate, Alison Betts, Peter Jia, Andrew Fairbairn
The Dzungar Basin of northern Xinjiang has previously been considered a marginal environment with little evidence for the development of prehistoric agriculture. Recent archaeobotanical studies have indicated the region as being a route for the transmission of domesticated plants, technologies and ideas between East and West Eurasia during prehistory, as early as 5000 BP. These interactions are still poorly understood and most evidence for early plant food production and consumption in the region comes from limited mortuary contexts. In this study we present plant macrofossil analysis from the settlement site of Luanzagangzi on the southern side of the Dzungar Basin. From ca. 3130 BP an agricultural package of east and west Asian cereals and chaff is present, comprising wheat, barley, foxtail millet, broomcorn millet, and significantly a single grain of japonica type rice. AMS dating indicates this is the oldest directly dated rice in Xinjiang and the broader region, ranging 3069–2881 cal. BP. Cereal morphometrics and material culture from the site further indicate a connection with the Gansu region to the east. The spread of agriculture into the site environment may be linked to the onset of wetter conditions relating to strengthened westerly systems across arid Central Asia in the Late-Holocene. A declining abundance of West Asian cultivars over the period of the site’s occupation possibly reflect a shift away from intensive agriculture to low-level management of millets.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Excavations at Luanzagangzi were organised by the Xinjiang team of the Archaeological Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, assisted by staff from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sydney. Jia’s work in Xinjiang was funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant No. 0770997.


Publication Date



The Holocene






10p. (p.202-211)


SAGE Publications



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© The Author(s) 2023. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (

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