Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Weetabix

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This Catalyst article looks at how scientists can use material recovered from archaeological sites to see how crops have been introduced to different countries over the history of farming. Three processes by which some plant material can be preserved are explained. The ratio of carbon isotopes from the collagen in animal bone can be used to show the carbon isotope ‘signature’ of the plants consumed by the animals or humans at the time – this method can also be used to date the earliest consumption of cereals, such as wheat or maize.

The article presents a map of how cereals and rice spread throughout Asia and Europe. Geneticists can analyse the genes of plants to show common alleles from plants across the world. By looking at the geographic distribution of these genes, scientists can track their spread over history.

The article is written by Harriet Hunt, a post-doctoral researcher in archaeogenetics at the University of Cambridge.

The article is from Catalyst: Secondary Science Review 2012, Volume 23, Issue 2.

Catalyst is a science magazine for students aged 14-19 years. Annual subscriptions to print copies of the magazine can be purchased from Mindsets.

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