Searching for the Origins of Bere Barley: a Geometric Morphometric Approach to Cereal Landrace Recognition in Archaeology

M. Wallace, V. Bonhomme, J. Russell, E. Stillman, T. S. George, L. Ramsay, J. Wishart, S. Timpany, H. Bull, A. Booth, P. Martin

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Bere is a landrace of barley, adapted to the marginal conditions of northern Scotland, especially those of the Northern and Western Isles. The history of bere on these islands is long and, in an era of diminishing landrace cultivation, bere now represents one of the oldest cereal landraces in Europe still grown commercially. The longevity of bere raises the possibility of using grain characteristics of present-day specimens to identify bere in the archaeological record. Geometric modern morphometric (GMM) analysis of grains from bere and other barley landraces is conducted to determine whether landraces can be differentiated on grain morphology. Results indicate that there are morphological differences between bere and other British and Scandinavian landraces, and between bere from Orkney and the Western Isles, both of which are apparent in genetic analysis. This finding paves the way for the identification of bere archaeologically, helping to establish its status as living heritage and securing its commercial future. More broadly, this work indicates the potential of grain GMM for the recognition of cereal landraces, permitting the ancestry and exchange of landraces to be traced in the archaeological record.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2018


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