A new light on the evolution and propagation of prehistoric grain pests: The world's oldest maize weevils found in Jomon potteries, Japan

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Abstract

Three Sitophilus species (S. granarius L., S. oryzae L., and S. zeamais Mots.) are closely related based on DNA analysis of their endosymbionts. All are seed parasites of cereal crops and important economic pest species in stored grain. The Sitophilus species that currently exist, including these three species, are generally believed to be endemic to Asia's forested areas, suggesting that the first infestations of stored grain must have taken place near the forested mountains of southwestern Asia. Previous archaeological data and historical records suggest that the three species may have been diffused by the spread of Neolithic agriculture, but this hypothesis has only been established for granary weevils in European and southwestern Asian archaeological records. There was little archeological evidence for grain pests in East Asia before the discovery of maize weevil impressions in Jomon pottery in 2004 using the "impression replica" method. Our research on Jomon agriculture based on seed and insect impressions in pottery continued to seek additional evidence. In 2010, we discovered older weevil impressions in Jomon pottery dating to ca. 10 500 BP. These specimens are the oldest harmful insects in the world discovered at archaeological sites. Our results provide evidence of harmful insects living in the villages from the Earliest Jomon, when no cereals were cultivated. This suggests we must reconsider previous scenarios for the evolution and propagation of grain pest weevils, especially in eastern Asia. Although details of their biology or the foods they infested remain unclear, we hope future interdisciplinary collaborations among geneticists, entomologists, and archaeologists will provide the missing details. © 2011 Obata et al.

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Obata, H., Manabe, A., Nakamura, N., Onishi, T., & Senba, Y. (2011). A new light on the evolution and propagation of prehistoric grain pests: The world’s oldest maize weevils found in Jomon potteries, Japan. PLoS ONE, 6(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014785

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