Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wheat Not Found in the New World – Part I

Wheat was the main field crop in both Judah and Egypt. In Judah fields of wheat were raised primarily without irrigation, depending instead on rainfall, which was sometimes scarce—called dry farming in the U.S. Consequently, famine in years of poor rainfall was common. In contrast, Egypt was a land with abundant water for irrigation and was the land to which Israelites looked in time of famine.
Left: Einkorn Wheat; Center: Durum Wheat; Right: Emmer Wheat
At the time Lehi and his family left the Old World, they probably had several species of wheat from which to choose and may in fact have brought more than one species with them. Einkorn wheat (T. monococcum) was still cultivated there, though not widely, and bread wheat (T. aestivum) may have been present as well. Most likely, however, they would have brought one of the tetraploid wheats such as “durum” wheat (Triticum turgidum var. durum) or “emmer” wheat (Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon). These last two species were the most abundantly cultivated varieties in Israel and adjacent countries, with durum being the favorite. Emmer wheat is significantly inferior to durum, since it cannot be as easily and freely threshed as durum, which is still, as it was in the time of the Bible, the dominant field crop commonly grown for bread in warm, temperate countries.
“We began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land” (Mosiah 9:9)
While physical evidence of pre-Columbian wheat has not been discovered by archaeologists in the Americas, one should not conclude that wheat was not cultivated anciently in the New World.
According to Alphonse de Candolle, a renowned Swiss botanist who drafted the international rules of botanical nomenclature, and considered the father of crop evolution, in his Origin of Cultivated Plants (Trench, London, 1884) claims: “Archaeologists understand that failure to find something mentioned in a text does not discredit the text. They recognize that the likelihood of an organic artifact being preserved is very small and that if an organic artifact is indeed preserved, the chance that it will be discovered and correctly identified is even more remote.” Accordingly, within their discipline, archaeologists typically accept the axiom that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Only uninformed critics of the Book of Mormon, and the so-called scientists who believe in evolution and an anti-God philosophy who would never accept anything from the Book of Mormon, continue to insist that because no wheat or barley have been found in the New World prior to its introduction by the Europeans in the 17th century onward is proof positive that the Book of Mormon is a hoax. However, as Candolle pointed out—absence of discovery does not mean it did not exist.
In fact, Candolle, who was interested in geography of plants in general and wrote extensively on the subject, and whose book remains today a model of scholarship and continues to be a useful source of information about the origins of cultivated plants, in his introductory chapters of Origin of Cultivated Plants, he insisted that "several different lines of investigation must be followed to allow an accurate analysis of the place or origin of a crop." He was not only quite familiar with plant remains and pictorial records and archaeological remains from ancient Mexico and Peru, he warned against errors found in the printed works of ancient authors of history. Obviously, as he stated, "just because historians claim no plants were found by the Spanish, does not indicate that no such plants ever existed in the New World." He also suggested that "historical sources should be consulted for information on cultivated plants," often providing a definite locality for the place of origin based on his study of published records and specimens, which ought to suggest to us today that the Book of Mormon provides such historical evidence.
Thus the Book of Mormon text itself—added to what we know about wheat cultivation in the world from which the Lehites came—may be the best sources for insights to help us understand the earliest cultivation of wheat and barley in the Americas.
Wheat is mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon, but only once as being one of the crops raised. Bread, perhaps made from wheat, is mentioned over twenty times in the scriptural record, and the word chaff (the remaining by-product of threshing grains such as wheat) is present in six verses.
A Vavilov Center (Vavilov Center of Diversity) is a region of the world first indicated by Dr. Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov to be an original center for the domestication of plants. Vavilov developed a theory on the centers of origin of cultivated plants, stating that “plants are not domesticated somewhere in the world at random but there are regions where the domestication started.” He called this center of origin “the center of diversity.” His location of the Vavilov centers are regions where a high diversity of crop’s wild relatives can be found, representing the natural relatives of domesticated crop plants.
Nikolai Vavilov’s Center of Diversity for the Domestication of Plants: (1) Mexico-Guatemala, (2) Peru-Ecuador-Bolivia, (2A) Southern Chile, (2B) Southern Brazil, (3) Mediterranean, (4) Middle East, (5) Ethiopia, (6) Central Asia, (7) Indo-Burma, (7A) Siam-Malaya-Java, (8) China
It is obvious that wheat, a major crop around Jersualem in 600 B.C., would have been part, if not a large part, of the seeds Nephi mentions bringing with them from Jerusalem.
(See the next post, “Wheat Not Found in the New World – Part II,” for more reasons why wheat and barley, etc., have not been found in the Land of Promise in the Western Hemisphere)

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