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Harvesting wild flax in the Galilee, Israel and extracting fibers — bearing on Near Eastern plant domestication

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Flax (Linum usitatissimum, 2n = 30) is considered as the first fiber and oil crop of Neolithic Near Eastern agriculture and is often mentioned as one of the Near Eastern Neolithic “founder crops” assemblage. Wild flax fibers were recovered from a 30,000-year-old Upper Paleolithic site in Georgia, suggesting that the utilization of wild flax by Old World hunter–gatherer societies pre-dates the Neolithic agricultural revolution. We examined the potential of a wild flax species (L. pubescens, 2n = 18), an abundant element in open plant formations in Israel, as a source of fibers. Whole plants were pulled by hand in two sites in the eastern Galilee, Israel, during May 2006 and May 2007. The roots, stems and inflorescences of the collected plants were separated, dried and weighed. Fibers were extracted by retting and hammering the stems, dried, weighed and yarn was spun. Because Linum pubescens is not the wild progenitor of domesticated flax but rather a distantly related wild relative, the results of our experimental flax harvest are discussed in the context of both Levantine hunter–gatherers’ subsistence and the Neolithic recruitment of species as potential candidates for domestication.

Affiliations: 1: RH Smith Institute of Plant Science and Genetics in Agriculture, The Levi Eshkol School of Agriculture, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; 2: Department of Biology & Environment, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Haifa – Oranim ; 3: Israel Antiquities Authority ; 4: Kibbutz Nir Etzion ; 5: Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel-Aviv University


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