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New publication sheds light on the arrival of millet in European dishes

Today broomcorn millet is a commonly in eaten in East-Central Europe as porridge topped with fruit, nuts and seeds. Photograph by Jagoda Kot.

19 August 2020

When did broomcorn millet become an ingredient in European dishes? For decades the cereal grain was found on archaeological sites dating back into the Neolithic period, before 5000 BCE. However in recent years, direct radiocarbon dating of single grains brought doubts about such an early arrival of millet, first domesticated in northeast China in around 6000 BCE, to the West.

A study, published on August 13 in Scientific Reports, produced and evaluated over 100 radiocarbon dates directly on charred millet grains from over 90 prehistoric sites in Europe. The latter include a settlement at Smuszewo in Poland, re-investigated by Dr Łukasz Pospieszny, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

Bayesian modelling of 136 radiocarbon dates reveals that millet arrived in eastern Europe at the earliest in the 16th century BCE. It spread rapidly over during 15th-14th centuries BCE, reaching north-central Europe in late 13th or early 12th century BCE. This means that millet cultivation began in Europe not in the Neolithic period, but as late as in the middle to late Bronze Age.

Broomcorn millet has a very short lifecycle so it offered an additional harvest and surplus food for Bronze Age societies. It likely was an important innovation in agricultural production and culinary practices.

This study was led by Dr Dragana Filipović from Kiel University, Germany.

Further information

Filipović, D., Meadows, J., Corso, M.D. et al. New AMS 14C dates track the arrival and spread of broomcorn millet cultivation and agricultural change in prehistoric Europe. Sci Rep 10, 13698 (2020).

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