Remarkably, archaeologists have now unearthed bits of this rice at a site called Shangshan. The grains, of course, were eaten long ago and the plant stalks have long been rotten, but one tiny part of rice remains even thousands of years later: phytoliths, or hard, microscopic pieces of silica made by plant cells for self-defense. Rice leaves have fan-shaped phytoliths that don’t burn, digest, or decompose. It’s specific patterns on these phytoliths that suggest people in Shangshan were not just gathering rice, but actually cultivating it 10,000 years ago—a transition that would profoundly shift the human diet to the point where half of the world relies on the staple crop today.
Story: Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic | Photo: China Stringer Network / Reuters