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Lying on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka, the ancient port of Mantai was ideally situated as a ‘hub’ for trade between East and West from the first millennium BC onwards. Excavations at the site were interrupted by civil war in 1984, delaying publication of these results and leading to the underestimation of Mantai's importance in the development of Early Historic Indian Ocean trade. Renewed excavations in 2009–2010 yielded extensive archaeobotanical remains, which, alongside an improved understanding of the site's chronology, provide important new insights into the development of local and regional trade routes and direct evidence for early trade in the valuable spices upon which later empires were founded.
This introduction traces the origins of agriculture and the character of early agricultural communities across the world and surveys the development of the more complex social structures and cultural forms that agriculture enabled. Like modern scientists, however, some experimenters either unwittingly or intentionally manipulated the genetic make-up of plant and animal populations, selecting for traits and characteristics that were more productive or more pleasing and thus preferred. Food production has been linked to significant changes in landscapes and populations that eventually supported the rise of urbanism and enabled human populations to expand from 6 million to over 7 billion today. Alan Outram describes how, whether keeping a few livestock within a mixed farming system or maintaining large herds and flocks in systems of specialized pastoralism, the key limiting factors that have to be solved are access to grazing land and, for times of the year when the natural grazing is insufficient, adequate supplies of fodder.
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