Nav: Home

Hidden seeds reveal Canary Islands history

January 09, 2017

Have you tried the national dish gofio while on holiday on the Canary Islands? If so, you have eaten the same food as the original inhabitants ate, nearly 2,000 years ago. The island farmers have cultivated the same types of grain for over a thousand years. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers from Linköping University in Sweden, working together with researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, after DNA analyses of prehistoric seeds.

"Investigating the genetic material of barley from the Canary Islands can increase our understanding of the history of the islands. Our analyses support the theory that the Canary Islands were colonised by tribes from northern Morocco. And even though archaeologists have never found any prehistoric barley on Lanzarote, we can be fairly confident that it was cultivated there during the prehistoric period, exactly as early Spanish sources describe," says Jenny Hagenblad, associate professor at Linköping University and one of the team that has worked on the study.

The Canary Islands have a tradition of cultivating grain that goes back far beyond the Spanish conquest of the islands in the 15th century. In prehistoric time barley was one of the main crops on the island of Gran Canaria. The important grain was stored in caves that the indigenous population had excavated in the lava-based bedrock. The caves were often hidden and located high on steep mountain slopes, in order to protect the valuable harvest.

"The conditions in these caves were ideal for storage, and it is possible today, more than 500 years later, to find intact seeds in some of the most remote and well-hidden caves," says Jacob Morales at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Jenny Hagenblad and co-workers have studied some of these seeds, and shown that they are nearly 1,000 years old. In spite of this they are so well preserved that it is possible to carry out genetic analysis of their DNA. The researchers analysed 100 different genetic variants, in order not only to obtain information about the properties of the barley, but also to investigate how similar the prehistoric barley is to the barley that is cultivated on the islands today. The prehistoric barley was compared with more than 100 varieties that are currently cultivated on the Canary Islands, in northern Africa, and around the Mediterranean.

"Since the original population has been replaced to a large extent by people from Spain, we were interested to see whether the barley had also been replaced. We found, however, that what is cultivated on the Canary Islands today is exactly the same barley as the original population brought to the islands when they were colonised early in the first millennium AD," says Jenny Hagenblad.

"We also learned a great deal about the barley that was cultivated in prehistoric time. The genetic markers we have used show that the barley had a high nutritional content, and each plant produced many seeds. The barley seems to have been well adapted to the conditions on the Canary Islands, and this is something that the Spanish conquerors probably noticed," says Matti Leino, associate professor at the Nordic Museum, who previously worked at Linköping University.

The results have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The research has been financed by the Olle Engkvist Byggmästare Foundation; the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities; the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness; and the European Research Council.
The article: Farmer fidelity in the Canary Islands revealed by ancient DNA from prehistoric seeds, Jenny Hagenblad, Jacob Morales, Matti W. Leino, Amelia C. Rodriguez-Rodriguez, (2016) Journal of Archaeological Science, published online 18 December 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2016.12.001

For more information, please contact: Jenny Hagenblad, associate professor, Linköping University,, +46 13 286686

Jacob Morales, PhD, University of las Palmas de Gran Canaria,, +34 928 556663

Linköping University

Related Dna Articles:

Penn State DNA ladders: Inexpensive molecular rulers for DNA research
New license-free tools will allow researchers to estimate the size of DNA fragments for a fraction of the cost of currently available methods.
It is easier for a DNA knot...
How can long DNA filaments, which have convoluted and highly knotted structure, manage to pass through the tiny pores of biological systems?
How do metals interact with DNA?
Since a couple of decades, metal-containing drugs have been successfully used to fight against certain types of cancer.
Electrons use DNA like a wire for signaling DNA replication
A Caltech-led study has shown that the electrical wire-like behavior of DNA is involved in the molecule's replication.
Switched-on DNA
DNA, the stuff of life, may very well also pack quite the jolt for engineers trying to advance the development of tiny, low-cost electronic devices.
Researchers are first to see DNA 'blink'
Northwestern University biomedical engineers have developed imaging technology that is the first to see DNA 'blink,' or fluoresce.
Finding our way around DNA
A Salk team developed a tool that maps functional areas of the genome to better understand disease.
A 'strand' of DNA as never before
In a carefully designed polymer, researchers at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences have imprinted a sequence of a single strand of DNA.
Doubling down on DNA
The African clawed frog X. laevis genome contains two full sets of chromosomes from two extinct ancestors.
'Poring over' DNA
Church's team at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard Medical School developed a new electronic DNA sequencing platform based on biologically engineered nanopores that could help overcome present limitations.

Related Dna Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".