Six-legged hitchhikers: an archaeobiogeographical account of the early dispersal of grain beetles

Gary King, Harry Kenward, Edith Schmidt, David Smith

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Grain-associated insect species are economically important and archaeologically significant. Their dispersal around the globe and eventually across the North Atlantic region surely occurred through human transport rather than naturally. Most beetle cereal pests are now nearly cosmopolitan in their distribution, but their prehistoric ranges appear to have been more restricted. What is known or surmised of the early dispersal of these insect species is summarized, and the
role of archaeobiogeographical data in investigating past human contact evaluated. Analysis of fossil and historic records of grain-associated beetles suggests that their dispersal corresponded with assumptions concerning human movement and interaction in the past. There is a significant fossil record for some grain beetles, but it is incomplete and predominantly from northwest Europe. More fossils are needed from across the Palaearctic and North Africa. The examination of pre agricultural natural deposits in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent might reveal the original ranges of the pest species, the stages by which they entered into association with humans, and their earliest dispersal. With a more complete fossil record, the grain fauna may provide a useful proxy by which to evaluate cultural contact and human migration into the North Atlantic region in the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the North Atlantic
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


  • Granary pests
  • archaeology
  • Roman


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