Science, Tech, Math › Social Sciences The Domestication of Sesame Seed - Ancient Gift from Harappa The Indus Valley Civilization's Gift to the World Share Flipboard Email Print Sesame Seed Pods at the Beanstalk Children's Garden, Kansas City, Missouri. Protoplan Pickle Jar Social Sciences Archaeology History of Animal and Plant Domestication Basics Ancient Civilizations Excavations Psychology Sociology Economics Ergonomics Maritime By K. Kris Hirst Archaeology Expert M.A., Anthropology, University of Iowa B.Ed., Illinois State University K. Kris Hirst is an archaeologist with 30 years of field experience. Her work has appeared in scholarly publications such as Archaeology Online and Science. our editorial process Twitter Twitter K. Kris Hirst Updated November 15, 2020 Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) is the source of edible oil, indeed, one of the oldest oils in the world, and an important ingredient in bakery foods and animal feed. A member of the family Pedaliaceae, sesame oil is also used in many health cure products; sesame seed contains 50-60% oil and 25% protein with antioxidant lignans. Today, sesame seeds are widely cultivated in Asia and Africa, with major production regions in Sudan, India, Myanmar and China. Sesame was first used in flour and oil production during the Bronze Age, and incense lamps containing sesame pollen have been found at Iron Age Salut in the Sultanate of Oman. Wild and Domesticated Forms Identifying wild from domesticated sesame is somewhat difficult, in part because sesame isn't completely domesticated: people have not been able to specifically time the maturing of the seed. The capsules split open during the maturing process, leading to varying degrees of seed loss and unripe harvesting. This also makes it likely that spontaneous populations will establish themselves around cultivated fields. The best candidate for sesame's wild progenitor is S. mulayaum Nair, which is found in populations in western South India and elsewhere in south Asia. The earliest reported sesame discovery is in the Indus Valley civilization site of Harappa, within the mature Harappan phase levels of mound F, dated between 2700 and 1900 BC. A similarly dated seed was discovered at the Harappan site of Miri Qalat in Baluchistan. Many more instances are dated to the second millennium BC, such as Sangbol, occupied during the late Harappan phase in Punjab, 1900-1400 BC). By the second half of the second millennium BC, sesame cultivation was widespread in the Indian subcontinent. Outside the Indian Subcontinent Sesame was disbursed to Mesopotamia before the end of the third millennium BC, presumably through trade networks with Harappa. Charred seeds were discovered at Abu Salabikh in Iraq, dated to 2300 BC, and linguists have argued that the Assyrian word shamas-shamme and the earlier Sumerian word she-gish-i may refer to sesame. These words are found in texts dated to as early as 2400 BC. By about 1400 BC, sesame was cultivated in middle Dilmun sites in Bahrain. Although earlier reports exist in Egypt, perhaps as early as the second millennium BC, the most credible reports are finds from the New Kingdom including Tutankhamen's tomb, and a storage jar at Deir el Medineh (14th-century BC). Apparently, the spread of sesame into Africa outside of Egypt occurred no earlier than about AD 500. Sesame was brought to the United States by enslaved people from Africa. In China, the earliest evidence comes from textual references that date to the Han Dynasty, about 2200 BP. According to the classic Chinese herbal and medical treatise called the Standard Inventory of Pharmacology, compiled about 1000 years ago, sesame was brought from the West by Qian Zhang during the early Han dynasty. Sesame seeds were also discovered at the Thousand Buddha Grottoes in the Turpan region, about AD 1300. Sources This article is a part of the About.com guide to the Plant Domestication, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.Abdellatef E, Sirelkhatem R, Mohamed Ahmed MM, Radwan KH, and Khalafalla MM. 2008. Study of genetic diversity in Sudanese sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) germplasm using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers. African Journal of Biotechnology 7(24):4423-4427.Ali GM, Yasumoto S, and Seki-Katsuta M. 2007. Assessment of genetic diversity in sesame ( Electronic Journal of Biotechnology 10:12-23.Sesamum indicum L.) detected by Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism markers.Bedigan D. 2012. African origins of sesame cultivation in the Americas. In: Voeks R, and Rashford J, editors. African Ethnobotany in the Americas. New York: Springer. p 67-120.Bellini C, Condoluci C, Giachi G, Gonnelli T, and Mariotti Lippi M. 2011. Interpretative scenarios emerging from plant micro- and macroremains in the Iron Age site of Salut, Sultanate of Oman. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10):2775-2789.Fuller DQ. 2003. Further evidence on the prehistory of sesame. Asian Agri-History 7(2):127-137.Ke T, Dong C-h, Mao H, Zhao Y-z, Liu H-y, and Liu S-y. 2011. Construction of a Normalized Full-Length cDNA Library of Sesame Developing Seed by DSN and SMART™. Agricultural Sciences in China 10(7):1004-1009.Qiu Z, Zhang Y, Bedigian D, Li X, Wang C, and Jiang H. 2012. Sesame Utilization in China: New Archaeobotanical Evidence from Xinjiang. Economic Botany 66(3):255-263.