updated 6/22/2009 8:00:01 PM ET 2009-06-23T00:00:01

People were storing grain long before they learned to domesticate crops, a new study indicates. A structure used as a food granary discovered in recent excavations in Jordan dates to about 11,300 years ago, according to a report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That's as much as a thousand years before people in the Middle East domesticated grain, the research team led by anthropologist Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame said.

Remains of wild barley were found in the structure, indicating that the grain was collected and saved even though formal cultivation had not yet developed.

The granary was between two other structures used for grain processing and residences, discovered in excavations at Dhra', near the Dead Sea. The granary was round with walls of stone and mud. The researchers said it had a raised floor for air circulation and protection from rodents.

The ability to store food is essential for the development of farming, the researchers said.

"The granaries represent a critical evolutionary shift in the relationship between people and plant foods, which precedes the emergence of domestication and large-scale sedentary communities by at least 1,000 years," they reported.

The research was funded by the British Academy, the Council for British Research in the Levant, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Notre Dame.

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