Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hermiston man reaps 5,000-year-old wheat crop

A Hermiston resident in November of 1954 reaped a harvest 5,000 years in the making. Wheat seeds found in a prehistoric homesite in Utah in were planted in the back yard of E.A. Oman, a Hermiston contractor, and produced a stand of wheat an ancient farmer would be proud of.

Oman received the seeds from a friend, Clarence Pillings of Price, Utah, in 1952. The original 173 kernels were found preserved in sand and in clay vases in the cave of an ancient cliff dweller in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains near 9-Mile, Utah, a few miles west of Green River. Oman in 1954 was harvesting his second crop from the ancient seed, a four-foot stand that ripened in about 90 days, he said. The kernels were about 3 times the size of ordinary irrigated wheat kernels, with heads measuring up to 9 inches in length.

Also found in the cave were 8 or 10 clay plaques or figurines representing humans, ranging in height from 6 inches to about one foot, laid shoulder to shoulder on a marble slab. Each figure wore a ritualistic green headdress and a set of delicate beads around its neck. Oman hoped to persuade Pillings to allow the figurines to be exhibited at the 1955 Umatilla County Fair.

An archaeologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder estimated the age of the contents of the cave at “several thousand years” before the time of Christ. A representative from a  Boston museum disagreed, saying he thought the seed had been placed in the vases about 500 B.C.

The 1954 crop, planted from the previous year’s seed, produced the equivalent yield of 80-90 bushels to the acre, Oman guessed. He recommended the ancient wheat to Pakistanis, who on a tour found U.S. wheat “too doughy” for their taste.

Oman planned to make bread from the year’s crop.

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