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Origin of grain storage and insect species consuming desiccated food

ABSTRACT

The dwellers of ancient Egypt (km't*) have left in their tombs, paintings and papyri an immeasurable legacy of information concerning their religion, writing, language, agriculture, food storage and pest control. Several insect species (belonging to the families Anobiidae, Braconidae, Cleridae, Curculionidae, Cyclorrhapha, Dermestidae, Phycitidae, Ptinidae and Tenebrionidae) were found in the corpses (kha't) as well as the food offerings (pert er kheru) given to the deceased, which have been buried in predynastic (∼4500–2900 B. C.) and dynastic tombs (∼2900 B. C. –395 A. D.). These funerary insects witness the early occurrence of necrophagous and graminivorous pests infesting human and animal corpses as well as stored food offerings. Such infestations by harmful intruders may represent one of the first traceable links between insects and man in history. The understandable anxiety of the priests that tombdefiling insects (apshait) may injure the mummified body of the dead, is expressed in chapter 36 of the Book of the Dead (XVIII.–XXII. Dynasty), used as a manual of instructions for the resurrected deceased (aakhu) in the underworld (duat).It is understood that the ancient Egyptians were not able to foresee that extensive employment of spacious stores stuffed with food supplies will attract 2–3 dozens of insect species and provide them with vast amounts of desiccated seeds, plant and animal tissues. The insects thus gained optimal conditions for their propagation and rapid build-up of dense pest populations. The country-wide use of large granaries and other food stores can be regarded as an early historical incidence interfering with the natural equilibrium among insects and man.The insect species breeding in desiccated cereals and other foodstuffs stored in ancient Egypt have probably originated from ancestors which prevailed in specific natural habitats (where they may be found also at present). The shift of those insect species from natural habitats to the storage environment was probably promoted by the ability of the former to live in storage buildings and utilize desiccated and partly nutrient-deficient foodstuffs—owing to their efficient water conservation, microbial supplementation of lacking nutrients, adaptation of their reproductive behaviour to reduced space and illumination as well as due to employment of a larval diapause in response to adverse conditions.