Little history of oat is known prior to the time of Christ. Oats did not become important to man as early as wheat or barley. Oats probably persisted as a weed‑like plant in other cereals for centuries prior to being cultivated by itself. Some authorities believe that our present cultivated oats developed as a mutation from wild oats. They think this may have taken place in Asia Minor or southeastern Europe not long before the birth of Christ.
Probably the oldest known oat grains were found in Egypt among remains of the 12th Dynasty, which was about 2,000 B.C. These probably were weeds and not actually cultivated by the Egyptians. The oldest known cultivated oats were found in caves in Switzerland that are believed to belong to the Bronze Age.
The history of oats is somewhat clouded because there are so many different species and subspecies, which makes identification of old remains very difficult. The chief modern center of greatest variety of forms is in Asia Minor where most all subspecies are in contact with each other. Many feel that the area with the greatest diversity of types is most likely where a particular plant originated.
Oats were first brought to North America with other grains in 1602 and planted on the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. As early as 1786, George Washington sowed 580 acres to oats. By the 1860s and 1870s, the westward shift of oat acreage in the United States had moved into the middle and upper Mississippi Valley, which is its major area of production today.
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