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Back in the late 1970s, the city planners of Karatsu, a fishing community on the northern coast of Kyushu, decided to build a new road. This provided a rare opportunity for local archaeologists. Seizing the chance to burrow with abandon in the densely developed region, they established a dig and began to search for pollen and seeds from ancient plants (among other buried treasures).

One day, they mixed a scoop of soil with water to separate out the pollen, and something unexpected floated to the top: a handful of tiny black discs. It turned out to be carbonized millennia-old rice that would soon lead them to the oldest paddy fields ever discovered in Japan.

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