Modern genetics, ecology and archaeology are combined to reconstruct the domestication and diversification of rice. Early rice cultivation followed two pathways towards domestication in India and China, with selection for domestication traits in early Yangtze japonica and a non-domestication feedback system inferred for proto-indica. The protracted domestication process finished around 6,500–6,000 years ago in China and about two millennia later in India, when hybridization with Chinese rice took place. Subsequently farming populations grew and expanded by migration and incorporation of pre-existing populations. These expansions can be linked to hypothetical language family dispersal models, including dispersal from China southwards by the Sino-Tibetan and Austronesian groups. In South Asia much dispersal of rice took place after Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speakers adopted rice from speakers of lost languages of northern India.