Tetraploid emmer wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccon) is a progenitor of the world’s most widely grown crop, hexaploid bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), as well as the direct ancestor of tetraploid durum wheat (T. turgidum subsp. turgidum). Emmer was one of the first cereals to be domesticated in the old world; it was cultivated from around 9700 BC in the Levant1,2 and subsequently in south-western Asia, northern Africa and Europe with the spread of Neolithic agriculture3,4. Here, we report a whole-genome sequence from a museum specimen of Egyptian emmer wheat chaff, 14C dated to the New Kingdom, 1130–1000 BC. Its genome shares haplotypes with modern domesticated emmer at loci that are associated with shattering, seed size and germination, as well as within other putative domestication loci, suggesting that these traits share a common origin before the introduction of emmer to Egypt. Its genome is otherwise unusual, carrying haplotypes that are absent from modern emmer. Genetic similarity with modern Arabian and Indian emmer landraces connects ancient Egyptian emmer with early south-eastern dispersals, whereas inferred gene flow with wild emmer from the Southern Levant signals a later connection. Our results show the importance of museum collections as sources of genetic data to uncover the history and diversity of ancient cereals.