13: The Birth of Agriculture? When? Where?

For nearly 2.5 Million Years, we humans have fed ourselves by gathering plants and hunting animals that lived and bred without our intervention. Our counterparts such as  Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, and the Neanderthals ( To know more about our counterparts, read my previous story: 12 : Are we the only humans ?), plucked wild figs, fruits and hunted wild sheep without deciding where fig trees would take root, in which meadow a herd of sheep should graze.

 

img 1An image from the National Geographic depicts the migration patterns of Homo Sapiens.

Homo sapiens spread from East Africa to the Middle East, to Europe and Asia, and finally to Australia and America –but everywhere they went, Sapiens too continued to live by gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals. At first, Why do anything else when your lifestyle feeds you in abundance and supports a rich world of social structures, religious beliefs, and political dynamics?

 

neolithic-revolution-in-america-with-agricultureImage via ihistoriauniversal.com

About 10,000 years ago, things started to change and a completely new pattern was set to emerge when Sapiens began to devote almost all their time and effort in manipulating the lives of a few animal and plant species. From sunrise to sunset humans sowed seeds, watered plants, plucked weeds from the ground and led sheep to prime pastures. This work, they thought, would provide them with more fruit, grain, and meat. It was a revolution in the way humans lived –the Agricultural Revolution.

Sources reveal that the transition to agriculture began around 9500–8500 BC in the hill country of south-eastern Turkey, western Iran and the Levant. It began slowly and in a restricted geographical area.

geschichte-weizen_2015_08_28The History of Wheat Globally

Wheat and goats were domesticated by approximately 9000 BC; peas and lentils around 8000 BC; olive trees by 5000 BC; horses by 4000 BC; and grapevines by 3500 BC. Some animals and plants, such as camels and cashew nuts, were domesticated even later, but by 3500 BC the main wave of domestication was over.

Even today, with all our advanced technologies, more than 90 percent of the calories that feed humanity come from the handful of plants that our ancestors domesticated between 9500 and 3500 BC –wheat, rice, maize (called ‘corn’ in the US), potatoes, millet, and barley. No noteworthy plant or animal has been domesticated in the last 2,000 years.

“If our minds are those of hunter-gatherers, our cuisine is that of ancient farmers.”

unnamedLocations and dates of Agricultural revolutions.

Scholars once believed that agriculture spread from a single Middle Eastern point of origin to the four corners of the world. Today, scholars agree that agriculture sprang up in other parts of the world, not by the action of Middle Eastern farmers exporting their revolution but entirely in an independent way. People in Central America domesticated maize and beans without knowing anything about wheat and pea cultivation in the Middle East. South Americans learned how to raise potatoes and llamas, unaware of what was going on in either Mexico or the Levant. China’s first revolutionaries domesticated rice, millet, and pigs. North America’s first gardeners were those who got tired of combing the undergrowth for edible gourds and decided to cultivate pumpkins. New Guineans tamed sugar cane and bananas, while the first West African farmers made African millet, African rice, sorghum, and wheat conform to their needs. From these initial focal points, agriculture spread far and wide.

By the first century AD, the vast majority of people throughout most of the world were agriculturists. Why did agricultural revolutions erupt in the Middle East, China and Central America but not in Australia, Alaska or South Africa? The reason is simple: most species of plants and animals can’t be domesticated. Sapiens could dig up delicious truffles and hunt down woolly mammoths, but domesticating either species was out of the question. The fungi were far too elusive, the giant beasts too ferocious. Of the thousands of species that our ancestors hunted and gathered, only a few were suitable candidates for farming and herding. Those few species lived in particular places, and those are the places where agricultural revolutions occurred.

barley1-56a01f155f9b58eba4af1008Domestication of Wheat. 

Now Let us think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution just from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a very minimal range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world.

According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 2.25 million square kilometers of the globe’s surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. 

 

 

……………..Information bits garnered from the Works of Yuval Noah Harari……………………….

 

 

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