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Food                  12,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 The Levantine cultures of between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago are called Kebaran, followed from about 15,000 to 12,500 BP by the Geometric Kebaran cultures. If the Kebaran peoples were doing something that inexorably led their remote descendants to become farmers, it is not obvious in their archaeological traces. In the Geometric Kebaran record, however, we get a few indications of economic changes that may be harbingers of agriculture. Some Kebaran sites, such as the Neve David site, seems to be have been occupied for a time by a relatively large group, a "macroband." This site has the full range of ground-stone tools, and it contains two small stone structures, one in a circular form about two meters in diameter. A grave at the site holds a body interred with the apparent ritual use of grinding stones. Grinding stones are a key artifact in examining the transition to agriculture because they were indispensable tools for processing cereals and many other plant foods.(26)

In the Near East many bands of hunter-gatherers had adopted a more sedentary way of life, constructing permanent villages, hunting and fishing locally, and gathering fruits, nuts, and wild wheat and barley, which they later learned to cultivate. With the coming of the Younger Dryas, however, and the sudden change to a cooler and arid climate, these resources disappeared. Jericho was deserted, as were many other villages. The plains of Ukraine and southern Russia reverted to steppe desert. Tribes crowded near oases where game and water were plentiful, such as at the rim of the Black Sea lake. (131)

The evidence indicates that hunter-gatherers at Abu Hureyra first started cultivating crops in response to a steep decline in wild plants that had served as staple foods for at least the preceding four centuries. The decline in these wild staples is attributable to a sudden onset of a drier, colder, more variable climate. Work by Gordon Hillman, of University College London, and his colleagues found that the wild seed varieties gathered as food gradually vanished, before the cultivated varieties appeared. Those wild seeds most dependent on water were the first to die out, then one by one by the hardier ones followed. So the hunter-gatherers turned to cultivating some of the foods they had previously collected from the wild. In an unstable environment, the first farmers started simply by transferring wild plants to more suitable habitats and cultivating them there. (145)

Another piece in the jigsaw of agricultural origins is the lifestyle identified as the 'Natufian culture' that thrived in the Levant between 14.5 to 12kya. During the first half of this period temperatures rose and precipitation increased and in the southern Levant reached a peak around 13.5 kya. This led to increased vegetation and greater yields of wild fruit, seeds and game animals, which altered lifestyles. In favoured areas sedentism became the preferred settlement pattern. With sedentism came population growth. (145)

Egypt

 Excavations in the Nile Valley have revealed campsites that date from 16,000 BC to around 9000 BC, but these sites reflect a society subsisting on rigorous hunting and fishing. Known as the Sebilian culture, these sites clearly show a decrease in the size of tools. Although knowledgeable about animal domestication near the end of the period, the Sebilians were nothing more than the traditional hunter-gatherers of the Old Stone Age From 9000 to 6000 BC, there exists a "dark age" in North African history, from which little information is available. During this time, the Sebilians were living in the valley. Afterward, New Stone Age communities began to dot the landscape with a new concept of living centered on agriculture, yet the Sebilians held fast to their traditional ways of hunting and fishing. Some believe that agriculture was introduced from outside to these hunter-gatherers, who were not eager to become farmers. (70)

Further evidence of human habitation of the Nile Valley at the end of the LGM has come from the Kom Ombo Plain, which is a rich alluvial plain 50 km north of Aswan. Between 17 an 12 kya this area offered an attractive habitat for humans. Rainfall having increased at the end of the LGM, was more abundant than now. So not only were the Nile floods more substantial, but also the rainfall in the Red Sea Hills to the east of the river was sufficient to feed the now dried-up tributaries that ran into the Nile across the Kom Ombo Plain. The range of foods was substantial. Animal bones included a now extinct large wild ox, the bubal hartebeest, several species of gazelle and hippopotamus, which appeared to be the principal game eaten. In addition, there were hares, hyenas, a form of dog, bandicoot rats and possibly 'Barbary' sheep. The streams and pools provided Nile catfish, Nile perch, the African barbel, and local species of oyster and soft-shelled turtle. The bones of some 22 forms of birds were also identified. In addition, the food supply would have included roots and bulbs throughout the year, together with seasonal supplies of berries, nuts, and perhaps melons and cucumbers plus edible gum from various trees. (145)

...something highly unusual really did take place in Egypt sometime between 13,000 and 12,000 BC. At four Isnan sites on the Upper Nile - at Isna (from which the culture takes its name), at Naqada, at Dishna, and at Tushka, 125 miles up river from Aswan - palaeontologists have unearthed clear evidence that these ancient peoples selected and grew their own cereal crops. Stone sickle blades were used to reap the harvests, while grinding-stones were employed to extract the maximum amount of grain.' Not only did the Isnan possess a primitive form of agriculture, they would also appear to have mastered animal domestication and to have possessed a highly advanced microblade technology. (149)

Indus Valley

 An epoch of spectacular geological turmoil occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, with the most dramatic effects registered in a series of cataclysmic floods that took place at intervals between roughly 15,000 and 7000 years ago. Is it an accident that this same 8000-year period has been pinpointed by archaeologists as the very one in which our supposedly primitive forefathers made the transition (in different places at somewhat different times) from their age-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled agriculture? Or could there be more to 'the food-producing revolution' than meets the eye? After all, most scientists already recognize a causative connection between the end of the Ice Age and the supposed beginning of farming - indeed an unproven hypothesis that rapid climate changes forced hunter-gatherers to invent agriculture presently serves as pretty much the sum of conventional wisdom on this subject. But there is another possibility. Nobody seems to have noticed that in the general vicinity of each of the places in the world where the food-producing revolution is supposed to have begun between 15,000 and 7000 years ago there is also a large area of land that was submerged by the post-glacial floods between 15,000 and 7000 years ago: We have seen that this is true for India, one of the world's ancient agricultural 'hearths', which lost more than a million square kilometres in the south and the west and, most conspicuously in the north-west, at the end of the Ice Age. (124)

China

 Fossil rice phytoliths have been identified from late glacial to Holocene sediments in the East China Sea that were probably transported by the Yangtze River from its middle or lower reaches. The phytoliths appeared first in the sequence at about 13.9 kya and disappeared during the period of 13-10 kya, which includes the Younger Dryas. (145)

Europe

Mammoths, horses, and many other animals were hunted by these upper Paleolithic peoples, but the reindeer was the staff of life: at many sites 99% of all animal bones found belonged to reindeer.(24)

By about 14,000 years ago the people of western Europe had developed fish traps to harvest the countless slamon that migrated up the rivers there each year. This relatively late exploitation of fish in Europe has a parallel in prehistoric southeastern North America, where native American lived for thousands of years subsisting primarily on deer, mussels, and a variety of plant foods, alomost totally ignoring the myriad fish in nearby streams.(24)

One of the most amply documented Upper Paleolithic cultures in eastern Europe is the Kostenski-Bershevo culture centered in the Don River Valley, about 470 kilometers southeast of Moscow. About 25,000 to 11,000 years ago, the people of Kostenski subsisted primarily through big-game hunting, mainly of mammoths or horses, with an occasional wild cow or reindeer.(24)

In the Near East many bands of hunter-gatherers had adopted a more sedentary way of life, constructing permanent villages, hunting and fishing locally, and gathering fruits, nuts, and wild wheat and barley, which they later learned to cultivate. With the coming of the Younger Dryas, however, and the sudden change to a cooler and arid climate, these resources disappeared. Jericho was deserted, as were many other villages. The plains of Ukraine and southern Russia reverted to steppe desert. Tribes crowded near oases where game and water were plentiful, such as at the rim of the Black Sea lake. (131)

Undeniably, the hunting of big game – megafauna – made a significant contribution to the subsistence of Upper Paleolithic people. In central and eastern Europe, for example, sites dating between 28,000 BP and 10,000 BP reflect the major role of the wooly mammoth in the subsistence base of Upper Paleolithic people. Portrayals of ancient hunters fighting a daily duel to the death with huge, aggressive beasts may offer us a romantic image, but it seems an unlikely strategy for survival. It is far more likely that the people of the Upper Paleolithic subsisted on a broad spectrum of foods, including the meat from animals both large and small, birds, fish, seeds, nuts, berries, and starchy roots. Archaeological evidence is finally beginning to support this sensible reconstruction. (170)

South America

 Monte Verde, on the banks of Chinchihuapi Creek, is in the hills near the town of Puerto Mont, 500 miles south of Santiago. As Dr. Dillehay reconstructed the prehistoric scene in his mind, a group of 20 to 30 people occupied Monte Verde for a year or so. They gathered berries in the spring, chestnuts in the fall and also ate potatoes, mushrooms and marsh grasses. They hunted small game and also ancestors of the llama and sometimes went down to the Pacific, 30 miles away, for shellfish. Some seeds and nuts were shifted out of the soil. A chunk of meat had managed to survive in the bog, remains of the hunters' last kill; DNA analysis indicates the meat was from a mastodon. The site also yielded several human coprolites, ancient fecal material. (98

Mesoamerica

 

North America

 

Other