HUMANPAST.NET

Food                  6,000 BC
Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
North America
Other

In General

Just after 10,000 years ago, people in several widely separated areas of the world began to domesticate a few plant and animal species. At about the same time they built villages, began living in them year-round, and began to subsist mainly on plants they cultivated and animals they kept.(27)

When we look at the history of this massive change in human lifeways around the world, two curious facts emerge: first, all of the largest and most complex civilizations throughout history have been based on the cultivation of one or more of just six plant genera--wheat, barley, millet, rice, maize, and potatoes; other plants such as sorghum, rye, beans, yams, taro, and thousands more, have been critical to the survival of peoples, and domesticated animals have also been important sources of calories and power, but the six genera listed above have been the main engines of "civilizations." Second, one of the particularly striking characteristics of the "agricultural revolution" is that, not only was it rapid and widespread, but it also happened independently in different parts of the world at about the same time.  For millions of years our ancestors subsisted solely on the proceeds of hunting and gathering, yet within just a few thousand years, between about 10,000 and 3,500 yeara ago, people all over the world--without any apparent connection--began growing crops and establishing agricultural economies based on, for example, potatoes in the Andes, maize in Mexico, wheat in Southwest Asia, rice in China, and many other crops in many other places.(27)

Africa

 

Southwest Asia

 The first major period of occupation at 'Ain Ghazal began at about 7,200 BC and it was pobably occupied  most or all of the time until about 5,000 BC. Covering approximately 30 acres, 'Ain Ghazal is about three times larger than Jericho, but it is unclear how much of the site was occupied at any one time. It probably had at one point at least several hundred inhabitants, who ate wheat, barley, lentils, sheep, and goats, and lived in mudbrick buildings of various sizes and shapes.(27)

Domestic cattle were herded on the Anatolian Plateau (central Turkey) by about 6,500 BC. As with sheep and goats, cattle domestication seems to have been a widespread phenomenon, probably beginning sometime after 9,000 BC and occurring in many areas from China to western Europe. Across this vast area, ancient farmers seem to have bred cattle for reduced size, increased docility and milk production, and increased tolerance of climatic conditions. Cattle were probably especially important to the first settlers on the southern Mesopotamian alluvial plain. During the dry, hot summers in this region, few reliable protein sources arfe available to primitive agriculturalists, and cow meat and milk apparently provided a crucial nutritional component.(27)

Another important domesticated animal was the pig, whose bones have been recovered from sites all over Southwest Asia. By 6,000 BC and even as late as 2,700 BC pig bones represent 20 to 30% of all mammal remains at many large sites. Sometime after about 2,400 BC pork apparently was religiously proscribed in most Mesopotamian cities, as well as in Egypt and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.(27)

As with agriculture, the invention of pottery seems to have occurred independently in many areas of Southwest Asia, where clay had been used for centuries for figurines and storage pits. The multiple origins and rapid spread of pottery after about 6500 B.C. no doubt reflect the increasing importance of containers in these agricultural economies--probably for carrying water, and for storing, cooking, and serving food.

Preliminary excavations indicate that from 6000 to 5000 B.C. Tell as-Sawwan was home to a few hundred people, most of whom were engaged in simple irrigation farming of wheat, barley, and linseed. (46)

The earliest records of settled village life based on producing a few supplemental cereal crops come from the hilly flanks of the Fertile Crescent, from 7000 BC in Jarmo (in what is now northern Iraq), and from 6000 BC in Catal Huyuk (in what is now southern Turkey). (68)

Gradually, fewer remains of wild foods are found at the sites. By 6000 BC, crop cultivation had been integrated with animal herding into a complete food-production system in the Near East. For better or worse, people were no longer hunter-gatherers but farmers and herders, en route to being civilized. (114)

Characteristic of this new epoch was a massive settling down of presumably nomadic peoples from northeastern Iran to Mesopotamia, creating the greatest single increase in agricultural settlements known to any period of prehistory. Domestic plants and animals were everywhere in evidence; scarcely a site was without the hexaploid, free-threshing grain known as bread wheat. Irrigation would have been necessary for its cultivation at many of these new sites, which frequently were situated in regions unsuitable for dry farming…when mid-sixth-millennium carbon-14 dates are corrected to calendar time, the dawn of this new impulse will be dated to approximately 65/6300 BC. With Iran the center of action, it seems more than fortuitous that this date should almost precisely coincide with that given by learned Greeks for the birth of Zarathustra, the Iranian prophet whose reforms were as much economic as spiritual. To settle, to plant--particularly in those places which could be made fertile only by the efforts of man--to raise cattle large and small: these were the imperatives of Zarathustra's economic reform. (115)

The Samarra period - named after a widespread pottery style created by what Roux describes as 'a hitherto unsuspected culture which flourished in the Middle Tigris valley during the second half of the sixth millennium BC' – i.e. approximately 7500 years ago. The geneticist Luca Cavalli-Sforza suggests that this date should be pushed back to 'about 8000 years ago'. There is evidence that this culture used irrigation techniques, grew large surpluses of wheat, barley and linseed... (124)

Aside from the wild grasses already mentioned, there is evidence to suggest that oats, peas, lentils, alfalfa and grapes had also first been cultivated by the precursors of the Kurdish peoples. The discoveries of grindstones, mortars and pestles have indicated the level of sophistication of this farming activity, even in its earliest phases. The remains of dogs, goats, pigs and sheep found at three important Kurdish archaeological sites, dated to between 8000 BC and 6000 BC, show that animal domestication was also spreading hand in hand with land cultivation. (149)

Egypt

 People in Egypt appear to have been in the process of domesticating cattle and other plant and animal species just as the Pleistocene was ending and the deserts were beginning to close around the Nile, about 10,000 years ago (perhaps earlier). But only about 7,500 years ago did some of the become full-time farmers and make the transition to village life and an economy based mainly on the foods that eventually were to serve as the staples of pharaonic Egypt—emmer, wheat, barley, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Sometime after about 10,000 years ago, Egyptians appear to have been domesticating several varieties of local grasses, and they also apparently were in the process-of domesticating cattle, and then later some other animals, such as the mongoose (icheumon), gazelle, oryx, addax, ibex, and hyena--none of which ever became completely domesticated or extensively used as farm or food animals. (47)

Sometime between 6000 and 5000 BC, domesticated wheat, barley, sheep, goats, and cattle were introduced from outside Egypt and became the basis for the evolution of Egyptian civilization. Whether these domesticates were introduced for the first time in this millennium or were just successfully farmed for the first time is unknown, as are their ultimate origins. The most likely source of the domesticated wheat, barley sheep, and goats that formed the staples of the Egyptian diet is Syro-Palestine and other areas of So9uthwest Asia, where they had already been in agricultural use for 2,000 years. (47)

Indus Valley

 The ancestors of the people who built the Indus civilizations spent thousands of years as small-time farmers and herders in the highlands above the Indus; most of the plain was perhaps only lightly occupied during these centuries. Domesticated wheat and the remains of domesticated sheep and goats have been found in levels dating to about 7000 BC in several sites in Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and the evidence suggests that thereafter the agricultural and pastoral ways of life spread gradually, from west to east, throughout highland areas where rainfall and streams provided sufficient water. (48)

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

 Domestic cattle were herded on the Anatolian Plateau (central Turkey) by about 6,500 BC. As with sheep and goats, cattle domestication seems to have been a widespread phenomenon, probably beginning sometime after 9,000 BC and occurring in many areas from China to western Europe. Across this vast area, ancient farmers seem to have bred cattle for reduced size, increased docility and milk production, and increased tolerance of climatic conditions.

…during the past decade many sites have been found that appear to have been the earliest Chinese farming communities. These villages date to between about 6500 and 5000 BC…(49)

Europe

 Domestic cattle were herded on the Anatolian Plateau (central Turkey) by about 6,500 BC. As with sheep and goats, cattle domestication seems to have been a widespread phenomenon, probably beginning sometime after 9,000 BC and occurring in many areas from China to western Europe. Across this vast area, ancient farmers seem to have bred cattle for reduced size, increased docility and milk production, and increased tolerance of climatic conditions.

Among the earliest evidence for cereal farming comes from Argissa-Maghula in Greece, where people were cultivating emmer wheat and barley and raising cattle, sheep, and pigs by 6000 BC--and probably earlier. (50)

By 6000 BC, a Mediterranean complement of domestic grains, cows, and sheep--and the technology to exploit them--had moved up the Danube into central Europe. People lived in small clusters of wooden huts, often with their animals, and farmed narrow plots near rivers and streams. …the agricultural way of life in Europe proper required clearing thick forests and grass lands, at first by cutting down the trees, later by plowing. (50)

Carbon-14 dating shows Knossos, which is the earliest recorded settlement on Crete, to have been founded around 6100 BC, coeval with early levels at Catal Huyuk. The presence at base level of sheep, goat, cattle, and pig, as well as the most advanced grains of the day, has led archaeologists to conclude that the founders of Knossos arrived by sea with already domesticated animals and crops. (115)

Mellaart's description of this new era in Anatolia, known as Early Chalcolithic, expresses the magnitude of a change that was almost universal: “...spindle whorls replace scrapers as hunting declines with the domestication of sheep, goat, pig, now added to that of dog and cattle. The date of its beginning is roughly the middle of the sixth millennium in carbon-14 terms.” …when mid-sixth-millennium carbon-14 dates are corrected to calendar time, the dawn of this new impulse will be dated to approximately 65/6300 BC. (115)

Characteristic of this new epoch was a massive settling down of presumably nomadic peoples from northeastern Iran to Mesopotamia, creating the greatest single increase in agricultural settlements known to any period of prehistory. Domestic plants and animals were everywhere in evidence; scarcely a site was without the hexaploid, free-threshing grain known as bread wheat. Irrigation would have been necessary for its cultivation at many of these new sites, which frequently were situated in regions unsuitable for dry farming. (115)


The spread of farming across Europe during the early to mid­Holocene. (145)

South America

 There is some evidence that beans may have been domesticated before 8,000 BC, based on a few remains from Guitarrero Cave, and there are fairly secure finds of beans there dating to about 5,700, but the evidence of the ealiest stages of the domestication of beans and many other plants is scanty.(27)

Mesoamerica

In the El Riego phase (c. 7,000-5,000 BC), people appear to have lived much the same nomadic life in bands, but the groups may have been somewhat bigger, and there is evidence that they were exploiting wild squash, chiles, avocados, and other plants that were later domesticated.(27)

Wild bean remains recovered in caves in Tamaulipas date to 7,000 to 5,500 BC, and in Oaxaca from 8,700 6,700 BC, but the earliest known domesticated beans beans did not make their appearance in these areas unitl between 4,000 and 3,000 BC.(27)

North America

 Analysis of the animal and plant remains from sites dated between 9,000 and 2,500 years ago reveals an extremely diverse diet. Rabbits, rats, and squirrels were trapped--probably with twined nets--and bison, antelopes, and mountain sheep were also occasionally taken. At sites near bodies of water, grebes, pelicans, herons, ducks,swans, geese, and even hawks and ravens appear to have been eaten. The number of grinding stones and digging sticks found in Desert West sites suggests that, as with most hunters and gatherers, much of the diet was supplied by plant foods.(26)

The Koster site, in the Illinois River Valley, was first occupied at about 7,500 BC, and people lived at this site many times, at least until about 2,500 BC. These people became masters at mixing and matching the resources of their environments. The annual autumn nut harvests gave them a stable nutricious food base, which they complemented with a wide variety of game, fruits, plants, fish, shellfish, migratory water fowl, and other foods.(26)

Other

 …Uenohara (a Jomon site on the island of Kyushu) had been a continuously inhabited settlement over a 2000-year period from roughly 9500 to 7500 years ago. 'At any one time they had more than 100 people living here. They were comfortable...I would even say prosperous. All their basic needs were met. They had ample food, good shelter, comfortable, elegant clothing.' Aozaki went on to tell me how in his opinion the Uenohara community had managed to support itself through a kind of organized 'agriculture' and 'harvesting' of the forest - not quite farming, but certainly a planned husbandry of nature aimed at sustained, long-term survival. ‘They imported seedlings from Honshu and then cultivated them here. To all extents and purposes they were doing agriculture.' (124)