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Food                  8,000 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 years 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

Because wild cattle are not native to sub-Saharan Africa it is possible to explore the origins of the present cattle distribution in Africa. The earliest African cattle appear to have been domesticated within the continent, possibly in the eastern Sahara, around 10 kya, but genetically influenced by cattle domestication in the Near East and the Indus Valley. They then expanded from the region of origin to reach the southern part of the continent by following an eastern route rather than a western one, which suggests that the Bantu expansion may have followed this route. (145)

Southwest Asia

 In the archaeological record of the Natufian Period, from about 12,500 to 10,200 years ago, in the Levant we see clear evidence of agricultural origins. The stone tools of the Natufians include many lunate (i.e., shaped like a segment of the moon) flakes of chert, but there is also something new: they used "sickle blades" that show apperant wear characteristic of cereal harvesting. Also, querns (hand mills), mortars, pestles, pounders, and other ground-stone tools occur in abundance at Natufian sites, and many such tools show signs of long, intensive use. There is also evidence that these heavy grinding stones were transported long distances, more than thirty kilometers in some cases, and this is not something known to have been done by peoples of proceeding periods.(26)

The Natufians had a different settlement pattern from that of their predecessors. Some of their "base camps" are far larger (over 1,000 square meters) than any of the earlier periods, and they may have lived in some of these camps for half of the year or even more. In some of the camps people made foundations and other architectural elements out of limestone blocks. Trade in shells, obsidian, and other commodities seems to have been on the rise, and we suspect that exchange of perishables, such as skins, foodstuffs,and salt was also increasing.(26)

Charred wild einkorn seeds have been recovered from Tell Mureybit, as well as the remains of wild barley, lentils, bitter vetch, pistachios, toad rush, and possibly peas. Most of these plants can be found in natural stands no nearer than the Anatolian hills some 100 to 150 kilometers to the northwest. The impracticality of moving large amounts of grain this distance suggsts that Tell Mureybit may be one of the earliest agricultural settlements in Southwewst Asia--that here and in adjacent areas intensive collectors first tried to plant, cultivate and harvest their own fields of grain. Tell Mureybit is a deep site, and its many levels of construction, first of circular compounds of crude huts, then larger rectangular villages, suggest the success of this experiment.(26)

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)

By around 8000 BC, wheat and barley remains from archaeological digs at ancient Near Eastern village sites are beginning to show these changes. The development of bread wheats, other domestic varieties, and intentional sowing soon followed. (114)

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)

Zoo-archaeologists can distinguish wild from domesticated animals by analysing bone remains. Experts will happily agree that 10,000 years ago the people of Jericho had corralled wolf, bezoar, Asiatic moufflon, wild boar auroch and wild cat. But a few hundred years later they are just as sure that those same animals had been largely replaced by previously unknown creatures. Their replacements were respectively, the dog, the goat, the sheep, the pig, the cow and the domestic cat. The previous animals did not just turn cute and docile - they changed their form and their nature to become absolutely suited to human needs. (160)

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)

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

 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.

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

 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.

Digging at the ruins of a village in southeastern Turkey, where people lived more than 10,000 years ago…archaeologists found…the ample remains of pig bones. The discovery, they said, strongly suggests that the pig was the earliest, animal that people domesticated for food. The diminished size of the molars was one of several clues that the transformation of wild boars into pigs was under way at that time. Radiocarbon analysis put the date at 10,000 to 10,400 years ago. In any case, the archaeologists said, as soon as the people of Hallan Cemi began growing grain, there was a sharp decline in domestic pigs, which were gradually replaced by domestic sheep and goats. (80)

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

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)

 A few South American sites have been dated (controversially) to 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, but not until about 10,000 years ago is there substantial evidence of people in the mountains and coasts of Andean South America. John Rick has surveyed large areas of these uplands, and in caves and rock shelters he has found projectile points, scrapers, knife blades, and other traces of these early Peruvians: they ate a lot of deer, guanaco, and vicuna (an animal related to the llama, both of which are New World forms of camels), and in some cases were perhaps even able to live year round in small areas. In the beginning they also hunted giant ground sloths and a few other animals that became extinct about 10,000 years ago.

Some of these people were probably "transhumant," meaning that the moved up and down the mountains to exploit various resources as they came in season. Many people made these seasonal moves once alpacas and llamas were domesticated, because these animals require constant tending and frequent moves to new pasturages, and these animals made it possible for them to exploit the different environments at different times of year. The "thin" air, intense cold, blizzards, and thick fogs of the highlands make movement difficult, and over millennia of adapting to these conditions, natural selection has produced Andean peoples with extraordinary cardiovascular systems. Genetics and life-long exposure to the strains of life at high altitudes have produced people who can work hard in air extremely low in oxygen, while others unadapted to this environment can hardly function. (52)

Finally, we turn to the humble potato, the most important non-cereal crop in the world. The potato is in the Solanaceae family and is closely related to tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco. The natives of the Andes Mountains of South America discovered the tuber around Lake Titicaca and somehow--miraculously--determined that it was edible even though both the plant and its tuber are toxic at that elevation. From archaeological records and carbon dating, it has been determined that the potato was being cultivated from about 8000 BC, making it contemporary with domesticated wheat, corn, and rice. (69)

Mesoamerica

 Despite effective mechanisms that maintained the hunting-gathering way of life for so long in Mesoamerica, sometime ater about 8,000BC these people--probably unintentionally--began to domesticate maize, beans, squash, peppers and other plant species.(27)

The Tehuacan sequence remains the best archaeolological reflection of the sequences of changes in cultural behavior that were involved in the period of the origins of agriculture in Mesoamerica. During the Ajuereado phase (c. 10,000-7,000 BC), people apparently lived in small mobile groups and exploited many wild plants. But they also depended heavily on hunting, exploiting wild horses, antelopes, and jack rabbits at first, and then shifting to deer and cottontail rabbits as post-Pleistocene climates and environments changed, supplementing these resources with gophers, rats turtles, and birds.(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)

The earliest cultivated squash seeds known are from the Guila Naquitz Cave, in Oaxaca, and date to 8,750-7,840, and from caves in Tamaulipas and Levant from the same period. Like all other early farmers, the ancient Mesoamericans were domesticating a variety of other plants, only some of which were eventually developed into staple food sources. Chili peppers, avocados, foxtail grass, "goosefoot," various kinds of cactus, several root crops, and many other plants were combined in a reliable and highly productive agricultural economy.(27)

North America

 From about 11,000 to 8,000 years ago, many of the Desert West peoples apparently organized their economies around the resources of lakes and marshes, while groups in more arid areas probably adopted a more generalized hunting-and-gathering strategy. Remains of pole-and-thatch huts have been found in some areas, but the size, location, and contents of most sites of this period suggest that for most of the year Desert West peoples lived in small bands and followed complex seasonal rounds, exploiting different resources as they became available.(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)