Food around 3,000 BC

The Globe

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. (Patterns in Prehistory)

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. (Patterns in Prehistory)



Southwest Asia

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. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Some of the earliest written references to opium come from ancient Iraq. It was known to the ancient Sumerians as early as 3400BC as the "Hul Gil" or "joy plant" and there are mentions of it on clay tablets found in excavations at the city of Nippur just east of Diwaniyah. (41)

In Sumer, wheat, barley, vegetables, and dates were the major crops, while cattle raising and fishing were of almost equal importance. Cattle were raised for draft power, hides, and milk and meat. Fish was a staple, as were mutton, goat, and pork. It is interesting in view of their later status as a taboo food in much of the Midddle East that pigs were a common sight on Sumerian farms, prized for their fat and grease (although rarely if ever depicted in art, except in figures and ceramics). Adams estimates that for subsistence each person would need about one hectare of barley and wheat fields, along with at least some pastures and orchards. (Patterns in Prehistory)

In the ruins, archaeologists found several raised oval basins lined with plaster. High concentrations of tartaric acid in the plaster indicated that the basins were used in wine production, though some of the basins may have served several purposes. (84)

As late as 4.9 kya pig bones represented 20 to 30% of all mammal remains in many large sites. Then, sometime after 4.4 kya, pork apparently became religiously proscribed in most Mesopotamian cities and in Egypt. The fact that the timing of this change coincides with the hotter drier climate that led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire may explain the elimination of poor piggy. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

Radiocarbon dating at Tell Abu Hureya revealed that by 9500 BC some early villagers had begun to practice farming alongside their hunting and gathering, domesticating wild rabbits, goats, sheep, wild wheat, rye, and barley. From these early developments arose what archaeologists believe was the first civilization after Atlantis—Sumeria—which began to flourish around 3300 BCE. (Atlantis Beneath the Ice)



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. (Patterns in Prehistory)

...this is what the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro have now placed beyond question. They exhibit the Indus peoples of the fourth and third millennia BC, in possession of a highly developed culture in which no vestige of Indo-Aryan influence is to be found. Their society is organised in cities; their wealth derived mainly from agriculture and trade, which appears to have extended far and wide in all directions. They cultivate wheat and barley as well as the date palm. They have domesticated the humped zebu, buffalo, and short-horned bull, besides the sheep, pig, dog, elephant, and camel; but the cat and probably the horse are unknown to them. For the crushing of grain they have the muller and saddle-quem but not the circular grindstone. (The God-Kings & the Titans)




Domesticated wheat, barley, sheep, goats, grapes, olives, and other crops were established all over the Mediterranean by 5000 BC, and by 3000 B.C. great volumes of commodities were flowing throughout the eastern Mediterranean world. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The layers of midden in Skara Brae have been extensively analysed and have revealed that the inhabitants mainly ate sheep and cattle, topped up with fish, oysters and a very occasional side of pork. (Uriel's Machine)

By 3000 BC agricultural villages were to be found from Great Britain far into eastern Russia. There were hundreds of local resource specializations, but most of these settlements subsisted mainly on domesticated cereals and cattle. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The spread of farming across Europe during the early to mid­Holocene. (Climate Change in Prehistory)

3080 BC Domestic cattle grazed on Knowe of Ramsay (Uriel's Machine)

3035 BC Domestic cattle grazed on Knowe of Rowiegar (Uriel's Machine)

South America

Maize phytoliths (the microscopic hard remains of some plant cells) have been found at a few South American sites that date to before 4,000 BC, and there is evidence in the form of phytoliths and pollen for maize in several areas of South America between 4,000 and 1,500 BC, but only at sites dated after about 900 BC are maize remains commonly found--often in coastal locations. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Domesticated potatoes were found in sites in Peru's Casma Valley in occupations dating to 2250-1775 BC, and there are traces of cultivation that go back as early as about 4,400 BC. the ancient South Americans developed a method of storing potatoes by freeze drying them, and the potato is instrinsically very nutricious, and so this plant could provide the stability and reliability of production for South Americans that cereals did in many other places. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Peru's...sea coasts offer such a prolific source of food, in the form of many species of bird, shellfish, and fish--particularly schooling fish, such as anchovies. Even without farming, or with some minimal gardening, these coasts may have proffered enough reliable food to support many people--people who could live for all or much of the year in the same communities. (Patterns in Prehistory)

An archaeologist excavating in Peru came across thousands of fragments, and some intact fruits, of the bottle-gourd Lagenavia Siceraria, in the mound at Hueca Prieta, at a level carbon dated to 2500 BC. This gourd is probably native to tropical Africa or south-east Asia. It could not, apparently, have floated across the ocean and its seeds remained fertile. (The God-Kings & the Titans)


The evolution of maize cob size at Tehuacan, from the smallest cob (left), which dates to about 3,500 BC to the cob on the far right, an entirely modern variety dating to about the time of Christ. (Patterns in Prehistory)

In the Coxcatlan phase (5,000-3,500 BC) the size of the groups that made repeated and probably seasonal visits to Tehuacan seems to have grown significantly, and they exploited more plants and did less hunting. (Patterns in Prehistory)

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. (Patterns in Prehistory) extremely well-conducted program of excavations in Mexico, in the once-inhabited caves of southwest Tamaulipas and the Valley of Tehuacan, has lately shown that by about 3500 BC (plus or minus a few centuries) some sort of plant domestication was being practiced by cave­dwelling hunting and fishing folk. Maize, it seems, was then first cultivated; and during the next two thousand years the signs increase of a developing horticulture, until, by circa 1500 BC, the beginning of something like a genuine neolithic stage of village farming seems to have been attained. (Primitive Mythology)

Pope et al. also report the discovery of a domesticated sunflower seed and sunflower fruit dated to 2667 BC and 2548 BC, respectively. (Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica)

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. (Patterns in Prehistory)

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. (Patterns in Prehistory)

…sunflowers appear to have been domesticated in the East but from an ancestral strain that was introduced from the American West; that tobacco may have been domesticated through processes unlike any of the food plants because its main use was ritual and social; and that other plants, such as maize and beans, were introduced at a comparatively late date from the South but then underwent additional domestication and adaptation in place. (Patterns in Prehistory)

…beginning about 3000 BC, people in some parts of the East developed a way of life in which they migrated between summer and winter base camps, to take advantage of different resources as they changed with the seasons. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Perhaps the earliest domesticates found in the North American woodlands are gourds and squash. Charred squash rinds from west central Illinois have been dated to 5000 and 4000 BC, and some from Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky have been dated to at least 2500 BC. (Patterns in Prehistory)