The Origins of Agriculture

The origins of agriculture began all over the world, at least 10,000 years ago, but the archeological evidence found in the Fertile Crescent, an area including the floodplains of Northern Egypt and hooking North and East to the Persian Gulf along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is acknowledged as the first area to actually plan and develop agriculture.  This area possessed the original botanical progenitors and animal species that became the base of civilized agriculture.  See the Wikipedia articles on the eight crops which included grains, flax and pulses or peas and lentils. Also, four out of five of the most important domesticated animals – goats, sheep, cattle and pigs originated from this area, with horses, the fifth, coming from very nearby.  

The Holocene geological epoch, or post-glacial warming that continues today, led to evolutionary changes in plants and animals that allowed agriculture to develop.  The Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age in human cultural and technological development began roughly around the same time frame, in that order  With this new stability, the tribes of humanity found new ways to live.

It was the planned planting, cultivation and harvesting of these plants that became a regular event in once-nomadic tribes which changed human social structure.  North American natives discovered seasonal routines, planting at the winter camps before leaving for summer grounds, then harvesting when they returned.  Their own “three sisters” plants – corn, squash and beans – grew nearly wild, until they learned to plant them together and stay in sedentary villages to maximize the yields.  The same discoveries happened with rice in Asian regions.  Hunters-and-Gatherers world-wide figured out that it was easier to cultivate food and fibers in quantities both to supplement wild game and to provide clothing and shelter.

Then, over-hunting in a limited range of land led to the next step, domestication of animals and herds of ready meat.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Processing and preservation of food and seeds became a more prominent part of daily life, along with animal husbandry and selective breeding for special traits that maximized the worth of the animals for food, clothing, and hardiness.  Irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilization followed, logically,  to enhance the development of agriculture as we know it.

Food surpluses and wealth led to an enormous increase in populations, then towns and the development of more social structures, barter and culture.  Specialization followed, with trades and monetary systems and the general complexity we now recognize as civilization. Trade and migrations, hybrids and science, and the proliferation of knowledge have melded agricultural advances from all over the world.   Agriculture has come a long way, indeed.