When Did Agriculture First Take Place?
It is now believed to have all begun some ten or twelve thousand years ago, during a period known as the Neolithic Revolution, or the New Stone Age. The discovery of controlled agriculture was the second great change in the relation of man to environment (the first came with fire), and it ushered in what is now called the modern period.
However, the enterprising and inventive people of the Neolithic Age did teach themselves the skills necessary for the cultivation of plants, for they changed their lifestyle from one of wandering hunters and herders, to become the world’s first farmers.
Scientists now definitely believe that the first farming of land began in the Middle East, on the slopes of the Zagros Mountains, in Kurdistan. Modern dating methods prove that the Middle Eastern site is the oldest. There is evidence too, of permanent settlements in this part of Kurdistan. At this particular site, there were found remains of the first formal farms in the entire history of man.
Agriculture began independently in different parts of the globe, and included a diverse range of taxa. At least 11 separate regions of the Old and New World were involved as independent centers of origin.
Wild grains were collected and eaten from at least 20,000 BC. From around 9500 BC, the eight Neolithic founder crops, emmer and einkorn wheat, hulled barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chick peas and flax were cultivated in the Levant. Rice was domesticated in China between 8,200 and 13,500 years ago, followed by followed by mung, soy and azuki beans. Pigs were domesticated in Mesopotamia around 15,000 years ago.
Cattle were domesticated from the wild aurochs in the areas of modern Turkey and Pakistan some 10,500 years ago. Sheep were domesticated in Mesopotamia between 11,000 and 9,000 BC. Sugarcane and some root vegetables were domesticated in New Guinea around 7,000 BC. Sorghum was domesticated in the Sahel region of Africa by 5000 BC.
In the Andes of South America, the potato was domesticated between 8,000 and 5,000 BC, along with beans, coca, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Cotton was domesticated in Peru by 3,600 BC, and was independently domesticated in Eurasia at an unknown time. In Mesoamerica, wild teosinte was domesticated to maize by 4,000 BC.
In the Middle Ages, both in the Islamic world and in Europe, agriculture was transformed with improved techniques and the diffusion of crop plants, including the introduction of sugar, rice, cotton and fruit trees such as the orange to Europe by way of Al-Andalus. After 1492, the Columbian exchange brought New World crops such as maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes and manioc to Europe, and Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice and turnips, and livestock including horses, cattle, sheep and goats to the Americas.
Irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers were introduced soon after the Neolithic Revolution and developed much further in the past 200 years, starting with the British Agricultural Revolution. Since 1900, agriculture in the developed nations, and to a lesser extent in the developing world, has seen large rises in productivity as human labor has been replaced by mechanization, and assisted by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and selective breeding.
The Haber-Bosch method allowed the synthesis of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on an industrial scale, greatly increasing crop yields. Modern agriculture has raised political issues including water pollution, bio-fuels, genetically modified organisms, tariffs and farm subsidies, leading to alternative approaches such as the organic movement.