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How did Agriculture Begin?

Michael Anissimov
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Agriculture began about 10,000 years ago in an area called the Fertile Crescent, in modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. At the time, there were only about five million people in the world. Humanity had a substantial knowledge of hunter-gatherer techniques such as boatmaking, toolmaking, botany, and so forth, but anticipated changes were taking place: the Ice Age was ending, so ice was disappearing and regions like mountain ranges became traversable, while ocean levels were rising and inland seas drying up. Mass human migration was the result.

Because everyone was moving around, people naturally congregated in the boundaries between continents. The Fertile Crescent was such an area, located between Europe, Asia, and Africa. This is where both civilization and agriculture began.

Agriculture probably began in areas filled with animal dung, because there were a variety of seeds there and ample fertilizer for them to grow. The original crops were nothing like the crops people know today. The plants used were often husky, frail, or otherwise difficult to digest or grow. Only through many generations of selective breeding were their nutritional qualities optimized. Therefore, in a very important sense, all the crops we consider "natural" are actually genetically engineered.

The first basic crop was wheat, which has two main forms that still exist today. The first variety is called emmer, and still grows wild in the region. The second variety is not wild, but probably emerged from the crossing of emmer with another wild grass. This is bread wheat, which is still the most important crop on earth. Other plants cultivated during this time include peas, lentils, barley, linseed, and grapes.

It was not until 5,000 years ago that agriculture expanded outside of this nuclear zone. Farmers in different areas took to different crops. In the cold of Europe, oats flourished alongside wheat. In India, cotton emerged. In China, buckwheat was grown instead of wheat and barley.

Thousands of years ago, farming consumed most of humanity's time. Now, it is largely automated and only a small percentage of farmers are necessary to feed a developed nation.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime PublicPeople contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Discussion Comments

By PelesTears — On Jan 01, 2011

@ Framemaker- With current technology, agriculture production would not be able to meet the demands of such a large global population if there was a significant reduction in farmland. Modern Agriculture business is too reliant on destructive farming practices and monoculture to be able to maintain production in a period of such unpredictable climate as a glacial period.

The effects of global warming are already creating havoc for agriculture worldwide because it is altering the growing seasons, and facilitating growth of new pests. Significant agriculture research would have to be adopted to even sustain the growing population under ideal climate conditions, so a change like that, in my mind, would surely lead to the starvation of billions, and a number of wars based on food and resources.

By cougars — On Dec 31, 2010

@ Framemaker-We are actually in the middle of an ice age as I write this. Technically, we are in an interglacial period, and have been for about 11,000 years. The last glacial period ended around the time of modern agriculture and irrigation techniques, and modern civilization has progressed in a relatively mild period of the earth's climate. The next glacial period is supposed to begin right about now, but global warming from the burning of fossil fuels has likely prevented the onset of the next glacial period. The glacial periods within ice ages are determined by the tilt and rotation of the earth around the sun. Fluctuations in these cycles occur approximately every 40,000 years. Some cycles occur on even longer time scales.

Knowing how long until the next glacial period is nearly impossible. Climate science is still in its early stages, and there is much to be understood about human impacts on climate. Human impacts change climate models, and predicting future human impacts is not very easy.

By FrameMaker — On Dec 29, 2010

How often do ice ages occur? I ask this because the article stated that modern agriculture began after the last ice age receded. I am wondering if current agriculture technology will be enough to sustain people when the next ice age begins, or is the ice age so far off that it is of no concern now.

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime PublicPeople contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology,...

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