Farming began c. 10,000 BC on land that became known as the FERTILE CRESCENT. Hunter-gatherers, who had traveled to the area in search of food, began to harvest (gather) wild grains they found growing there. They scattered spare grains on the ground to grow more food.
Table 40. TIMELINE OF EARLY FARMING
|9000 BC||Wheat/barley, Fertile Crescent|
|8000 BC||Potatoes, South America|
|7500 BC||Goats/sheep, Middle East|
|7000 BC||Rye, Europe|
|6000 BC||Chickens, South Asia|
|3500 BC||Horse, West Asia|
|3000 BC||Cotton, South America|
|2700 BC||Corn, North America|
Before farming, people lived by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. When supplies ran out, these hunter-gatherers moved on. Farming meant that people did not need to travel to find food. Instead, they began to live in settled communities, and grew crops or raised animals on nearby land. They built stronger, more permanent homes and surrounded their settlements with walls to protect themselves.
In the Fertile Crescent, farmers grew tall, wild grasses, including an early type of barley, and primitive varieties of wheat called emmer and einkorn. These naturally produced large grains (seeds) that were tasty and nourishing. In other parts of the world, between 8000 BC and 3000 BC, farmers discovered how to DOMESTICATE their own local plants and animals.
By around 9000 BC, people were storing grains during the winter, then sowing them in specially cleared plots. By 8000 BC, the farmers had discovered which grains gave the best yields and selected these for planting. They produced more food than they needed and were able to feed non-farmers such as craftworkers and traders. The farmers exchanged their food for various kinds of useful or decorative goods.
Domestication is the process of making wild plants and animals more useful to humans, through selective breeding. Farmers select and plant only the best seeds from their last crop. Wild cattle are selectively bred to make a herd docile (easy to control).
Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, c. 12,500 BC. They were descended from wild wolf cubs that had learned to live with human families, who fed and petted them. By 10,000 BC, hunters were managing wild herds of gazelle, sheep, and goats, watching over them and killing the weakest for food. Around 7500 BC, farmers were taking the best animals from their herds to breed them for meat and milk.
Archaeologists use the name Fertile Crescent to describe an area to the east of the Mediterranean Sea, where farming first developed. It was a crescent-shaped strip of land that stretched across the Levant region (now known as Israel, Lebanon, and Syria), and around the edges of the Tarus and Zagros mountains.
The Fertile Crescent had regular rainfall, making it ideal for growing grains such as emmer and einkorn, and for raising herds of grass-eating animals such as sheep and goats. In nearby Mesopotamia, where the soil was more fertile, farming was only possible once irrigation methods had developed to supply the land with water.
The Fertile Crescent stretched in a crescent-shaped curve from the northern tip of the Red Sea around to the Persian Gulf. Some of the world’s first settlements, including Jericho, were built in this region. Important trading centers, such as Çatal Hüyük, also developed nearby.
Çatal Hüyük was founded in around 7000 BC, and grew to be the largest settlement in the Middle East. Its wealth came from farming and trade. The farmers kept cattle and grew wheat, barley, and peas. Çatal Hüyük made itself especially prosperous by controlling the trade in obsidian (a coarse, glassy rock), which came from a nearby volcano. Craftworkers used this volcanic glass to make high-quality tools.
Excavation of the Çatal Hüyük site found mud-brick houses closely packed together, without any streets. Access to each home was by ladders leading up to doorways on a flat roof. Rooms had hearths for heating, benches for sitting and sleeping on, and ovens for baking bread. When family members died, they were buried under the floor.