Re: first agriculture

Julia E Smith (
27 Jan 1997 01:29:50 GMT

In article <>, Jeff Walden <> wrote:
>Is there a generally agreed-upon place and date for the beginnings of
>agriculture? My probably long-out-of-date book l'arnin' says people were
>farming the fertile crescent about 10,000 bce. Could it have been
>earlier, or earlier in some other part of the globe?

First problem - there was no single beginning of agriculture. Agriculture
seems to have been independently invented in several locations:
the Near East, Southeast Asia, and Mexico stand out as early sites of (the
independent development of) agriculture.

In the Near East, 10,000 BCE is perhaps a little early (it's hard to tell
at what point we should call barley domesticated; it was clearly part of
the diet before it was domesticated). I'd be very comfortable with a date
closer to 10,000 BP (that is, 8000 BCE). The Near East is interesting,
because pre-agricultural permanent settlements existed, taking advantage
of large stands of *wild* barley. Therefore, agriculture develops out of
a pre-existing relationship between people and plants.

The evidence for Southeast Asia is somewhat confusing. There is a site
(Spirit Cave) with remains of food crops c. 11,500 BP. However, it is not
certain that these plants are truely domesticated. Most scholars agree
that agriculture was being done by c. 9500 BP. This could indeed make
it about the same age as agriculture in the Near East. The beginnings of
agriculture in other Old World Areas (China, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa,
Europe, etc.) is somewhat later.

In the New World, agriculture seems to have developed out of a long
process of domestication. We have a long sequence of maize modification
in the Tehuacan valley, Mexico (beginning c. 8000 BP), but sedentism seems
to only get going c. 4000 BP (2000 BCE). While South America has a
stronger history of pre-agricultural sedentism, the pattern there is not

Hope this answers your question, though it's a little complicated.

Julia Smith
University of Pittsburgh