Yams in Chad
Agriculture developed independently outside the Near East in China, Peru, Mexico and other places. At least 11 separate regions have been identified as independent centers of origin. Some of the earliest known domestications were of animals. Pigs were domesticated from wild boar about 10,500 years ago in several places, including locations in the Near East, Europe, East Asia and Southwest Asia. In New Guinea, ancient Papuan peoples began practicing agriculture around 7000 B.C. domesticating sugarcane and taro. Banana cultivation, including hybridization, dates back to 5000 B.C., and possibly to 8000 B.C. in Papua New Guinea. The plow was invented about 3000 B.C., greatly increasing the food output of a given parcel of land.

According to the summary of “Origins of Agriculture in East Asia” by Martin K. Jones and Xinyi Liu published in Science May 9, 2009: “Some of the world's most important crops, including rice and soybean, originate from eastern Asia. This region is also the original home of several minor crops, such as buckwheat and certain types of millet. In their search for the earliest farms, archaeologists have been drawn to China's two major river valleys: the Yellow River in the north and the Yangtze River in the south. Grains of broomcorn and foxtail millet have been found in Neolithic farmsteads in the Yellow River region, and sites in the Yangtze River region have yielded the world's earliest evidence of harvested rice grains.”

Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Good Websites Archaeology News Report ; : ; Archaeology in Europe ; Archaeology magazine ; HeritageDaily; Live Science ; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History

First Farmers in Southeast Asia

20120207-New Guinea Yams.jpg
Yams for breakfast in New Guinea
People in Southeast Asia may have been among the first to develop agriculture. There is some evidence of wild yam and taro cultivation dating back to 15,000 and 10,000 B.C. in Indonesia. Rice cultivation in Malaysia and bean cultivation in Burma may date back to the same period. Most historians place the origin of agriculture to the Asia Minor (Turkey) to around 8000 B.C.

Some archaeologists believe that the 11,500 year old beans found at Spirit Cave might be the first harvested agricultural crop. The base the finding on the discovered of certain tools that are good for cutting and harvesting plants. These tools resemble ones found at early agricultural sights in Asia Minor.

People that lived in a site called Khok Phanom Di in Thailand between 4,000 and 3,500 year ago practiced rice farming and buried their dead facing east in shrouds of bark and asbestos fibers. Rice is believed to have first been being cultivated around 3,500 B.C. The oldest rice grains ever discovered in China; they date back to about 8,000 B.C.

The earliest domesticated animals in China were pigs, dogs and chickens. This trinity of domesticated animals is believed to have spread from China across Asia and the Pacific. Among the other animals that were domesticated by the ancient Chinese were water buffalo (important for pulling plows), silkworms, ducks and geese.

Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals in China

The first agriculturalists outside of Mesopotamia and the Near East — or perhaps the first agriculturists period — lived in China. Crop remains, bones of domestic animals, as well as polished tools and pottery first appeared in China round 7500 B.C., about a thousand years after the first crops were raised in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. Millet was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in China around the same time the first crops — wheat and barely — were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.

The earliest identified crops in China were two drought-resistant species of millet in the north and rice in the south (see below). Domesticated millet was produced in China by 6000 B.C. Most ancient Chinese ate millet before they ate rice. Among the other crops that were grown by the ancient Chinese were soybeans, hemp, tea, apricots, pears, peaches and citrus fruits. Before the cultivation of rice and millet, people ate grasses, beans, wild millet seeds, a type of yam and snakegourd root in northern China and sago palm, bananas, acorns and freshwater roots and tubers in southern China.

The earliest domesticated animals in China were pigs, dogs and chickens, which were first domesticated in China by 4000 B.C. and believed to have spread from China across Asia and the Pacific. Among the other animals that were domesticated by the ancient Chinese were water buffalo (important for pulling plows), silkworms, ducks and geese.

According to the ancient Chinese myth, in 2853 B.C. the legendary Emperor Shennong of China declared the five sacred plants to be: rice, wheat, barley, millet and soybeans. Wheat, barley, cows, horses, sheep, goats and pigs were introduced to China from the Fertile Crescent in western Asia. Tall horses, like we are familiar with today, were introduced to China in the first century B.C.

Early Agriculture in India

In the period of the Neolithic revolution, roughly 8000-4000 B.C., agriculture was far from the dominant mode of support for human societies. Agro pastoralism in India included threshing, planting crops in rows—either of two or of six—and storing grain in granaries.Barley and wheat cultivation—along with the rearing of cattle, sheep and goat—was visible in Mehrgarh by 8000-6000 B.C. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to Gangal et al. (2014), there is strong archeological and geographical evidence that neolithic farming spread from the Near East into north-west India. Yet, Jean-Francois Jarrige argues for an independent origin of Mehrgarh. Jarrige notes the similarities between Neolithic sites from eastern Mesopotamia and the western Indus valley, which are evidence of a "cultural continuum" between those sites. Nevertheless, Jarrige concludes that Mehrgarh has an earlier local background," and is not a "'backwater' of the Neolithic culture of the Near East."Singh et al. (2016) investigated the distribution of J2a-M410 and J2b-M102 in South Asia, which "suggested a complex scenario that cannot be explained by a single wave of agricultural expansion from Near East to South Asia," but also note that "regardless of the complexity of dispersal, NW region appears to be the corridor for entry of these haplogroups into India." +

India, one fo the first places hemp was domesticated

By the 5th millennium B.C. agricultural communities became widespread in Kashmir. Zaheer Baber (1996) writes that 'the first evidence of cultivation of cotton had already developed'. Cotton was cultivated by the 5th millennium B.C. -4th millennium B.C.. The Indus cotton industry was well developed and some methods used in cotton spinning and fabrication continued to be practiced till the modern Industrialisation of India. +

A variety of tropical fruit such as mango and muskmelon are native to the Indian subcontinent. The Indians also domesticated hemp, which they used for a number of applications including making narcotics, fiber, and oil. The farmers of the Indus Valley, which thrived in modern-day Pakistan and North India, grew peas, sesame, and dates. Sugarcane was originally from tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different species likely originated in different locations with S. barberi originating in India and S. edule and S. officinarum coming from New Guinea. +

Wild rice cultivation appeared in the Belan and Ganges valley regions of northern India as early as 4530 B.C. and 5440 B.C. respectively.Rice was cultivated in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Agricultural activity during the second millennium BC included rice cultivation in the Kashmir and Harrappan regions.Mixed farming was the basis of the Indus valley economy. +

Denis J. Murphy (2007) details the spread of cultivated rice from India into South-east Asia: “Several wild cereals, including rice, grew in the Vindhyan Hills, and rice cultivation, at sites such as Chopani-Mando and Mahagara, may have been underway as early as 7000 BP. The relative isolation of this area and the early development of rice farming imply that it was developed indigenously....Chopani-Mando and Mahagara are located on the upper reaches of the Ganges drainage system and it is likely that migrants from this area spread rice farming down the Ganges valley into the fertile plains of Bengal, and beyond into south-east Asia. “

Did Agriculture Spread From Iran to India 10,000 Years Ago?

In 2016, scientists said that a previously unknown group of Stone Age farmers from present-day Iran may have introduced agriculture to South Asia, challenging earlier theories that attributed the spread of farming to a different population. Associated Press reported: “Previous research held that a single group of hunter-gatherers developed agriculture in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago and then migrated to Europe, Asia and Africa, where they gradually replaced or mixed with the local population. [Source: Associated Press, July 14, 2016 *]

Zagros mountains in Iran

“But scientists who analyzed ancient human remains found in the Zagros mountains of present-day Iran say they belonged to a completely separate people who appear to have taken up farming around the same time as their cousins further west in Anatolia, now Turkey. “There was this idea that there’d been one group of genius inventors who developed agriculture,” said Joachim Burger, one of the authors of the study published online Thursday in the journal Science. “Now we can see there were genetically diverse groups.” *\

“Scientists from Europe, the United States and Iran who examined the DNA of 9,000 to 10,000-year-old bone fragments discovered in a cave near Eslamabad, 600 kilometers (370 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital of Tehran, found they belonged to a man with black hair, brown eyes and dark skin. Intriguingly, the man’s diet included cereals, a sign that he had learned how to cultivate crops, said Fereidoun Biglari of National Museum of Iran, who was also involved in the study.*\

“Along with three other ancient genomes from the Zagros mountains, researchers were able to piece together a picture of a population whose closest modern relatives can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and among members of Iran’s Zoroastrian religious community, said Biglari. The Zagros people had very different genes than modern Europeans or their crop-planting ancestors in western Anatolia and Greece, said Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He said the study’s authors calculated that the two populations likely split at least 50,000 years ago, shortly after humans first ventured out of Africa. *\

“Burger said even though the two ancient farming populations didn’t mix, it’s probable that they knew of – and even learned from – each other, given that the development of agriculture is highly complex and therefore unlikely to have spontaneously occurred twice around the same time. “You have to build houses, clear forests, cultivate several plants and ensure a plentiful supply of water. You also have to domesticate several animals, be able to grind flour, bake bread,” said Burger. “This is a huge process that takes several thousand years.” Burger said the findings could help shed light on important developments in human history that have been neglected due to researchers’ long habit of focusing on ancient migratory movements into Europe.” *\

World's Oldest Rice

Carbonized rice grains found near the Yellow River and Yangtze River in China, dated between 10,500 and 12,000 years ago, are considered by some to be the world's oldest rice. In 2003, South Korean researchers said they had found 15,000-year-old burnt rice grains at a site in South Korea, claiming it was evidence of the world's oldest rice and challenging the idea that rice was first cultivated in China.

rice grains from the Tainluoshan site

The Jiahu site in China yielded domesticated rice, dated to 7000 B.C. The rice was a kind of short-grained japonica rice. Scholars had previously thought the earliest domesticated rice belonged to the long-grain indica subspecies. Other early evidence of rice farming comes from a 7000-year-old archeological site near the lower Yangtze River village of Hemudu in Zheijiang Province. When the rice grains were found there they were white but exposure to air turned them black in a matter minutes. These grains can now be seen at a museum in Hemudu. Some 8,000-year-old rice grains have been discovered in Changsa in the Hunan Province.

According to an article called “The earliest rice domestication in China“: “The earliest rice remains (wild first and domesticated later) were found at Yuchanyan (Yuan 2002), Diaotonghuan (Zhao 1998), and Shangshan along the Yangze River, dating to 15 000-9000 cal BP ["calibrated years" before present using radiocarbon dating]. Jiahu [a famous Chinese Neolithic site] indicates habitual use of cultivated rice in northern regions by 9000 cal BP. [Source: “The earliest rice domestication in China“, Antiquity Vol 81 No 313 September 2007]

Stephen Chen wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Excavation sites along the Yantze River such as Hemudu in Yuyao, Zhejiang, provided the earliest evidence of the growing, storage and cooking of rice. Carbon dating shows rice was already the main staple in China more than 8,000 years ago. Some previous studies, such as one led by Professor Susan McCouch of Cornell University in 2007, suggested that rice was domesticated in the warm and humid plains at the southern foot of Himalayas. Dr Xie Fangming, a senior scientist researching hybrid rice at the International Rice Research Institute at Los Banos, in the Philippines, said, “Previous studies have accumulated solid evidence of rice's Himalayan origin. [Source: Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post, May 4, 2011 ^=^]

Zhao Zhijun wrote: “Rice remains from the Shangshan site, dated to ca. 10,000 cal. B.P., suggest the beginning of rice cultivation regardless of whether that rice was domesticated or not...The ongoing excavation, with floatation and water-sieving, at the Tianluoshan site, dated to 6,000 to 7,000 cal. B.P., suggests that rice farming, though important, was only part of a broader subsistence pattern of the Hemudu Culture, and rice domestication culminated after 6,500 B.P and the beginning of rice domestication remain unclear."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2024

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