Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Farming Was So Nice, It Was Invented at Least Twice"

The headline is from the journal Science, link below while we begin with Atlas Obscura's map and narrative:

Why Farming Was Probably Invented Many Times by Independent Humans

The invention of farming stands as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, thanks to some recently discovered human remains, it seems that farming was actually invented more than once.

Views differ on where and how farming and agriculture first arose exactly, but most everyone agrees that it happened in the Fertile Crescent, an arcing region of land that falls mostly in what is today called the Middle East. The oldest farming villages discovered in the Crescent date back to around 10,000 years ago and were chiefly located near the western horn of the region, near the Mediterranean Sea.

But after a quartet of ancient skeletons were recently unearthed in the eastern portion of the Crescent, in what is modern day Iran, it appears that farming was actually invented at least twice and possibly a whole bunch of times in the Crescent. Study of the teeth and bones of the ancient inhabitants has shown that they were not only genetically differentiated from the peoples to the west, but that they also subsisted on a diet made up mainly of grains, and very little meat. This has led researchers to theorize that the eastern-dwelling people must have developed their own farming techniques independently....
And from Science:
The invention of farming some 10,000 years ago set the stage for the rise of civilizations in the Near East. Yet archaeologists disagree about how it happened. Some say it arose in a single spot near the Mediterranean, and spread from there. Others argue it had multiple independent origins, a view that is getting new credence, thanks to findings from an early farming site in Iran.

Whether farming arose once or a hundred times, it happened first in the Fertile Crescent, a broad region stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran. Most research over the past decades has focused on the western stretches of the Fertile Crescent—including modern-day Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Turkey—in large part because those were the easiest areas to work in, both logistically and politically. Recent excavations in those areas have suggested that hunter-gatherers first began to gather and plant seeds from wild cereals and legumes, such as wheat, barley, and lentils, as early as 13,000 years ago. Over a few thousand years of such cultivation, the wild forms of these plants mutated into new, domesticated species that were easier to manage and harvest, making farming more productive and efficient.

Until recently, the oldest known farming villages had been found at sites in Palestine, Syria, and eastern Turkey, where archaeologists radiocarbon dated the earliest domesticated plant species to about 10,500 years ago. Only a few sites were known as far east as Iran, and most of them had been excavated in the 1960s and 1970s, before that country's 1979 Islamic Revolution made it nearly impossible for Western archaeologists to work there—and also before the advent of modern archaeobotanical techniques that make it much easier for researchers to recover tell-tale plant remains.

About five years ago, archaeologist Nicholas Conard and archaeobotanist Simone Riehl of the University of Tübingen in Germany hooked up with researchers at the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) in Tehran, and particularly Mohsen Zeidi, an experienced ICAR excavator, to begin work at the early farming village of Chogha Golan, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in western Iran. Iranian archaeologists had discovered the village about 15 years earlier, but never fully excavated it. While digging in 2009 and 2010, the team uncovered extensive evidence for the processing of plants in the village, including mortars, pestles, and grinding stones. The dig also yielded a huge quantity—more than 21,000 individual pieces—of charred plant remains, which Riehl analyzed for a report online today in Science.

Radiocarbon dating of the archaeological deposits, some 8 meters in depth, showed that Chogha Golan had been occupied continuously between about 12,000 and 9,700 years ago or even later . That allowed Riehl and her colleagues to trace the use of plants over that entire period of time. They found that the people of Chogha Golan apparently began cultivating wild barley, wheat, and lentils more than 11,500 years ago, and that domesticated forms of wheat appeared about 9,800 years ago, nearly as early as at sites to the west. The team concludes that the advent of farming at Chogha Golan, and in the eastern Fertile Crescent, was an independent event that paralleled developments much farther west....MORE