Agriculture Through the Ages

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By jwblackwell



9 Questions

What was the earliest evidence of small-scale cultivation of edible grasses?

Which crop was domesticated in China by 6200 BC?

What was the major crop of the ancient Mediterranean?

Which region saw the transformation of wild teosinte into modern maize?

What was the Arab agricultural revolution driven by?

What was the Green Revolution?

What has greatly increased crop yields in the early 20th century?

Which crop's yield potential has not increased since 1966?

What is organic farming?


Agriculture: A Brief History

  • Agriculture began independently in different parts of the globe and included a diverse range of taxa.

  • At least 11 separate regions of the Old and New World were involved as independent centers of origin.

  • The development of agriculture about 12,000 years ago changed the way humans lived.

  • Wild grains were collected and eaten from at least 105,000 years ago, however, domestication did not occur until much later.

  • The earliest evidence of small-scale cultivation of edible grasses is from around 21,000 BC with the Ohalo II people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

  • By around 9500 BC, the eight Neolithic founder crops were cultivated in the Levant.

  • Rice was domesticated in China by 6200 BC with the earliest known cultivation from 5700 BC, followed by mung, soy, and azuki beans.

  • In subsaharan Africa, sorghum was domesticated in the Sahel region of Africa by 3000 BC, along with pearl millet by 2000 BC.

  • In South America, agriculture began as early as 9000 BC, starting with the cultivation of several species of plants that later became only minor crops.

  • Irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers were introduced soon after the Neolithic Revolution and developed much further in the past 200 years.

  • Since 1900, agriculture in developed nations has seen large rises in productivity as human labor has been replaced by mechanization, and assisted by synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and selective breeding.

  • Modern agriculture has raised social, political, and environmental issues including overpopulation, water pollution, biofuels, genetically modified organisms, tariffs, and farm subsidies.Agricultural History: Domestication and Innovations

  • Agriculture was first practiced in the Fertile Crescent around 11,500 years ago, with the domestication of crops such as wheat and barley.

  • South Asia saw the domestication of jujube by 9000 BC, followed by the cultivation of wheat, barley, and cattle in the Mehrgarh culture around 8000-6000 BC.

  • Ancient China developed hydraulic-powered trip hammers, square-pallet chain pumps, and heavy ploughs with iron ploughshares by the 1st-2nd century AD.

  • The major crops of the ancient Mediterranean included wheat, emmer, barley, peas, beans, olives, and dairy products from sheep and goats.

  • The Romans developed the manorial economic system and had four systems of farm management, including direct work by the owner and his family, slaves, tenant farming, and leasing.

  • The Americas lacked large-seeded, easily domesticated grains and large domestic animals, with pre-historic American agriculture consisting of cultivating many crops close to each other utilizing only hand labor.

  • Mesoamerica saw the transformation of wild teosinte into modern maize around 7,000 BC, as well as the domestication of hundreds of varieties of locally domesticated squash and beans, cocoa, and turkeys.

  • The indigenous people of the Eastern U.S. domesticated numerous crops, including sunflowers, tobacco, squash, and Chenopodium.

  • Indigenous Australians were predominately nomadic hunter-gatherers, but practiced various agricultural methods in two regions of Central Australia.

  • The Middle Ages saw further improvements in agriculture, including the manorial system, iron smelting, and the carruca heavy plough.Agriculture: From the Middle Ages to the Green Revolution

  • The increase in population led to a change in crop rotation, improved horse harnesses, and the introduction of watermills and windmills.

  • The Arab agricultural revolution from the 8th to the 14th century was driven by the diffusion of crops and advanced farming techniques, and introduced major crops to Europe.

  • The Columbian exchange of crops and livestock between the Old and New World led to population growth and long-lasting effects on cultures in the Early Modern period.

  • The British agricultural revolution from the 17th to the mid-19th century saw a large increase in productivity and output, allowing for unprecedented population growth and helping drive the Industrial Revolution.

  • Modern agriculture has been characterized by increased productivity, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, water pollution, and farm subsidies.

  • The number of people involved in farming in industrial countries fell radically from 24% of the American population to 1.5% in 2002.

  • The Green Revolution from the 1940s to the late 1970s increased agricultural production worldwide through the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, irrigation infrastructure, and distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.

  • Synthetic nitrogen, pesticides, and mechanization have greatly increased crop yields in the early 20th century.

  • The genetic “yield potential” has increased for wheat, but the yield potential for rice has not increased since 1966, and the yield potential for maize has “barely increased in 35 years.”

  • Organic farming, without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and without GMOs, has been practiced for most of agriculture’s history and is now a worldwide movement.


Test your knowledge about the fascinating history of agriculture with our quiz! From the origins of domestication to the Green Revolution and modern farming practices, this quiz will cover it all. Discover the diverse range of crops and techniques that have been developed over thousands of years and learn about the social, political, and environmental issues that have arisen along the way. Sharpen your knowledge on agriculture and take the quiz now!

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