Human history has been shaped by three Agricultural revolutions—the first in the Neolithic Age, the second in the 18th and 19th Century Europe, and the third in the latter part of the 20th Century. The first agricultural revolution was the radical period in which agriculture became the primary means of subsistence of humans. This era is also known as the Neolithic Revolution.
The First Agricultural Revolution
The beginning of agriculture is a notable milestone in human history. But this did not happen overnight. In the Paleolithic Age, people mainly obtained food by foraging. They spent significant time searching for food. As a result, early humans had a good knowledge of the various plants and animals. With time, humans used to stay in one place for a long time. And often, they created their temporary settlements around water sources. At the same time, they began to grow various wild plants around their temporary settlements. The process by which wild plants adapt to human use is called domestication. The grains were the first to domesticate from their wild form.
Until now, the scientific consensus was that humans began to domesticate grains about 12,000 years ago. But the latest findings revealed that the first domestication of old grain, einkorn has happened in the areas of present Iraq and Syria (Fertile Crescent) 30,000 years ago. Moreover, other grains, such as emmer and barley in the same region, were domesticated about 25,000 years ago and 21,000 years ago. And rice in Asia experienced the same process 13,000 years ago.
When, Why and Where – First Agricultural Revolution?
Agriculture became more familiar with the beginning of the Holocene age about 10,000 years ago (see Geologic time of Earth). During this period, the earth’s temperature rose, and the soil became softer and more fertile. All these conditions were favorable for farming. With this, agriculture spread all over the world on a large scale. Accordingly, the man who had lived a nomadic life so far started to settle in one place. This transition is called the Agricultural Revolution. And also, it led to the beginning of the Neolithic Age. There are several opinions as to why man moved to agriculture.
The most common explanation is the competition for food. As the human population gradually increased, so did competition for food. It was clear to the people that a large amount of food could obtain from a small land plot through cultivation. This increase in productivity gave them a strong reason to turn to agriculture.
This revolution was believed to occur first in the Fertile Crescent, Middle East. As mentioned earlier, grains were the first to cultivate. Einkorn and barley were domesticated first in the areas of Fertile Crescent. Later, it spread into other parts of Asia and Africa. Millet and rice were domesticated in China and then spread to East and Southeast Asia.
The Domestication of Animals
At the same time, people began to domesticate animals. From the early periods, animals and animal products were a significant part of the human diet. Hence, domesticating those animals provided a reliable source of food. According to evidence, Sheep and goats were domesticated first around 12,000 BCE in Mesopotamia. Chickens were domesticated 2000 years later in Southeast Asia. The milk and meat of these animals provided additional nutrition to the human diet. And it was helpful for the stable population growth. Moreover, early humans used skins of animals for clothing and to build shelters.
Next, people began to domesticate larger animals, such as bulls or horses. These animals were useful for plowing and transportation. And usage of the animals made intensive farming a lot easier.
Consequences of the first Agricultural revolution
First, agriculture contributed to the growth of the population. Agriculture provides a more reliable food source. And it led to population growth and later to the development of the world’s first villages and towns. Second, agriculture led to the advancement of tool production and technology. With the expansion of agriculture, people began to make new metal tools. Also, developed irrigation systems to increase the productivity of farmland.
Finally, with agriculture, people do not need to spend their entire day finding food. So they had free time to think about other aspects of life, such as religion, art, and craftsmanship. Subsequently, there was rapid growth in those areas.
However, dependency on agriculture and livestock also had some adverse effects. With agriculture, people were limited to consuming few crops, and therefore the nutritional composition they received was limited. Furthermore, frequent contact with domestic animals transmitted diseases such as smallpox and influenza to humans. Moreover, due to agriculture, concepts such as land ownership emerged. It led to social inequalities and eventually to even wars.