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View series: Prehistory

Series: Prehistory
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The invention of agriculture

This map is part of a series of 5 animated maps showing the history of Prehistory.

The gradual warming of the climate at the end of the last glacial period created a less hostile environment for humans in many regions and favoured the growth of vegetation.

It was in this new environment that certain groups of hunter-gatherers became sedentary. They began to domesticate nature, cultivating plants that they were already eating in the wild and raising certain animals that they had previously hunted.

Around 9500 BCE, the first traces of agriculture appear in the Middle East, between the Negev and the Euphrates, then more widely across the Fertile Crescent and in Anatolia. The first plants cultivated were cereals: wheat, barley and rye, and pulses such as lentils, peas and beans.

At the same time, these early farmers succeeded in domesticating several types of animals, including goats, sheep, pigs and cattle.

Around 8000 BCE, without any link to the Middle East, agriculture also appeared in the valleys of China’s great rivers, such as the Yangtze or the Yellow River. Wild rice was domesticated in the south and millet in the north. Animal husbandry mainly concerned pigs, buffaloes, ducks and chickens.

A little later, other centres of domestication appeared, again independently.

Around 7000 BCE, bananas, yams, pigs and chickens were domesticated in New Guinea.

Around 6000 BCE, corn, squash, ducks and turkeys were domesticated in Mexico. At the same time in the Andes, farmers grew beans and potatoes and raised llamas and ducks.

Around 4000 BCE in Africa, cattle were domesticated, followed by the cultivation of millet and sorghum.

The invention of agriculture was not just a technical innovation. It also entailed the transition of many human groups from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle and led to rapid population growth. The term ‘Neolithic Revolution’ refers to these profound changes.

From the first centres of domestication, the Neolithic Revolution spread to a wider area, either through the ‘acculturation’ of hunter-gatherer populations who adopted the techniques and way of life of farmers, or through the migration of farmers, whose numbers increased rapidly.