Start of Agriculture

Over centuries, the growth of agriculture contributed to the rise of civilizations.

Before agriculture became widespread, people spent most of their lives searching for food—hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. About 11,500 years ago, people gradually learned how to grow cereal and root crops, and settled down to a life based on farming.

By 2,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s population had become dependent on agriculture. Scholars are not sure why this shift to farming took place, but it may have occurred because of climate change.

When people began growing crops, they also began herding and breeding wild animals. Adapting wild plants and animals for people to use is called domestication.

The first domesticated plant was probably rice or corn. Chinese farmers were cultivating rice as early as 7500 BCE.

The first domesticated animals were dogs, which were used for hunting. Sheep and goats were probably domesticated next. People also domesticated cattle and pigs. Most of these animals had once been hunted for hides and meat. Now many of them are also sources of milk, cheese, and butter. Eventually, people used domesticated animals such as oxen for plowing, pulling, and transportation.

Agriculture enabled people to produce surplus food. They could use this extra food when crops failed or trade it for other goods. Food surpluses allowed people to work at other tasks unrelated to farming.

Agriculture kept formerly nomadic people near their fields and led to the development of permanent villages. These became linked through trade. New economies were so successful in some areas that cities grew and civilizations developed. The earliest civilizations based on intensive agriculture arose near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and Iran) and along the Nile River in Egypt.Improved Technology

For thousands of years, agricultural development was very slow. One of the earliest agricultural tools was fire. Native Americans used fire to control the growth of berry-producing plants, which they knew grew quickly after a wildfire. Farmers cultivated small plots of land by hand, using axes to clear away trees and digging sticks to break up and till the soil. Over time, improved farming tools of bone, stone, bronze, and iron were developed. New methods of storage evolved. People began stockpiling foods in jars and clay-lined pits for use in times of scarcity. They also began making clay pots and other vessels for carrying and cooking food.

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