Development of Agriculture and Technology Review for AP World History
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The Transition from Foraging to Agriculture
The transition from foraging (hunting and gathering) arose as nomadic groups returned to favorite grazing areas year after year. Perhaps some nomadic peoples made an effort to cultivate those crops that they found most appealing; later they may have transplanted seeds from these same favored crops in other areas through which they traveled. Because hunting required greater physical strength, the early cultivation of plants was probably a task left to women, granting them increased importance among agricultural peoples. Women farmers studied the growth patterns of plants as well as the effect of climate and soil on them. Agricultural development included the domestication of animals as well as the cultivation of crops.
Independent Origins of Agriculture: A Timeline
Key developments in the history of agriculture show the following events in the process:
- Agriculture began sometime after 9000 B.C.E. with the cultivation of grain crops such as wheat and barley in Southwest Asia. Animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats also were domesticated.
- By 7000 B.C.E. Sudanese Africa and West Africa cultivated root crops such as sorghum and yams.
- In present-day China, inhabitants of the Yangtze River valley cultivated rice about 6500 B.C.E.
- About 5500 B.C.E., people of the Huang He valley began the cultivation of soybeans and millet. They also domesticated chickens and pigs and, later, water buffalo.
- In Southeast Asia, perhaps around 3500 B.C.E., inhabitants grew root crops such as yams and taro as well as a variety of citrus and other fruits.
- Around 4000 B.C.E., the peoples of central Mexico cultivated maize, or corn, later adding beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.
- The principal crop of the Andean region of South America was potatoes, first cultivated around 3000 B.C.E. Maize and beans were added later. The only domesticated animals in the Americas were the llama, alpaca, and guinea pig.
The Spread of Agriculture
After agriculture was established independently in various locations across the globe, the knowledge of crop cultivation spread rapidly. In fact, it was the nature of early agricultural methods that aided the extension of agricultural knowledge. An often-used agricultural method called slash-and-burn cultivation involved slashing the bark on trees and later burning the dead ones. The resulting ashes enriched the soil for a number of years. When the soil eventually lost its fertility, however, farmers were forced to move to new territory. By 6000 B.C.E., agriculture had spread to the eastern Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, reaching northern Europe about 4000 B.C.E. These frequent migrations exposed early farmers to new peoples, diffusing both agricultural knowledge and cultural values.
Characteristics of Early Agricultural Societies
Although agriculture required more work than foraging, it had the advantage of producing a more constant and substantial food supply. Consequently, the spread of agriculture not only increased cultural contacts but also produced significant population growth. As populations multiplied, neolithic peoples began to settle in villages. As villages grew and agriculture continued to supply an abundance of food, not all villagers were needed as farmers. Some inhabitants began to develop other talents and skills such as the manufacture of pottery, metal tools, textiles, wood products, and jewelry. Two early noteworthy agricultural settlements were:
- Jericho (established around 8000 B.C.E.) in present-day Israel. Here farmers produced wheat and barley, while also trading with neighboring peoples in obsidian and salt. Characteristic of Jericho was a thick wall designed to protect the wealthy settlement against raiders.
- Çatal Hüyük (established around 7000 B.C.E.) in Anatolia (present-day Turkey). Residents of this village left artifacts representing a variety of craft products indicating an extensive specialization of labor. They also traded obsidian with neighboring peoples.
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