The Development of Agriculture

The Development of Agriculture

The development of agricultural about 12,000 years ago changed the way humans lived. They switched from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to permanent settlements and farming.


3 - 12


Social Studies, World History

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The Farming Revolution

Farming changed how humans live. It began around 12,000 years ago. 

Before farming, humans traditionally were hunter-gatherers. This means they always searched for food. They moved their homes around constantly. 

After farming began they had a more steady food supply. This allowed people to stay in one place.

Soon, cities and civilizations grew. Plants and animals could now be farmed to meet more people's needs. The world's population rocketed. Ten thousand years ago the world had about five million people. Today, there are more than eight billion people.

There wasn't just one reason why people tried farming. It happened in different parts of the world. Some early evidence of farming exists in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East. This includes areas we know today as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Turkey. There, the climate was changing. The last ice age had just ended.

Perhaps better weather conditions made it easier to farm certain plants.

Plant Domestication

Humans first started growing wild crops, including wheat (Triticum aestivum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), and peas (Lathyrus oleraceus) in the Middle East. This happened around 9,000 years ago. Figs (Ficus carica), a kind of fruit, were grown even earlier. They were probably planted about 11,300 years ago.

Slowly, humans tried farming at home. There is proof of this in ancient villages. Old homes were found with stones used to grind up grain. 

Rice was grown in eastern China. This happened around 6,000 B.C.E.

In Mexico, squash was farmed around 10,000 years ago. Corn, also known as maize, came later.

Maize first began as a grass-like plant. At some point, the plant had a change in its genes. This made it look like the corn that we know today.

Genes are made up of tiny segments of DNA. DNA is the building block of life. It tells a person's body how to learn and grow. Genes are passed from parents to children.

Mutations are changes that happen in DNA. These changes can be passed from parents to children. Gene mutations can also happen to a living thing during its life.

More people began to grow the mutated maize. Maize-like plants were probably grown about 9,000 years ago. The first corn was grown around 5,500 years ago. 

Corn reached North America about 5,000 years ago. This is also when potato growing started. It began in the mountains of South America.

Farmed Animals

Cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs were soon farmed, too. This happened about 13,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Animal farming started in the Fertile Crescent. Farming soon spread further west into Europe. Studies show that goats and other animals came, too.

Before this, people could not drink cow milk. There is a natural chemical in milk called lactose. The human body could not digest it. 

Then, something changed during the spread of farming. A mutation in human genes occurred. People became able to drink lactose without problems.

Milk can be healthy for the body. More people were drinking it. The people that could tolerate lactose passed on their genes to their children. 

Today, many Europeans have the milk-drinking gene. This proves most of them have cow farmers as ancestors.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

January 5, 2024

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