Early Agricultural Communities

Early Agricultural Communities

The Neolithic Age brought about the birth of agriculture as we now know it, as communities in Mesopotamia, China, and South America helped lead humans’ way of life from hunting and gathering to farming.


5 - 12


Anthropology, Biology, Ecology, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History


Babylonian Ruins

The Sumerians were among the first people to use agriculture. These Babylonian ruins are along the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia.

Photograph by nik wheeler/Alamy stock photo
The Sumerians were among the first people to use agriculture. These Babylonian ruins are along the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia.
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Today, farming is big business. It can produce enough food for the whole world. There was a time, though, when growing crops was a new idea. It only started about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. People in Mesopotamia, China, and South America began farming as we know it today. It changed how people lived. Instead of hunting or searching for food, they grew it themselves. They lived in one place instead of moving around. Their populations and communities grew.

Farming in the Fertile Crescent

Where did farming begin? Archaeology offers clues. Archaeology is the study of places and objects ancient people left behind. Experts use these clues to figure out how these people lived. Clues indicate farmers first grew crops in North Africa and Mesopotamia.

Why farming began during that time remains a question. Some scientists think climate change might have been a factor. A big shift in weather patterns began about 12,000 years ago. It created better conditions for farming.

The first farmers may have been Sumerians. Their homeland was in Mesopotamia, a historical region in the Middle East. Its climate was hot and dry. One of the big challenges the Sumerians faced was watering their crops. They developed irrigation systems. They dug ditches and canals to bring water to their plants. Wheat was one of their first crops.

Early Agriculture in Ancient China

At about the same time, people in the Far East also started farming. Among the first were the Yangshao people. They lived near what is now the city of Xi'an in China. They had been hunters who moved around. Later, though, they began to build settlements. Farming made the change possible.

Farmers in that region grew a variety of crops. North of the Qin Mountains, they grew wheat and millet. In the south, they grew rice. Most settlements formed near rivers. This location made it easier to bring water to farm fields. Over time, they started planting new crops. This included tea, soybeans, and peaches.

Agricultural Development in the West

Across the ocean, farming also began in South America. Ancient seeds have been found in caves in the Andes mountains. Early farmers there planted lima beans and squash. They also grew peanuts. Potatoes were an especially important crop.

Farming in the mountains is difficult. These farmers came up with a special method to do it: terracing. Terracing makes flat areas on steep hillsides. It protects soil from washing away. It also makes it easier to water crops.

Thousands of years ago, farming was a new idea. It changed how people lived. Farming was an easier and more reliable way of getting food. It made settlements and more complex communities possible.

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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