Origins Of Farming In The Fertile Crescent
July 6, 2013

Transition From Foraging To Farming Occurred Throughout The Entire Fertile Crescent

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Previously established theories have stated that Mesopotamia, or the "cradle of civilization," was the place where humans began to transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. However, a new study from archeologists at the University of Tubingen in Germany indicates that prehistoric people living just outside Mesopotamia, but still within the Fertile Crescent, in modern-day Iran cultivated cereal grains between 12,000 and 9,800 years ago.

Many areas in the Fertile Crescent, which arcs from Egypt to the Persian Gulf, have been home to on-going excavations for years. However, political realities in Iran have made accessing sites in that country more difficult

For their study, which was published in the journal Science, the German-based research team gained access to the Neolithic site of Chogha Golan in the Zagros Mountains, a large range along Iran's western border.

"During the last few decades, numerous archaeological excavations were conducted in the Near East that led researchers to consider the possibility that multiple regions in the Fertile Crescent began cultivating cereal grains roughly at the same time, rather than just a single core area," said study co-author Simone Riehl, a lecturer at Tubingen.

Plant remnants found at Chogha Golan trace more than 2,000 years of the region's land use. They are also evidence of agricultural practices. According to the researchers, the site's early inhabitants cultivated grass peas, lentils, wild barley, and wheat, about 12,000 years ago.

"Plentiful findings of chaff remains of the cereals indicate that people processed their harvest within the sites they were living in," Riehl said. "Mortars and grinding stones may have been used for turning the grain into some kind of bulgur or flour, which may have been further processed either by cooking or roasting."

The researchers noted in their report that the stone tools were probably multi-purpose and not just for processing plant materials.

According to the research team, the study's findings suggest that the eastern Fertile Crescent made significant contributions to Neolithic culture as the people living there were performing the same agricultural processes as those in Mesopotamia, which eventually led to a more agrarian society across the entire region.

The archeologists said the means of transporting these techniques around the region were still unknown, but could include trade, immigration, or conquering tribes.

"For some time, the emergence of agriculture in Iran was considered as part of a cultural transfer from the west," Riehl said. "This opinion was, however, mostly based on the lack of information from Iranian sites."

"We meanwhile assume that key areas for emerging domestication existed over the whole Fertile Crescent, and that there were several locations where domesticated species evolved as a result of cultivation by local human groups," the author said. "This does not, of course, exclude the possibility of some kind of transfer of ideas and materials between the different groups populating the Fertile Crescent."

There are several theories surrounding why ancient people began to farm. Some theories posit that climate changes drove people into agricultural practices, while other theories say that social forces inspired people to invest in growing crops.