Farming May Have Started Way Earlier Than Scientists Thought

Researchers have found evidence of plant cultivation at a 23,000-year-old site.
Amit Dave / Reuters

When did humans first begin farming?

Scientists have long thought that our prehistoric ancestors didn't start raising crops until some 12,000 years ago. But a new study suggests that the age of agriculture might have dawned much earlier.

"From what our current research reveals, the first indication for the earliest cultivation is 23,000 years ago on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel," Dr. Ehud Weiss, professor of palaeoethnobotany at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. "This is one of the most amazing finds a researcher can dream on. No one had previously imagined humans had started cultivating in such an early date."

For the study, the researchers analyzed a 23,000-year-old hunter-gatherer campsite, which was discovered in 1989 at the archaeological site Ohalo II near the Sea of Galilee. They examined about 150,000 plant specimens at the site and noticed evidence not only of domestic-type wheat and barley, but also of weeds known to flourish in the fields of domesticated crops.

"The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions," Weiss said in a written statement. "Due to this, it was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants."

The site also yielded flint tools that might have been used for harvesting cereal plants.

Given the findings, the researchers concluded that the campsite is probably the earliest known example of small-scale farming.

"While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities," Dr. Marcelo Sternberg, an ecologist at Tel Aviv University and a co-author of the study, said in a separate statement. "Those early ancestors were more clever and more skilled than we knew."

The study was published online in the journal Plos One on July 22.

How exactly did agriculture and even animal domestication change the course of human history? Check out the "Talk Nerdy To Me" episode below:

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