Farming began early in human history. There are some remote societies today that have yet to adopt farming as a way of life and a food source. Hunter-gatherers in North America co-existed with farming societies less than 400 years ago. Setting a hard date for all of humanity is tricky.
A strict interpretation of the Bible would put farming to have begun about six thousand years ago, when Adam was told he would till the soil by the sweat of his brow, and his son produced a crop whose fruits he offered to God. Archaeology has the first crops most likely appearing some 7,000 years ago.
The scientific community offers various opinions about the origins of farming, in regard to its timing. If we define farming loosely as that of only harvesting wild grains, then some put those origins back to 105,000 years ago.
If we define farming as the use of domesticated plants that are both planted and harvested by man, then the earliest date offered by some is 9,500 years B.C.E. This conclusion is in regard to einkorn wheat and hulled barley, peas, and lentils sown in the Levant.
If we look for definitive, hard archaeological evidence, however, of actual planting and harvesting, then we can only say that farming began some 7,000 years ago.
Wild Rice and Weeds
The Neolithic period is the prevailing timeframe when farming began, and seems to be universally accepted by science. This puts the origin of farming in the timeframe of 12,000 years ago or later. Earlier claims on farming origins only posit ideas of collecting grains from wild sources.
One study suggests, however, that the earliest farming of this sort has been found in the Galilee in Israel, where weeds found at a sedentary human camp may indicate ‘trial plant cultivation’ that began close to 23,000 years ago. This, however, is not yet considered farming, but may have been pivotal in humanity heading in that direction.
Barley, Oats, and Wheat
The Fertile Crescent has long been cited as the likely site of first cultivation, and is the beginning of civilization of man into societies with governments. The sowing and harvesting of crops was supposed to have begun there by 11,500 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating.
Farming gave the notion of dwelling in cities the security of a food supply. Ancient cities had smaller farming settlements around them called “daughter cities”, tiny villages that supplied produce to the cities. The development of farming and of cities likely went hand-in-hand, or, cities developed on the heels of cultivation.
If cultivation and city-dwelling did indeed develop at around the same time, then dating the origin of farming in regard to planting and cultivation would be congruent with dating the beginning of city settlements. The oldest cities in the world, according to archaeology, are found in the Fertile Crescent, where the “founder crops” of farming originated.
Jericho, Israel, is recorded as the oldest known city. While scientists believe the site was occupied as early as 12,000 years ago, it did not become a city as we define it until 5,000 B.C.E. Archaeological findings of farming conquer with this date as well.
Other cities in the Fertile Crescent and nearby were created around the same time, and later. Byblos, Lebanon, Susa, Iran, and Gaziantep, Turkey are a few, and date from 5,000 B.C.E. to 3,650 B.C.E. Evidence of farming is also found at or near some of these sites.
Skara Brae, Scotland
During the late Neolithic period, a stone village was settled about 1,000 years after Jericho was established as a city. This was one of the farthest reaches of the known world at that time. It predates both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza.
What is striking about this site on Orkney Island is that it was the earliest farming site found in the United Kingdom, at the edge of the world. Their one-room, circular, stone houses, complete with built-in furniture and shelving, and even toilets, were built in the middle of a farming settlement.
Compared to the rest of Great Britain, this was an advanced society at that time, and farming was part of their way of life, in 4,000 B.C.E.