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The Domestication Of Wheat And Other Crops


Although it may sound exaggerated, civilization would not have advanced without the domestication of plants and animals. Since the domestication of wheat and other crops is so important to the development of civilization, its origins must be studied to understand the links between farming and other innovations that form an advanced society.


Although domestication of plants and crops cultivated for consumption has been carried on for 11,000 years, this figure pales in comparison with the seven million years humans fed themselves by hunting wild animals and eating wild plants. Without the transition, however, mankind could not have completed its social and cultural evolution. Cultivation of cereals played a major part in the shift from hunting and gathering to plant and animal husbandry.

Several regions were first movers in developing independent domestication. Bread wheat, barley, oats, and rye in the Middle East; rice and millet in Southeast Asia; and corn, beans, and squash in Central America (Mesoamerica) all supported the rise of civilizations. Scientists and archaeologists have pinpointed these areas, along with the Andes and the Amazon basin of South America (potato, manioc) and the eastern United States (sunflower, goosefoot) as the main regions in which food production arose independently.

In total, only a few areas of the world developed food production independently. Often people in neighboring areas adopted food production techniques, yet some continued on as hunter-gatherers. The regions that were early food producers gained a foothold in the evolutionary cycle that ultimately led toward firepower, political systems, and metalwork. Like all evolutions, though, the move from hunter to producer took thousands of years.

The earliest known emmer wheat dates back to 8500 b.c. and came from a region in the near Middle East, called the “Fertile Crescent.” After its domestication there, it spread further west, to Greece in 6500 b.c. and Germany in 5000 b.c. Perhaps the most widely used wheat, bread wheat (dated to 6000 b.c.), is strictly a domesticated species. It emerged accidentally in the near Middle East when different species of wheat were grown together. Domesticated barley appeared in the Fertile Crescent around 7000 b.c.

The Fertile Crescent is a hotbed of research activity linked to the rise of civilization. Although the development of cities, empires, and writing happened there, food production outdated them all. Thus, the area is studied to find out how domestication gave the region such an enormous head start. Because people in the Fertile Crescent were the first to develop concentrated food production techniques and animal husbandry, they experienced dense concentrations of human population, which in turn, enabled them to advance rapidly into technology, education, political systems, and even disease. Disease played a role in warding off potential enemies and thinning populations that had yet to build up immunity says rotavator parts suppliers in delhi.

The domestication of rice dates to about 4000 b.c. in mainland Southeast Asia and China. Cultivation of this species usually involves flooded conditions in paddies, although it is also grown in upland regions. Today, nearly half the world’s rice farming takes place in China and India and less than 1% in the United States. A comparatively small number of rice farmers basically supply the principle dietary staple for more than half the world.

Corn (also called “maize”) was first grown in the highlands of Mesoamerica (Mexico) about 6000 to 5000 b.c. The development of corn is noticeably different from the cereals grown in the Fertile Crescent. Unlike the crops grown there, corn is much larger and adapts to warm seasons.

In terms of world production, four of the best known crops are members of the grass family: sugarcane, wheat, rice, and corn. Domestication of sugarcane occurred in Southeast Asia. Early cultivators discovered that the stem was a rich source of sugar and high in caloric value.

Bamboo is an overlooked but remarkably useful crop. Some analysts suggest that the tree grasses (or bamboos) have more uses than any other plant on Earth. Young shoots of several species are important vegetables in the daily diet in Japan, China, and Taiwan. Other cultures view bamboo as a gourmet item. In China, Southeast Asia, and Brazil, bamboos have been used in papermaking. In India the majority of the pulp for paper production comes from bamboos. The amazing strength and lightness of bamboo stems make them an excellent building material in the construction of houses and temples. Bamboo has also been used for centuries to make woven mats and a number of containers, including bowls and trays.


Food production is a prerequisite for the development of guns, germs, and steel, which function as the building blocks of world history. In hindsight, the cycle of evolution seems remarkably simple: the availability of more calories per person from farming leads to denser populations. The resulting crops feed geometrically more people than hunter-gatherer communities, which leads to greater numbers of people in the farming-based communities.

Once a food stockpile is acquired, then a political elite develops to control the surplus, which includes taxation. Some of the taxes are used to build and maintain armies, other money is used for building public works and cities. Since there are more food producers, they have a decided edge in military battles. The more complex a political system becomes, the better a society can mount a sustained war of conquest. In the meantime, an entire set of cultural, educational, and artistic endeavors arise because people have more free time and are healthier due to farming.

As food plants, cereals have many advantages, including a high yield per acre of growth. They are also wonderful sources of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. From this standpoint, the cereals can be considered the staff of life. People also developed innovative uses for plants and cereals. Alcoholic beverages were distilled from other crop grasses: barley provides beer malt, rice is used in the production of sake, and corn for bourbon. Wheat, rye, corn, and barley contribute to the making of whiskeys and vodka.


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