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The spread of agriculture

We investigate the independent development and spread of agriculture across the planet, throughout prehistory.

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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user mfmegazerox
    How do we know these developed independently? For example, how do we know that the Mesopotamian agricultural revolution didn't effect the Sarghum development, or that the Yangtze river cultivation didn't inspire the Yellow River group? I mean, the separation of the Eurasian and African developments from the America's is intuitive, but I have trouble believing that nomadic people didn't see what the Yangtze river was doing and try it up north, especially given the relatively short geographical difference.
    (50 votes)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Carter M
      My thoughts are this: we can not know that the technology of agriculture was never passed from one group of people to another, however, the probability that all geographically separated agricultural centers of the world had a sufficient level of contact to permit the spread of technology is low.
      (27 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Citrus
    Is maize the same thing as corn?
    (32 votes)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user Steve Schroeder
      Hi Citrus, thanks for the question! Maize is the same thing as corn in current common American usage. The word corn was originally used to refer to the principal cereal crop of a given region, so corn might refer to maize in one place, wheat in another, and rye somewhere else. Something to keep in mind if you come across the word corn in any historical documents!

      Hope that helps!
      (60 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Sam Hicks
    How long is the process of developing agriculture and the domestication of animals? For example, did people in Peru develop the means to produce potatoes in a reliable way in one to two generations or was this more of a long term endeavor spread over many generations? I know that "3,000 BCE" is a very rough estimate for when agriculture started in that region, but I'm not clear on if it happened relatively quickly or if perhaps the ideas and initial trial and error phase took place earlier - say 4,500 BCE - and it was only around 3,000 BCE that we start to see reliable potato farming on a larger scale.
    (21 votes)
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    • old spice man blue style avatar for user Stephanie
      I don't know. But i think you are right, as any historical fact it must have been a long process, since we do not know the specifics in time, we see it as something automatic, but everything is a process, from my point of view, just like wars, and the very own human evolution, is not like one day we were monkeys and the other homo sapiens.
      (6 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Stefan van der Waal
    I'm a bit confused about the independent development of agriculture and the animals.

    According to the video, people had pigs, sheep, goats and cows around 9000 BCE in modern-day Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Between 9000 and 7000 BCE people had cows and sheep in modern-day South Sudan.

    So how is it possible that agriculture developed independently, while the same animals were domesticated in two very different places?
    (8 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user daniel.delaney
    What is barley?
    (4 votes)
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  • winston baby style avatar for user Dhruv
    what about corn
    (2 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
      Steve Schroeder (@SteveSchroeder) answered this question elsewhere as follows: "The word corn was originally used to refer to the principal cereal crop of a given region, so corn might refer to maize in one place, wheat in another, and rye somewhere else. Something to keep in mind if you come across the word corn in any historical documents!"
      (9 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Nomad
    What is the difference between BCE and BC?
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user _
    Near the end of the video they say that domestication of animals in the Americas was only developed in Peru, because there weren't any tameable animals elsewhere.

    But earlier in the video, they mention buffalo being domesticated in China. If buffalo existed in North America at the time, why were they never tamed?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user mariaelenalule
    How did human society become more complex over time
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user ruth walters
      Another way to answer that question would be this:
      agriculture --> cities --> culture --> conflict
      With the advent of agriculture, and by extension, an increased critical population mass, people started gathering in large areas and began to develop their identity as a group. It might not be as complex as society today, but founded on the same principals. The stronger you were, the more you had, the more people wanted to be around you. This, as well as the trading system (low-level capitalism) always leads to conflict, which leads to change, but what ever really changes?
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Atul Bhat
    In the previous video, they said that China started agriculture, but now they're saying the Middle East? These videos are so conflicting. Does anybody know where it started?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- [David] Hey, Rosie. - [Rosie] Hey, David. - [David] So as you know, I am a bit of a foodie. And you know what foodies love more than anything? - [Rosie] Food? - [David] Well, yeah, but, road trips. - [Rosie] (laughing) Cool, yes. - [David] So what I would like to do is go on a road trip and follow the origins of agriculture. Starting at about 11,000 years ago to bring us into the era of history. So we're going from this neolithic pre-writing time that brings us all the way up to the first cities. - [Rosie] Great. - [David] So, Rosie. Where do we begin? - [Rosie] Okay, we begin in modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. - [David] Okay, so kind of this "Fertile Crescent" area, a little bit of Asia Minor. This is a very gross over-generalization of the region we're talking about, 'cause I'm looking at this from a globe perspective with no country borders. Which is actually ideal, because there were no nation-states, right, there's just kind of damp places where barley grows at this point. - [Rosie] And that's exactly what was growing there. People were farming when people started farming, wheat and barley. And they were also domesticating animals. Sheep, goats, cows, and pigs. The neat thing is that in all of these places that we're gonna look at, agriculture was developing independently. These were some of the first birthplaces of agriculture in the world, and people in these locations just invented it on their own. - [David] So it's not like someone from the Fertile Crescent wandered over to Mexico and said, "Hey, I discovered this "thing with barley. "You should try it with corn." This is more like independent groups of human beings all discovered this stuff independent of one another. - [Rosie] That's right. - [David] Kind of like the way Newton and Leibniz both discovered the calculus. - [Rosie] Exactly. (laughing) - [David] Just trying to make some cross-disciplinary connections. - [Rosie] I like it. - [David] Thank you. Okay, so this is our earliest one, 9000 B.C.E. - [Rosie] 9000 B.C.E., that's the first evidence that archaeologists have of agriculture. - [David] Okay. - [Rosie] Then we move to modern-day Sudan near the Sahara Desert, the southeastern edge of it, 'cause it's a very big desert. - [David] And what was grown there, pray tell? - [Rosie] Sorghum. - [David] So today in the United States, sorghum is used mostly for animal feed, but also, you can make a sweet syrup out of it. I imagine the ancient peoples used it as kind of a general purpose staple grain. - [Rosie] Right. They also domesticated cows and sheep. - [David] So that's, how long ago was that, Rosie? - [Rosie] That was from 9000-7000 B.C.E. - [David] And that's where the Sudan and the South Sudan is today. - [Rosie] Yes. - [David] Okay. - [Rosie] Then, over on the western side of Africa in what is today Nigeria, about a thousand years later, people started cultivating yams, okra, and black-eyed peas. - [David] So okra, kinda these long green pods. You may have eaten them before, they're quite delicious. They kind of have a delicious mucilaginous goop. - [Rosie] Mmmm. - [David] I know that doesn't sound delicious, but it is. It's really important for gumbo and all sorts of foundational cuisines. It's also got this lovely little flower. So okay, we've got okra. - [Rosie] Okra, yams, and black-eyed peas. - [David] Now for those of you that live in the American South, you may recognize a lot of these vegetables as being parts of your diet as well. That's something we'll cover several thousand years from now. - [Rosie] Yeah, the time period on these crops is from about 8000-6000 B.C.E. is when those got started. - [David] And both of these are in sub-Saharan Africa, so if we pause it, the desert is up here and up here. These regions are beneath it. - [Rosie] That's right. - [David] Okay. - [Rosie] Now David, we're gonna head over to East Asia for a little bit. - [David] So this here is Yangtze River. - [Rosie] Yes. - [David] So what do we have? - [Rosie] Well starting at about 6500 B.C.E., people who lived along the river started farming rice. There's rice paddies, and rice needs a lot of water to grow. They also domesticated pigs and buffalo, which is kind of neat, and they domesticated chicken. So then we go north of the Yangtze River. In the Yellow River area of China, and about 5500 B.C.E. people there started to cultivate millet and soybeans. - [David] And Rosie, when did the Yangtze cultivation of rice, pigs, buffalo... - [Rosie] At about 6500 B.C.E. - [David] Gotcha. Alright, so we've got these millet stalk, and then the big broad leaves of the soybean plant, little beans hanging down. So that was about 5500. - [Rosie] That's right, and we're going to move over to Mexico for a little bit in 4000 B.C.E. - [David] Right here? - [Rosie] Right there. So here we have those maize plants that you were telling us about in the last video. Later on they started cultivating all kinds of other plants such as beans, peppers, squashes, and tomatoes. But in 4000 B.C.E. they were growing lots of maize. So in about 3000 B.C.E, over in Southeast Asia. - [David] So this is Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. - [Rosie] Yes, yes. So in 3000 B.C.E., that area saw cultivation of taro. - [David] So taro is like a starchy root vegetable. - [Rosie] Taro, yams, coconuts, bread fruit, bananas, and citrus fruits. - [David] What's interesting to me is that with the exception of citrus here, all of these things that we're looking at, so rice, millet, wheat, barley, yams, sorghum, bread fruit, taro, they're all starches. - [Rosie] Yeah, high calorie foods. - [David] And I guess these are the sorts of things that can sustain a person. - [Rosie] Right. I think when people were starting agriculture, they had to find what would be the best bang for the buck, or the most effective types of food since this is uncharted territory. So foods that had a lot of calories, that were more able to sustain people would probably be the better choice. - [David] So finishing up our world tour. - [Rosie] Yes, we're coming back over to the Americas in Peru and the Andes Mountains. Farmers were growing potatoes... - [David] Oh yay. - [Rosie] Which we haven't seen yet, which is kind of cool. - [David] So potatoes is foods that is eaten now all over the world. The same as all of these crops. Begins in this one weird little mountain area. - [Rosie] After 3000 B.C.E. And this is also the one place in the Americas where we see animals getting domesticated during this time period. In other parts of the Americas, there weren't animals that were easily domesticated. But here we've got llamas, alpacas, and even guinea pigs were domesticated. - [David] All of those animals are still domesticated in that region today, including guinea pig, which in Quechua is called cuye, which people still eat. I would be curious to try it actually. - [Rosie] Yeah, me too. - [David] So Rosie, that's our world tour of agriculture. You can see all over the world, from 9000 B.C.E. to 3000 B.C.E., human beings were adapting the local flora to their own needs. And in some cases, domesticating animals like llamas and pigs and sheep and guinea pigs. - [Rosie] Pretty neat. So David, throughout the world, as you were saying, all of these independent locations, there's this growth of agriculture. So how did that affect these settlements and villages in the way that people organized their lives? - [David] Well Rosie, that's a story for another time.