The First Humans Were Likely Farmers

farmer-soil-2Archeological and DNA evidence places the origin of humanity and human culture at 50,000–150,000 years ago. Later archeological and DNA evidence places the Neolithic Revolution—the origin of human civilization and the first evidence for villages, towns, specialized agriculture, the manufacturing of household goods, and trade—in the Persian Gulf region and Mesopotamia about 12,000 years ago. The biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s flood imply that humans were living in the Persian Gulf region during much of the last ice age. Antarctic and Greenland ice cores establish that the last ice age persisted from 12,000 to 120,000 years ago.

A continuing source of challenges to the Bible’s credibility and authority is the claim in Genesis 4 that the first humans were engaging in agriculture and soon thereafter even in metallurgy. Skeptics point out the complete lack of archeological evidence that humans previous to the Neolithic Revolution participated in any kind of agriculture or metalwork.

A response to this argument is that humans everywhere appear to be innately inventive. To say that humans would refrain from any kind of agriculture or metallurgy for tens of thousands of years seems counter to the characteristics of humans.

Recently, a research team offered a reason for the lack of farming evidence prior to the Neolithic Revolution. They cited studies that the climate from 12,000 to 120,000 years ago varied so radically as to render the launch of extensive cultivation and global civilization impossible (see figures 1 and 2).1 The research team concluded that the “last glacial climates were extremely hostile to agriculture.”2

Figure 1: Temperature variation throughout the last ice age cycle. The data here is from the Vostok ice core taken from central Antarctica. The temperature scale is in Celsius degrees relative to Earth’s present temperature. The peak-to-peak temperature variation in Fahrenheit degrees is about 22°. Image credit: Vostok Ice Core Team, released under the GNU Free Documentation License (Creative Commons Attribution)

While hostile to extensive specialized cultivation, the radical temperature fluctuations before the Neolithic Revolution might have permitted small mixed farms. For example, a family could plant a dozen different food plants on a two-acre farm with the hope that perhaps half of them might be harvestable. Based on which food crops produce and which do not, the family could move from place to place so as to optimize crop production in response to climate change. A member of that family might have set up a temporary forge occasionally to make one or two metal farming tools.

Nomadic small-scale mixed farming of this kind is highly unlikely to leave behind any discoverable evidence. However, a research team in Israel has actually found such evidence. The team demonstrated that humans living along the shore of the Sea of Galilee 23,000 years ago were cultivating wild cereals.

The team’s demonstration was based on the discovery of “proto-weeds” mixed in with seeds of wild emmer, barley, and oat. The team cited numerous research studies that establish that certain weeds rapidly evolve in response to cultivation. The discovered proto-weeds showed the first signs of such evolution. The team concluded that the presence of the proto-weeds “indicates the earliest, small-scale attempt to cultivate wild cereals seen in the archeological record.”3

Given how rapidly the climate was fluctuating 23,000 years ago (see figure 2), this cultivation evidence shows that the earliest humans were no less inventive and industrious than we are. What held them back was climate instability, not a lack of motivation or intellect.

Figure 2: The long, cool summer. Ice core records demonstrate that global temperatures have been remarkably constant throughout the past 9,000 years and highly variable before that. Image credit: Leland McInnes, released under the GNU Free Documentation License (Creative Commons Attribution)

The team’s discovery also answers the skeptics’ challenge to the credibility of claims in Genesis 4 about the technological achievements of the earliest humans. We now have evidence sustaining the compatibility of biblical and archeological data on the civilization achievements of early humans.

Resources

  • For more information on our creation model approach to the origin of humanity, please read Who Was Adam?
  • My book Navigating Genesis further explores the credibility of the Bible’s account of creation and early humans found in the opening chapters of Genesis.

Notes

  1. Shaun A. Marcott et al., “Centennial-Scale Changes in the Global Carbon Cycle during the Last Deglaciation,” Nature 514 (October 2014): 616–19, doi:10.1038/nature13799; François Baudin, Nathalie Combourieu-Nebout, and Rainer Zahn, “Signatures of Rapid Climatic Changes in Organic Matter Records in the Western Mediterranean Sea during the Last Glacial Period,” Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France 178 (January 2007): 3–13, doi:10.2113/gssgfbull.178.1.3; Thomas Blunier and Edward J. Brook, “Timing of Millennial-Scale Climate Change in Antarctica and Greenland during the Last Glacial Period,” Science 291 (January 2001): 109–12, doi:10.1126/science.291.5501.109; Gerard C. Bond and Rusty Lotti, “Iceberg Discharges into the North Atlantic on Millennial Time Scales during the Last Glaciation,” Science 267 (February 1995): 1005–10, doi:10.1126/science.267.5200.1005.
  2. Peter J. Richerson, Robert Boyd, and Robert L. Bettinger, “Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis,” American Antiquity 66 (July 2001): 387–411, doi:10.2307/2694241.
  3. Ainit Snir et al., “The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long before Neolithic Farming,” PLoS One 10 (July 2015): 1, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131422.
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3 thoughts on “The First Humans Were Likely Farmers

  1. While there usually are natural explanations for charred timber in the geological record, if further research into this explanation were to become feasible, the presence of charred timber in the geological record might be a lead worth following. While there usually are natural explanations for charred material in the geological record, charring is sometimes an indicator of the primitive “slash and burn” method of agriculture.

  2. Regrettaby, if it should become feasible to research this explanation by archaeology, productive agricultural lands are still among the least likely places for human remains and artifacts to be preserved “in situ.”

  3. Not sure whether this might affect the course of research, however, I have to wonder whether polyculture cultivation–i.e. The cultivation of diverse crops on the same plot, as practiced by American Natives in prehistoric and colonial times–might be more difficult to identify by forensic methods than the monoculture typically practiced by more advanced agricultural societies. Polyculture cultivation might have been a more reliable practice during the unstable weather conditions of the Middle and Late Pleistocene, and its association with primitive Native farmers was recorded during the colonial period (for further information on Native polyculture cultivation during colonial times, refer to _1491_, by Charles Mann).

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