Figs push the dawn of agriculture back by an entire millennium

Discussion in 'History' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jun 10, 2006.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    According to a blurb in last week's Washington Post, an archeological dig near Jericho turned up the remains of figs that were clearly not natural wild varieties. They were softer and more edible than the ancestral species and most importantly they were sterile so they had to be propagated by cultivating cuttings rather than natural seeding.

    The remains are dated to 9,400BCE. This is a full thousand years earlier than grains like wheat and barley, which were thought to be the first domesticated crops.

    The domestication of plants made it possible for people to build permanent settlements. They were able to produce more food in a given area than could be gathered from nature, so they no longer had to be nomads constantly migrating to keep up with nature's meager harvest.

    Agriculture and permanent villages mark the transition from the Mesolithic Era (Middle Stone Age) to the Neolithic Era (Late Stone Age). Agriculture arose independently in several regions, but archeological evidence has always indicated that it was first invented in the Middle East and this discovery does not change that. Bountiful fishing areas also fostered the creation of stationary villages, but this vector does not seem to have had as big an impact on the development of human society as farming.

    The Agricultural Revolution--the dawn of the Neolithic Era--is regarded as one of the three "paradigm shifts" in human history. The other two are the Industrial Revolution and the Computer Age--which if you ask me is still a little early to send out the announcements.

    The Agricultural Revolution began at least a thousand years earlier than was previously thought.
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  3. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    I was just reading this in the June 2nd issue of Science.
    Really quite interesting.

    I hardly knew anything about figs other than they're a fruit from the middle east, but now am frankly amazed by them.

    Did you know that man is not the first animal domesticated by the fig plant (ficus)?
    Amazing, but true.
    The figs domesticated wasps millions of years ago.

    For more information about figs and wasps...

    By the way, in the Science article, it mentions that the variety of figs indicates that fig cultivation had likely been going on for several hundred years prior...
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  5. PaulS Registered Member


    Thank you, first, for some very interesting info and, second, for a hearty chuckle with which to return to my work.

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  7. DJ Erock Resident Skeptic Registered Senior Member

    Do you guys know if you can eat figs right off the tree? It seems odd that people would think grain or barley was the first domesticated crop, when you have to go through a longer process before you can actually eat it. I think it would make more sense that the first crops were types of fruits or vegetables you can eat right off the plant.
  8. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    Hmm. My my.
    The dates are going back and back.

    Now, we have a new paper in Science: Autonomous Cultivation Before Domestication. In the 16th of June issue of Science. Page 1608.

    What do we have here?
    Let's see. The figs were 11,400 BP.
    The new evidence for cultivated plants are:
    Wild Barley at Gilgal in the Jordan Valley (one of the sights featured in the fig article. Two sites are named Gilgal. Gilgal I had 9 figs. Gilgal III had 1. Gilgal III's fig was 11,700-11.260 BP. Gilgal I's was 11,400-11,200.)

    Anyway. The Barley found at Gilgal was dated from 11,400 to 11,200 BP. Wild Oat was also found here. What's interesting here is that oats wasn't domesticated until the first millenium BCE so the cultivation of oats at Gilgal was a dead end. Apparently this happened quite a bit. Cultivation does not always lead to continued cultivation which would lead to domestication...

    Rye, in Abu Hureyra in norther Syria. ~12,500 BP... Wow. Domesticated rye appears here ~8,600 BP.

    Wild lentil at Jerf el Ahmar, Sryia and Netiv Hadgud. ~11,000 BP.


    In case you're not clear. Cultivation differs from domestication in that the wild plant is being sown and cultivated, but it has yet to develop the mutations which lead to domestication. In wheat, for example, wild grain fractures easily while domesticated grain stays on the stalk for later seperation. Each plant has its own specific necessities of domestication. Lentils apparently had two important stages which took place several thousand years apart and in seperate locales.

    I take it you're referring to the idea of humans being the second animal domesticated by the fig?
    I rather like that idea. And I think it bears more truth than fiction.
    I suppose a more thorough treatment is necessary.
    Gathering of humans...
    Cultivation of humans...
    Domestication of humans....

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