Stone Age Farming

The earliest crops that were farmed in the Neolithic or New Stone Age were likely barley, wheat, peas, and flax. This probably took place first in Mesopotamia, India, and Egypt. Farming then also began in China (rice) and North and South America (corn, beans, and tomatoes, potatoes), and central and southern Africa.

One of the keys to farming was fertile soil. That is why the earliest civilizations began on the banks of rivers. Each year, the rivers flooding and left behind fertile soil on the river banks. Crops were planted, grown, and harvested, and then the whole process repeated the next year. There are many theories about how and why farming began. One theory is that Stone Age hunter-gatherers protected known wild sources of edible plants. These semi-nomadic gardeners returned to their gardens throughout the year to harvest, pull weeds, and care for the plants. Eventually they discovered that they could actually plant the crops themselves and became farmers, settled down, and civilization was born. The truth is nobody knows for sure how it first happened.

Farming technology was very primitive early on. Early Stone Age farmers used sticks to dig and to plant. Eventually wooden hoes were invented to cultivate the soil. Some cultures also relied on animals to trample and work the soil for them. The domestication of large draft animals such as oxen also helped lead to the invention of the plow. However this likely took place very late in the Stone Age, perhaps even after the Stone Age was over. Stone Age farmers in wet climates depended on rain to water their crops. The river valley farmers dug trenches to irrigate their crops.

Farming would mean the end of the Stone Ages. As people settled down, farmed, and produced a food surplus, they had time to experiment, explore their environment more closely, and they discovered new materials (copper and tin) to work with. If farming had not been discovered, we would all still be Old Stone Age hunter-gatherers, and civilization would never have existed at all.