Agriculture in the News

Neolithic farmers who built Stonehenge 5,000 years ago were almost completely wiped out by ‘Beaker people’ from the continent   Daily Mail - February 21, 2018
Stonehenge has a proud place in Britain's history as one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. But, according to a major new study, modern-day Britons are barely related to the ingenious Neolithic farmers who built the monument 5,000 years ago. Instead the British are related to the 'Beaker people' who travelled from modern-day Holland and all but wiped out Stonehenge's creators.

Neolithic farmers coexisted with hunter-gatherers for centuries in Europe   Science Daily - November 9, 2017
New research answers a long-debated question among anthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists: when farmers first arrived in Europe, how did they interact with existing hunter-gatherer groups? Did the farmers wipe out the hunter-gatherers, through warfare or disease, shortly after arriving? Or did they slowly out-compete them over time? The current study suggests that these groups likely coexisted side-by-side for some time before the farming populations slowly integrated local hunter-gatherers.

Desktop greenhouse allows people to collect data on potential crops to grow in space   PhysOrg - July 5, 2017
Just as agriculture revolutionized human settlements on Earth, it will also be a game changer in space. But first we need data. The Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative team, or MELiSSA for short, has been working for over 27 years to create ecosystems for astronauts. They are fine tuning how microrganisms, chemicals, catalysts, algae and plants interact to process waste and deliver unending supplies of oxygen, water and food. To help speed the process, the team is recruiting citizen scientists with the AstroPlant initiative. The idea was conceived at the Border Sessions conference in 2016 to ask home-gardeners, schools, urban farmers and other enthusiasts to nourish seeds selected by the MELiSSA team.

  How maize conquered the world   Daily Mail - November 17, 2016
A prehistoric corn cob dating back 5,310 years has shed fresh light on the domestication of the world's most popular cereal. Scientists have sequenced its complete DNA to show the maize grown in central Mexico was genetically more similar to its modern descendant than its wild ancestor. For example, the ancient maize already carried mutations responsible for making kernels soft, a common feature of today's corn.

DNA analyses reveal genetic identities of world's first farmers   Science Daily - July 26, 2016
Conducting the first large-scale, genome-wide analyses of ancient human remains from the Near East, an international team of scientists has illuminated the genetic identities and population dynamics of the world's first farmers. The study reveals three genetically distinct farming populations living in the Near East at the dawn of agriculture 12,000 to 8,000 years ago: two newly described groups in Iran and the Levant and a previously reported group in Anatolia, in what is now Turkey.

First farmers had diverse origins, DNA shows   BBC - July 15, 2016
Analysis of DNA from some of the world's first farmers shows that they had surprisingly diverse origins. Researchers sequenced genomes from ancient Neolithic skeletons uncovered in Iran. The results shed light on a debate over whether farming spread out from a single source in the region, or whether multiple farmer groups spread their technology across Eurasia. The switch from mobile hunting and gathering to the sedentary lifestyle of farming first occurred about 10,000 years ago in south-western Asia. After the last Ice Age, this new way of life spread rapidly across Eurasia, in one of the most important behavioral transitions in human history.

Prehistoric genomes from the world's first farmers in the Zagros mountains reveal different Neolithic ancestry for Europeans and South Asians   Science Daily - July 14, 2016
Populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not of Europeans, new research shows. The earliest farmers from the Zagros mountains in Iran, i.e., the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, are neither the main ancestors of Europe's first farmers nor of modern-day Europeans. Researchers say that this came as a surprise.

Prehistoric genomes from the world's first farmers in the Zagros mountains reveal different Neolithic ancestry for Europeans and South Asians   Science Daily - July 14, 2016
Populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not of Europeans, new research shows. The earliest farmers from the Zagros mountains in Iran, i.e., the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, are neither the main ancestors of Europe's first farmers nor of modern-day Europeans. Researchers say that this came as a surprise.

Farming was spread into and across Europe by people originating in modern-day Greece and Western Turkey   PhysOrg - June 6, 2016
Early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to the Aegean. For most of the last 45,000 years Europe was inhabited solely by hunter-gatherers. About 8,500 years ago a new form of subsistence - farming - started to spread across the continent from modern-day Turkey, reaching central Europe by 7,500 years ago and Britain by 6,100 years ago. This new subsistence strategy led to profound changes in society, including greater population density, new diseases, and poorer health. Such was the impact of farming on how we live that scientists have debated for more than 100 years how it was spread across Europe. Many believed that farming was spread as an idea to European hunter-gatherers but without a major migration of farmers themselves.

New research shows same growth rate for farming, non-farming prehistoric people   PhysOrg - December 21, 2015
Prehistoric human populations of hunter-gatherers in a region of North America grew at the same rate as farming societies in Europe, according to a new radiocarbon analysis. Transitioning farming societies experienced the same rate of growth as contemporaneous foraging societies.

Scientists peg Anthropocene to first farmers   Science Daily - December 17, 2015
A new analysis of the fossil record shows that a deep pattern in the structure of plant and animal communities remained the same for 300 million years. Then, 6,000 years ago, the pattern was disrupted--at about the same time that people started farming in North America and populations rose. The research suggests that humans were the cause of this profound change in nature.

Ancestors of land plants were wired to make the leap to shore   PhysOrg - October 5, 2015
When the algal ancestor of modern land plants first succeeded in making the transition from aquatic environments to an inhospitable shore 450 million years ago, it changed the world by dramatically altering climate and setting the stage for the vast array of terrestrial life. But the genetic and developmental innovations plants used to make the leap to land have been enduring secrets of nature.

First evidence of farming in Mideast   PhysOrg - July 22, 2015
Until now, researchers believed farming was "invented" some 12,000 years ago in the Cradle of Civilization - Iraq, the Levant, parts of Turkey and Iran - an area that was home to some of the earliest known human civilizations. A new discovery by an international collaboration of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Haifa offers the first evidence that trial plant cultivation began far earlier - some 23,000 years ago. While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities.

Scientists create low-methane rice   PhysOrg - July 22, 2015
Scientists said Wednesday they had created a rice variety with starchier grains that emits less methane, a step towards the twin goals of feeding more people and curbing global warming. The cultivation of rice, a staple starch for billions of people, is also mankind's major emitter of methane, a potent climate-altering gas. Methane lives for a shorter time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas, but traps far more heat radiated from Earth's surface. Every year, rice paddies pump out 25 to 100 million tonnes of methane - the second-most important greenhouse gas at about 16 percent.

Archaeologists use new methods to explore move from hunting, gathering to farming   PhysOrg - July 21, 2015
One of the enduring mysteries of the human experience is how and why humans moved from hunting and gathering to farming. From their beginnings humans, like other mammals, depended on wild resources for sustenance. Then between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago, in a transitional event known as the Neolithic Revolution, they began to create and tend domestic ecosystems in various locations around the world, and agriculture was born. Despite decades of research into this major human advancement, scientists still don't know what propelled it.

Manure Used by Europe's First Farmers 8,000 Years Ago   Science Daily - July 16, 2013
A new study says Europe's first farmers used far more sophisticated practices than was previously thought. A research team led by the University of Oxford has found that Neolithic farmers manured and watered their crops as early as 6,000 BC. It had always been assumed that manure wasn't used as a fertilizer until Iron Age and Roman times. However, this new research shows that enriched levels of nitrogen-15, a stable isotope abundant in manure, have been found in the charred cereal grains and pulse seeds taken from 13 Neolithic sites around Europe.

Early humans in Iran were growing wheat 12,000 years ago   MSNBC - July 4, 2013
Stone tools and clay artifacts were collected from a site in the Zagros Mountains in Iran, where humans were cultivating plants 12,000 years ago. Among stone grinding tools, clay figures shaped like humans and animals and carved bone artifacts, archaeologists have harvested ancient grains from an early human settlement that are preserved 12,000 years. The finds suggest that generations of communities were earnestly experimenting with plant cultivation since the last Ice Age, and that agriculture, which laid the foundations for later civilizations, emerged concurrently in a number of locations that archaeologists recognize as the "Fertile Crescent" of the near east.

Ancient Egyptian Cotton Unveils Secrets of Domesticated Crop Evolution   Science Daily - April 3, 2012
Scientists studying 1,600-year-old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication. The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today's domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

Study shows genetic rice breeding goes back 10,000 years   PhysOrg - June 8, 2011
A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Masanori Yamasaki in Japan, describe how they analyzed the genomes of several types of rice and discovered that the lengths of the stems on the plants grew shorter over time as rice was first being domesticated, resulting in sturdier plants and increased grain output. They conclude that due to the type of mutant genes seen in the early plants that caused the shorter stems, intentional breeding of rice must have occurred as far back as 10,000 years ago.

Why the switch from foraging to farming?   PhysOrg - March 7, 2011
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors gave up foraging for food and took up farming, one of the most important and debated decisions in history. Generally speaking, when Dictyostelium discoideum amoebas run short of bacteria to eat in a patch of soil - presumably because the bacteria themselves are starving - the single-celled life-forms "start 'talking' to each other, and they gather together. When there're about a hundred thousand amoebas gathered together, then they form a fruiting body. The resulting stalk sticks up into the wind and releases spores carrying the amoebas - and, it turns out, a few bacterial "seeds" too.

Rare, unique seeds arrive at Svalbard Vault, as crises threaten world crop collections   PhysOrg - February 25, 2011
he Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) celebrated its third anniversary today with the arrival of seeds for rare lima beans, blight-resistant cantaloupe, and progenitors of antioxidant-rich red tomatoes from Peru and the Galapagos Islands. The arrival of these collections, including many drought- and flood-resistant varieties, comes at a time when natural and man-made risks to agriculture have reinforced the critical need to secure all the world's food crop varieties.

Smallest Farmers Found? Amoebas Carry, Plant "Seeds"   National Geographic - January 20, 2011
Social network allows single-celled life-forms to be migrant "farmers."

Wheat's Genetic Code Cracked: Draft Sequence Coverage of Genome to Aid Global Food Shortage   Science Daily - August 27, 2010
The genome sequences released comprise five read-throughs of a reference variety of wheat and give scientists and breeders access to 95% of all wheat genes. This is among the largest genome projects undertaken, and the rapid public release of the data is expected to accelerate significantly the use of the information by wheat breeding companies.

The impact of the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States   PhysOrg - December 8, 2009
An international group of anthropologists offers a new theory about the diffusion of maize to the Southwestern United States and the impact it had. These people took advantage of improved moisture conditions by integrating a storable and potentially high-yielding crop into their broad-spectrum subsistence strategy.

Bolivians look to ancient farming   BBC - August 18, 2009
Poor farmers in the heart of Bolivia's Amazon are being encouraged to embrace the annual floods - by using a centuries-old irrigation system for their crops. They are experimenting with a sustainable way of growing food crops that their ancestors used. It could provide them with better protection against the extremes of climate change, reduce deforestation, improve food security and even promise a better diet. These are the bold aims of a two-year-old project being carried out by a non-governmental organisation near Trinidad, the capital of the department of Beni. The system is based on building "camellones" - raised earth platforms of anything up to 2m high, surrounded by canals. Constructed above the height of flood waters, the camellones can protect seeds and crops from being washed away. The water in the canals provide irrigation and nutrients during the dry season.

The Pyramid Farm   National Geographic - June 30, 2009

The Pyramid Farm, designed by vertical farming guru Dickson Despommier at New York's Columbia University and Eric Ellingsen of the Illinois Institute of Technology, is one way to address the needs of a swelling population on a planet with finite farmland. Design teams around the world have been rolling out concepts for futuristic skyscrapers that house farms instead of - or in addition to -people as a means of feeding city dwellers with locally-grown crops.In addition to growing fruits and vegetables, the Pyramid Farm includes a heating and pressurization system that converts sewage into water and carbon to fuel machinery and lighting, according to

1st Farm in Eastern U.S. Grown for Taste, Not Hunger?   National Geographic - April 9, 2009
Three thousand eight hundred years ago, long before U.S. plains rippled with vast rows of corn, Native Americans planted farms with hardy "pioneer" crops, according to new evidence of the first farming in eastern North America. Because the area appears to have been well stocked with wild food sources, the discovery may rewrite some beliefs about what led people to start farming on the continent, scientists say. The ancient farm was found at a Riverton site along the Wabash River in present-day Illinois. At least five varieties of seed-bearing plants, such as easily cultivated sunflowers and gourds, were grown at the site, the new study says. This "crop complex" is the earliest known east of the Great Plains - previous evidence from this time period had indicated that only single crops were domesticated at a time. Around the world and throughout ancient history, people switched from mainly hunting and gathering to farming as a way to cope with environmental stresses, such as drought - or so the conventional wisdom says. But the new research challenges the whole idea of humans domesticating plants and animals in response to an external stress and makes a strong case for almost the polar opposite. Before they began farming, the Riverton people lived among bountiful river valleys and lakes, apparently eating a healthy and diverse diet of nuts, white-tailed deer, fish, and shellfish, the study says.

Anthropologist Finds Earliest Evidence Of Maize Farming In Mexico   Science Daily - April 10, 2007
Anthropologists have new evidence that ancient farmers in Mexico were cultivating an early form of maize, the forerunner of modern corn, about 7,300 years ago -- 1,200 years earlier than scholars previously thought.

Goats Key to Spread of Farming, Gene Study Suggests   National Geographic - October 11, 2006
Goats accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society, a new study suggests. The trailblazing farm animals were hardy and highly mobile traveling companions to ancient pioneers from the Middle East who introduced agriculture to Europe and elsewhere, researchers say. The onset of farming ushered in the so-called Neolithic Revolution, when settled communities gradually replaced nomadic tribes and their hunter-gatherer lifestyles between 8000 and 6000 B.C. A team of archaeologists and biologists has traced the origins of domesticated goats in Western Europe to the Middle East at the beginnings of the Neolithic period. The study is based on DNA analysis of goat bones from a Stone Age cave in France and suggests the animals spread across Europe quickly after their introduction.

Ancient fig clue to first farming   BBC - June 2, 2006
Ancient figs found in an archaeological site in the Jordan Valley may represent one of the earliest forms of agriculture, scientists report. The carbonized fruits date between 11,200 and 11,400 years old. The US and Israeli researchers say the figs are a variety that could have only been grown with human intervention. The team says the find marks the point when humans turned from hunting and gathering to food cultivation.

Scotland: Monster mushroom found in field   BBC - June 26, 2004
A giant mushroom measuring four times the size of a football has been found by a couple in Aberdeenshire. The unusual find, discovered growing in a field, measures 3ft long and weighs about 9kg. Scientists have identified the mushroom as a gigantic puff-ball (Calvatia Gigantea), a variety of the fungi rarely found in Scotland. Ian Wakley, who found the mushroom, said he wanted to eat it but his wife Judith would not let him.

Farming began 23,000 years ago   BBC - June 23, 2004
Humans made their first tentative steps towards farming 23,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Stone Age people in Israel collected the seeds of wild grasses some 10,000 years earlier than previously recognized, experts say. These grasses included wild emmer wheat and barley, which were forerunners of the varieties grown today.

Korea: World's 'oldest' rice found - 15,000 years   BBC - October 21, 2003
Scientists have found the oldest known domesticated rice. The handful of 15,000-year-old burnt grains was discovered by archaeologists in Korea. Their age challenges the accepted view that rice cultivation originated in China about 12,000 years ago. The rice is genetically different from the modern food crop, which will allow researchers to trace its evolution.

Ancient Diet: Grains, Cooking, Farming, Fishing