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HomeMiddle EastObservatory: Farming Had an Earlier Start, a Study Says

Observatory: Farming Had an Earlier Start, a Study Says

July 27, 2015

Farming may have originated 23,000 years ago, thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study.

Researchers discovered a large number of seeds at an ancient hunter-gatherer site known as Ohalo II on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Many of the seeds had scars, a mark that distinguishes domesticated species from wild forms.

Additionally, about 150,000 plant remains were retrieved from the site, comprising more than 140 species. The mix included 13 known weeds, as well as edible cereals like wild emmer, barley and oats.

The mix of weeds and cereals suggests that people were experimenting with agriculture at Ohalo II, said Marcelo Sternberg, an ecologist at Tel Aviv University and an author of the study.

“These were the first cultivation trials going on,” he said. “This was part of a very long learning process that our ancestors went through.”

Dr. Sternberg and his colleagues, from Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University and the University of Haifa, reported their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Until now, it was believed that farming originated about 12,000 years ago in the region that now includes Iraq and parts of Turkey and Iran.

At Ohalo II, Dr. Sternberg and his colleagues also found a stone-grinding slab, from which they extracted cereal starch granules. The tool was probably used to process the grains for consumption.