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Black People Invented Agriculture

(An excerpt, as many of my posts are, from an SDP book, this time from a work titled Black People Invented Everything. I’m finally sharing some of the content for this book, and you’ll see some of these articles edited several times before they end up in a published book. Hope yall enjoy the process! – Supreme)

Black People Invented Agriculture

“The unusual size and flavor of African fruits were not the result of accident but of labored perseverance and skill.” – Drusilla Dunjee Houston

While it was once thought that the development of agriculture is what led to the development of settled communities who developed all the industries we associate with urban civilization, we now know that settlement preceded agriculture. That is, agriculture was developed to meet the needs of a growing population of settled people so large they couldn’t possibly thrive off foraging for food alone.

So agriculture arose to meet a need. It wasn’t a miraculous discovery that helped ancient people become better. In fact, there are many reasons to consider the advent of agriculture a point of decline for the quality of life among Original people. Jared Diamond called it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race,” arguing that non-agricultural communities, such as the hunter-gatherers and foragers of prehistoric times, have more gender equality, more social equality, more leisure time, and less health problems than similar populations who adopted agricultural economies.[i] Another study, by Mark Cohen of SUNY Plattsburgh, also suggests that agriculture was a “step backward.” According to a review of the study:

The switch from hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture, it seems, occurred rather suddenly and was attended by a sharp drop in life expectancy. Ancient human bones reveal much more disease, fewer older people, and more violent deaths for centuries following the adoption of agriculture. Why did humanity give up the surprising degrees of security, freedom, and leisure intrinsic in hunting and gathering? Cohen claims that population pressure was the cause. Unable to stem the human population explosion, ancient humans were forced to adopt a life of toil, disease, and stress.[ii]

So, yes, we were able to feed more people, but it came at a cost!

With that in mind, we can discuss who developed agriculture without taking for granted some notion that agriculture changed the world for the better. So who developed it? Well, most of the earliest evidence for systematic agriculture comes from the Levant (in the Near East), around 11,000 years ago.

Before that, we can find evidence of Africans collecting wild grasses as a form of proto-agriculture. 30,000 years ago, the Shum Laka people of Central Africa gradually moved towards agriculture by employing microlith (small blade) technology to protect and manage their fields of wild grains. Later, they used these tools to make clearings for wild yams and oil palms.[iii] By 12,000 years ago, the Sangoan people of this region were using hoes.[iv] No, not like that.

In other words, these Central Africans introduced the roots of agriculture to West Africa long before the Bantu or anyone else arrived. They practiced the management of wild resources and a less intense model of plant cultivation. The Bantu people who came later would modify those techniques to begin full-fledged farming.

By 12,000 years ago, Black people near the Nile Valley stored surplus grains in granaries like the ones found at the Dhra site on the coast of Jordan.[v] And these granaries were quite advanced – just as effective as the grain silos you find on today’s farms. For example, the granary floors at Dhra were elevated, most likely to keep out mice and to prevent spoilage from dampness; they were also slightly sloped, perhaps for drainage. And these storehouses helped facilitate the cultural transition from bands of hunter-gatherers to complex, cohesive societies, where stored grains could serve as a form of social currency – long before coins, shells, and beads became the symbolic currencies that replaced the predominant system of barter and trade used throughout the world.

Long before Africans escorted their domesticated cattle into the Near East 11,000 years ago, Elizabeth Vrba has shown that at least six different species of African bovids (ancestors to cattle) spread into Eurasia 2 million years ago, alongside the earliest hominid migrations (Homo erectus, not Homo sapiens!). She notes that the dispersal of large bovids from the forest to the open resembles the migration patterns hypothesized for hominids, and that the two groups may have emerged and dispersed together. While Vrba simply thinks we “followed” the animals, the archaeological evidence can also be interpreted to suggest that we brought the animals with us![vi]Of course, being able to store grains might help prevent famine, but it can also allow people to wield power and control over others). Either way, until about 9,000 BC, the grains we stored were mostly wild. But keep in mind that there’s enough evidence that we KNEW how to selectively breed wild plants, long before we began doing so to ensure our primary food supply. And just as we harvested wild grains, we may have been been tending to herds of undomesticated animals just as long ago.

So again, long before we did it on a widespread level, we KNEW how to do it. But with the heavy concentration of people settling in the Near East around 9,000 BC, and dwindling natural food supplies due to increasing desertification in the region, we HAD to embrace agriculture.

Linguistic evidence shows that these early Near Eastern farmers spoke Afro-Asiatic languages like their neighbors in Northeast Africa, genetic evidence confirms that they were related closely to the people who populated the Nile Valley at the time, and anthropological evidence shows that their skulls matched with those of other Black populations in Egypt and India. The only difference? Culture. The people of the ancient Near East developed a unique ceramic (pottery) tradition and a few other things that related directly to where they’d made their home. But off this difference alone, mainstream scientists have portrayed them as non-Black and non-African. That’s kinda like saying Black people wearing snowboots aren’t really Black.

Anyway, the first evidence of farming in the Near East can be found in the Jorday Valley, where U.S. and Israeli researchers have dug up carbonized figs that are about 11,400 years old. The team, writing in the journal Science, says the find marks an important point when humans turned from hunting and gathering to food cultivation. These figs were likely cultivated in response to a genetic mutation that made them unable to reproduce on their own. Humans had enjoyed figs supplied by nature for thousands of years until this point – figs are even named as one of the favored foods of African DBP – but the fig trees of the Jordan Valley cannot reproduce alone – they require a shoot to be removed and replanted. Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist from Harvard University and an author of the study, said:

Once the parthenocarpic mutation occurred, humans must have recognised that the resulting fruits do not produce new trees, and fig tree cultivation became a common practice. In this intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, we can see the beginnings of agriculture. This edible fig would not have survived if not for human intervention…This sort of find helps us to learn about human behaviour at the beginning of the Neolithic revolution. Before this, you had about 2.5 million years of hunters and gathers in various locations around the world. But the Neolithic revolution was all about changing the relationship between humans and nature. Instead of just being consumers of whatever was growing in the wild, we started to plant and cultivate and corral animals, and so on.

The cultivated figs were found alongside gathered wild barley, wild oats and acorns, suggesting these people began the transition from hunting and gathering to increased food cultivation in the Near East.[vii] Of course, there are many other finds that show that people in other parts of the world made similar transitions. Examples include:

  • New Guinea highlands: Ditches and crude fields suggesting farming in this area 7,000-10,000 years ago.
  • Buka Island, Solomon Islands: Stone tools and starch grains in Kilu Cave resembling those of cultivated (rather than wild) taro 28,000 years ago.[viii]
  • North Sumatra, Indonesia: Evidence that humans were clearing land for planting 18,000 years ago.[ix]

As we’ve seen in When the World was Black, Part One, these were all places settled by Black people at these times. And there are several more. For example, the Spirit Cave of Northwestern Thailand demonstrates several features of early Neolithic development that Gormen dated to at least 7800 BC,[x] while Solheim traced the development of agriculture there to 20,000 BC.[xi] The Padah-Lin Caves of Burma have been shown to possess features of Neolithic development as early as 11,000 BC,[xii] and people were cultivating squash on the tropical coast of Ecuador and rice along the marshy banks of the Yangtze in China as early as 9,000 BC.[xiii] This had led scientists to revisit their old beliefs about agriculture and believe that people “began” cultivating rice in China, until a handful of 15,000-year-old burnt grains was discovered by archaeologists in Korea, again sending scientists “back to the lab” to rewrite the timeline.[xiv] But I know what happened. Whenever we needed it, we did it. Simple. We were never dummies.

Now, the development of agriculture in the Near East is important because these Near Eastern farmers – who I associate with the Afro-Asiatic linguistic group I discuss in other works – embraced the benefits of this “newfound” agricultural tradition, made it systemic, and decided to teach it to the world. They journeyed into Europe, where they taught plant and animal domestication to the people there, following in the footsteps of previous Black expeditions into Europe like those that brought the Aurignacian culture 40,000 years ago and the Gravettian culture about 20,000 years later.

 

[i] Jared Diamond, (May 1987). “The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race” Discover, p. 64-66.

[ii] Lewin, Roger; (1981). “Disease Clue to Dawn of Agriculture,” Science, 211:41.

[iii] Shaw, T. (1980). p. 111-114; Davies, O. (1968). The origins of agriculture in West Africa. Current Anthropology, 9, 479-487.

[iv] Posnansky, M. (1984). Early agricultural societies in Ghana. In J.D. Clark & S.A. Brandt (Eds.) From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa (p. 147-151). University of California Press; Stahl, A.B. (1995). Intensification in the west African Late Stone Age: a view from central Ghana. In T. Shaw, P. Sinclair, B. Andah, & A. Okpoko (Eds.) The Archaeology of Africa (p. 261-273). Routledge.

[v] Allison Bond, (Jun 2009). “Early Farmers Stockpiled Natures Grains Before Breeding Their Own,” Discover. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/06/24/early-farmers-stockpiled-natures-grains-before-breeding-their-own

[vi] Clive Gamble. (2003) Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Colonization. Sutton Publishing.

[vii] Rebecca Morelle, (2006). “Ancient Fig Clue to First Farming,” BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5038116.stm

[viii] Dayton, Leigh. (1992).

[ix] Maloney, B.K. (1980). “Pollen Analytical Evidence for Early Forest Clearance in North Sumatra,” Nature, 287:324.

[x] Gorman C. (1971). The Hoabinhian and After: Subsistence Patterns in Southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene and Early Recent Periods. World Archaeology 2: 300-20

[xi] Solheim, W.G. (1972). An earlier agricultural revolution. Scientific American 226:34-41

[xii] Thaw, U Aung. (1969), “The ‘neolithic’ culture of the Padah-Lin Caves”, Journal of Burma Research Society 52 (1): 9–23

[xiii] Heather Pringle, (1998). “Neolithic Agriculture: The Slow Birth of Agriculture” Science 282, p. 1446.

[xiv] David Whitehouse, (Oct 2003) “World’s ‘Oldest’ Rice Found,” BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3207552.stm

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