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The origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent

Lithic artifacts from flotation. Chogha Golan, Iran.
[Image courtesy of TISARP/University of Tübingen]

Fossilized plant remains at an archaeological site in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in Iran are telling researchers that the early inhabitants of the region began farming cereal grains, like barley and wheat, sometime between 12,000 and 9,800 years ago.

Until recently, politics had prevented many researchers from excavating archaeological sites in the eastern Fertile Crescent, or modern-day Iran, while findings to the west—in Syria, Turkey and Iraq, for example—provided many clues about the origins of agriculture.

This new discovery—that the ancient inhabitants of Iran were cultivating grains as early as they were—proves that the human transition from foraging to farming took place at roughly the same time over the entire Fertile Crescent, or "cradle of civilization."

Simone Riehl and colleagues analyzed the plant remains at this Iranian archaeological site, known as Chogha Golan, and say that the fossils represent more than 2,000 years of the region's land use. The people who once lived at the site 12,000 years ago eventually domesticated wild barley, wheat, lentils, grass peas and emmer, they say.

These findings mean that the eastern region of the Fertile Crescent—along with the well-studied regions to the west—made significant contributions to the development of agriculture in the region.