The Farming Revolution
 
Taking root around 12,000 years ago, agriculture triggered such a change in society and the way in which people lived that its development has been dubbed the "Neolithic Revolution." Traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles, followed by humans since their evolution, were swept aside in favor of permanent settlements and a reliable food supply. Out of agriculture, cities and civilizations grew, and because crops and animals could now be farmed to meet demand, the global population rocketed — from some five million people 10,000 years ago, to more than seven billion today.
 
There was no single factor, or combination of factors, that led people to take up farming in different parts of the world. In the Near East, for example, it's thought that climatic changes at the end of the last ice age brought seasonal conditions that favored annual plants like wild cereals. Elsewhere, such as in East Asia, increased pressure on natural food resources may have forced people to find homegrown solutions. But whatever the reasons for its independent origins, farming sowed the seeds for the modern age.
 
 
The wild progenitors of crops including wheat, barley and peas are traced to the Near East region. Cereals were grown in Syria as long as 9,000 years ago, while figs were cultivated even earlier; prehistoric seedless fruits discovered in the Jordan Valley suggest fig trees were being planted some 11,300 years ago. Though the transition from wild harvesting was gradual, the switch from a nomadic to a settled way of life is marked by the appearance of early Neolithic villages with homes equipped with grinding stones for processing grain.
 
The origins of rice and millet farming date to around 6,000 B.C.E. The world's oldest known rice paddy fields, discovered in eastern China in 2007, reveal evidence of ancient cultivation techniques such as flood and fire control.
 
In Mexico, squash cultivation began around 10,000 years ago, but corn (maize) had to wait for natural genetic mutations to be selected for in its wild ancestor, teosinte. While maize-like plants derived from teosinte appear to have been cultivated at least 9,000 years ago, the first directly dated corn cob dates only to around 5,500 years ago.
 
Corn later reached North America, where cultivated sunflowers also started to bloom some 5,000 years ago. This is also when potato growing in the Andes region of South America began.
 
Farmed Animals
 
Cattle, goats, sheep and pigs all have their origins as farmed animals in the so-called Fertile Crescent, a region covering eastern Turkey, Iraq and southwestern Iran. This region kick-started the Neolithic Revolution. Dates for the domestication of these animals range from between 13,000 to 10,000 years ago.
 
Genetic studies show that goats and other livestock accompanied the westward spread of agriculture into Europe, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society. While the extent to which farmers themselves migrated west remains a subject of debate, the dramatic impact of dairy farming on Europeans is clearly stamped in their DNA. Prior to the arrival of domestic cattle in Europe, prehistoric populations weren't able to stomach raw cow milk. But at some point during the spread of farming into southeastern Europe, a mutation occurred for lactose tolerance that increased in frequency through natural selection thanks to the nourishing benefits of milk. Judging from the prevalence of the milk-drinking gene in Europeans today — as high as 90 percent in populations of northern countries such as Sweden — the vast majority are descended from cow herders.
 
The Development of Agriculture

Farming is a worldwide industry, and many immigrants carry their agricultural professions with them into their new homes, like this Polish farmer who immigrated to the United States in 1911 and established a dairy farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts. 

Noun

the art and science of cultivating land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

annual plant
Noun

plant with a life cycle of no more than one year, and often much less.

barley
Noun

grass cultivated as a grain.

cereal
Noun

type of grain, including wheat.

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

Noun

complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

Noun

agricultural produce.

cultivate
Verb

to encourage the growth of something through work and attention.

Noun

the process of adapting wild plants or animals for human use.

dramatic
Adjective

very expressive or emotional.

evolution
Noun

change in heritable traits of a population over time.

farm
Noun

land cultivated for crops, livestock, or both.

Noun

region extending from the eastern Mediterranean coast through Southwest Asia to the Persian Gulf.

fig
Noun

fruit and tree native to Asia.

genetic mutation
Noun

change to the genetic structure of an organism.

harvest
Noun

the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

hunter-gatherer
Noun

person who gets food by using a combination of hunting, fishing, and foraging.

livestock
noun, plural noun

animals raised for sale and profit.

maize
Noun

corn.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

millet
noun, adjective

a type of grain.

Near East
Noun

imprecise term for countries in southwestern Asia, sometimes including Egypt.

Neolithic
Noun

(~9000 B.C.E. to ~2000 B.C.E.) last phase of the Stone Age, following the Mesolithic.

nomadic
Adjective

having to do with a way of life lacking permanent settlement.

permanent
Adjective

constant or lasting forever.

prehistoric
Adjective

period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.

reliable
Adjective

dependable or consistent.

rice paddy
Noun

rice field.

seasonal
Adjective

likely to change with the seasons.

settlement
Noun

community or village.

society
Noun

large community, linked through similarities or relationships.

Stone Age
Noun

prehistoric period where human ancestors made and used stone tools, lasting from roughly 2.5 million years ago to 7000 BCE.

transition
Noun

movement from one position to another.

wheat
Noun

most widely grown cereal in the world.