Bread, cheese, and ham—these three items are potential basic ingredients for a sandwich. Each comes from the domestication of animals and plants. Bread comes from grain, cheese comes from either cows or goats, and ham comes from pigs. As a common lunch item, one may take for granted the ability to go to the refrigerator and pull out these items for a sandwich. However, in ancient times, while pork was not as hard to get, the nomadic people had to learn to domesticate plants and animals to form a stable beginning of ancient civilizations.
According to archaeologists, the first traces of plant domestication can be led back to 7000 B.C. in what is known as the Near East (University). There were three main areas in which plant domestication was established: Anatolia, Jordan, and Khuzestan (University). Plants that were previously just harvested from naturally grown fields were planted in organized fields; moreover, enough was grown to store for off seasons (University).
Such plants included wheat and barley, peas, lentils, and bitter vetch (University).
According to The Cambridge Ancient History, grain is “man’s most precious artefact” (University). In Europe, the early food-producers grew two different kinds of wheat: emmer and einkorn (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). Also, according to archaeologists, South Asia established farming around 6500 B.C. at Mehrgarh which is west of the Indus Valley (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). While South Asia also domesticated wheat and barley, China started to domesticate millet and rice in the Yellow River Valley around 6000 B.
C. (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
The correlation of the timing of plant domestication between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia suggest that either the world got the same idea around the same time, or there was already active movement among these three areas even though civilizations were not technically established yet. The domestication of plants actually followed the domestication of animals. According to The Cambridge Ancient History, there is evidence of domesticated sheep inhabiting the Great Zab River area in Northern Iraq around 9000 B.C. (University). After plant domestication began, other animals began to be domesticated. These animals included sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs (University). Dogs and chickens were also domesticated, specifically in China (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
In the Middle East and South Asia, pigs and cattle were domesticated after sheep and goats (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). The pigs were wild boar, probably first domesticated in Turkey, and they were used as scavengers for the pig farmers before they were farmed primarily for meat (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
Even though domesticating animals provided an easier way of life for humans, this process eliminated the need for some of the features that wild animals previously had such as massive horns and a larger body size (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). The process of breeding animals that had chosen the more docile, tractable, and smaller creatures of the species (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
Therefore, the species that had been chosen to domesticate (cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep) inherited these traits from the parents and, eventually, the physical features of these animals changed (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). The selective sowing and harvesting of grains also affected the way that these plants presented themselves. The entirety of the grains’ physiologies changed from slightly sparse, to fuller and more productive (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). The fuller the stalks, the more that was able to be stored.
This made the initial difficulty of domesticating plants worth it to the people who built settlements around their farms. With any occupation/technique, comes the need to improve upon it for efficiency’s sake. Initial farming communities would usually settle where there was a greater supply of water supplies—whether this be a river or an area that collected much rainfall (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). In Mesopotamia, irrigation techniques were used to induce better use of soil (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
Farming techniques were shared among the entire known world at that time, this is believed to be attributed through trade route where different plants and goods were traded (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). New farming techniques, especially the canal systems, led to permanent settlements (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds).
These permanent settlements led to large communal projects (like irrigation systems) which led to large, complex communities, which finally led to what is considered now as the ancient civilizations (Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient Worlds). One specific ancient civilization, Greece, had evidence of not only cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, but also common domesticated fowls (Kitzonger). These are believed to have been used in the ancient sacrifices to Greek gods as well as for farming purposes (Kitzonger). Greece also developed and traded spices and olive oil around the Mediterranean Sea as well as with the normal trade routes to Asia (Kitzonger). This is just one example of many ancient civilizations that had specific domesticated animals/plants and goods that were specific to itself and traded these items with others. Once these ancient civilizations were established, more developments in the farming (both animal and agricultural) communities were created. Also, these new techniques allowed down time for those who were no longer hunter-gatherers (University).
Farming allowed those who were either not involved in the actual food production to develop new trades (University). This involved working with metals, pottery, sewing, and so many more things that allowed for trade with other civilizations (University). While this paper only touches on the beginnings of the domestications of plants and animals, this brief overview is enough to see the effects that this development had on the ancient world. Without the plant and animal domestication, permanent settlements and ancient civilizations would have not happened. Moreover, the establishment of ancient civilizations gave the need for writings, civilized governments, and detailed systems that allowed life to be easier (like aqueducts and “sewage systems”). This being said, the domestication of plants and animals was an integral part of the establishment and growth of the world that is known today.