Development Of Agriculture In Southwest Asia And East Asia

Category: Agriculture, Asia
Last Updated: 17 Apr 2020
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Southwest Asia is a region surrounded by seas and mountains and lies at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia. Southwest Asia was the center of development of the earth’s civilizations. Towns emerged on the plains of Mesopotamia and highlands of Iran and Anatolia by 7000BC and some of these became centers of chiefdoms.

The first efforts to form empires are documented and are used by archaeologists from different countries to reveal the processes that gave rise to these successively more complex socio-political systems. This varied geographical and climatic setting of south west Asia encompasses the natural habitats of wild plants and animals which were the first to be domesticated. The area was conducive for farming as well for hunting-gathering since its annual rainfall was over 250mm. Environmental changes occurred during the period between 11,000-9600 BC and recovery took 50 years. (Human Past 2005).

 Plant and Animal Domestication

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Plant domestication – Southwest Asia was very conducive for plant domestication especially wild legumes and cereals. The main domesticated cereals were wheat, rye and barley which began in the early aceramic period. This domestication was evidenced by plant species rye in abuhureyra, Jordan valley and southern Syria. Cultivation was intensified during the Neolithic period, which was around 8800 BC, during this time the climate was conducive and population had grown.

Hunting and Herding – Southwest Asia’s potential for animal domestication was evidenced from the long-lived settlement sites and may have occurred after plant domestication at around the transition period of earlier and later Neolithic(World Archaeology 2007). The domesticated goats have been found in Ganj Dareh in Iran, sheep and pigs in turkey and northern Syria.

Mixed Farming Economies: More settlements emerged during the period of between early and later a ceramic Neolithic period. The demographic theory which states “that the rise in population following the end of ice age forced people to adopt agriculture” seems to hold water although an agreement is yet to be reached (Human Past 2007).

The Evidence of Ali Kosh: Ali Kosh lies in areas which are conducive for wild resources and domesticates (World Archaeology 2007). Successive strata indicate permanent and large buildings as well as increased cultivated and wild plants. The oasis theory which states that “The relationship between humans and environment is the key reason for agricultural development,” comes forth. Also there were few ecotones for supporting sedentary hunters-gatherers but many locations for domesticated species especially in the sites of hureyra, catalhoyuk and ain Ghazab.

Social Exchange and Networking: This is the feasting hypothesis which argues that the desire for new things, new states, respect and recognition as well as ability to throw feasts led to development of agriculture in this region. Due to the fact that the obsidian and marine shells were found hundred of kilometers from their sources serve as an evidence of exchange networks where communities are believed to have kept and used a proportion of the obsidian acquired and then exchanged the remaining for gifts to be given as tokens during parties.

Part.2. Agriculture in East Asia.

The Pleistocene- Holocene transition occurred in East Asia between about 14,000-6000BC. Climatical changes also made the plants and animals to change making the hunters-gatherers to begin harvesting and propagating new plants. Between 8000-6000BC farming differed in two areas, in the south, wild rice was domesticated while in the central china region millet was the major domesticated grain. During the last ice age (36,000-10,000BC), hunters-gatherers lived in open cares and river terraces in the yellow river region, presence of arrow needs at the sites was an evidence of hunting cattle and wild sheep whose bones were present.

More wild millet seed resources around shunwangpin, xveguan and shizitan, menjiaquan and nanzh vangton were evidence of farming. Although there are not true transitional sites to reveal adoption of agriculture by hunter-gatherers, there are many sedentary Neolithic villagers since 6000 BC. Cultural transformation is however evidenced by permanent villages, houses and inhuman cemeteries. Store jewelry, polished axes, wooden and bone spades were an indication of social strata at sides like dadiwan, cishan and peiligang.

 Growth of Agricultural Communities

Millet farming in yellow river region intensified resulting into social complexity and formation of states. The yangshao culture in the loess plateau of central plains and dawenkon culture to the east emerged. The yangshao culture varied regionally but their sites share semi-subterranean house, millet storages and ceramics. While dawenkou culture concentrated around the lower yellow river valley and is attributed with population densities and social ranking. There growth of agriculture In these two cultures is supported by the oasis theory, Demographic theory and The hilly flanks hypothesis Sedentary settlements with increasing number of cemeteries and grave goods like fenshan bao and hujiawuchang around the rice cultivation region of yangzi river valley are sites that reveal conditions in early Neolithic(Human Past 2005).

Between 4500-3300 BC villages increased and spread. Settlement was chosen near dry wetlands in order to facilitate the creation of wet rice fields. Houses were rectangular and made of clay, bamboo leads and rice husks and these villagers were referred to as the Daxi culture (World Archaeology 2007). Domestication of animals was evidenced from the identification of plowing at around 4 millennium BC. Presence of boat and sea faring technology support the believe of family along water routes. The major sites include chengtoushan and Daxi.

Historical linguistics is one of the major methods that may have been used to test the idea of migration and expansion movements of farmers. This is evidenced by the presence of several languages and language families in East Asia.  These languages are divided into five linguistic blocks which include; austroasiatic, Austronesian, Hmong Mien, Kadal with Tai and Sino-Tibetan (World Archaeology 2007). Three of the major branches of Austronesian family are in eastern India, Vietnam and south in the islands o Indian Ocean. Wordings of the languages over east and Southern Asia are believed  to have originated from Asian main land (Human Past 2005). Archaeological evidence for the origin and spread of rice agriculture and crafts such as weaving supports this belief.

Part 3.Comparing and Contrasting

Development of agriculture in southwest Asian and East Asia corresponds with the growth of human population as well as environmental changes. Early theorists argue that the growth of human population resulted to food shortage and hence introduction of domestication of both wild and domesticated plants and animals. Development of agriculture in both regions is supported by evidence produced by the achaeobotanists and archeozooligsts.

The beginning of agriculture also corresponds with the reduction in the range of food eaten. This is because in most of the farming societies identified in the two regions, south west Asia and East Asia they grew one or two plant species on which they relied very heavily and equally then domesticated a small range of animals whereas the hunters-gatherers had a wide range of foods that they collected or hunted in their local environment. It is therefore evident that the hunters and gatherers in both regions consumed a good diet than the farmers due to variety.

The oasis theory “the hilly franks hypothesis” which suggests that other than occupying a particular ecological region/niche, where plants and animals could flourish, the transition in agriculture in both south west Asia and East Asia, the shift to agriculture also involved changes in human cognition and people developed, skills needed for successive farming. This was evidenced by emergence of complex social villages, which involved permanent housing, improved technology, and presence of storage pins.

Demographic theory is also evident in both regions as to have been the driving force behind adoption of agriculture. This is because during the beginning of agriculture, there were population/demographic increase and environmental changes. People were forced by these external forces to invent/adapt agriculture. Theorists also argue that societies played a significant role in the domestication. This is because of social status. Cultivation may have been adopted in southwest Asia to provide food and drink to be consumed during competitive feasting and this is the feasting hypothesis.

Evolution and intentionality hypothesis is supported by the belief that hunters-gatherers were organized through kinships that had flexible membership whereas the farmers had larger groups that were institutionalized with social destinations and due to these complexity there were accumulation of goods and hence population growth as well technological advancement. However, the development of agriculture in both regions deferred in that in southwest Asia was between the end of epipaleolithic and Pleistocene periods while in East Asia. It began during the Pleistocene Holocene transition period. Also in East Asia there was existence of many cultures unlike in South West Asia.

Agricultural development began at the end of the last glacial age where wheat and barley were the first domesticated plants. Researchers argue that population growth and climatical changes were the major factors for adoption of agriculture but there are minimal evidences to support the argument since agriculture is labor intensive as compared to hunting and gathering. However, evolution social status, and emulation are other factors behind the development of agriculture other than population growth and climate changes.


Scarre Chris (2005), the human past. United Kingdom accessed online on 26/09/07


Perkins Phil. (2007), World Archaeology. United Kingdom, Audio CD transcript. (Track

2) p6-14

Assessment Booklet, © 2007.World Archaeology: United Kingdom pp 4-6

Perkins Phil (2007). World Archaeology Study Guide. (A251) the Open University

United Kingdom pp 16-17

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