The Agricultural Revolution of
12,000 years ago was apparently
not so revolutionary.
Researchers traditionally draw the
divide between Paleolithic huntergatherers
and Neolithic farmers about
12 millennia ago, with the onset of
agriculture in the Middle East. But a
study published in July in the online
journal PLOS One indicates that at least
in one corner of modern-day Israel,
humans were farming 23,000 years ago.
Since 1989, archaeobotanist Ehud
Weiss of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and
his team have collected some 150,000
specimens of plant remains from the
settlement known as Ohalo II. Located
on what was the shore of the Sea of
Galilee 23,000 years ago, when water
levels were significantly lower, the
site was eventually destroyed by fire.
The charring helped preserve plant
remains at the site, which was then
buried by sediment and inundated as
the sea expanded. This preserved it for
millennia, despite subsequent intense
agricultural activity in the area. As the
waters receded due to drought, the site
The researchers previously found
evidence that Ohalo II’s residents were
grinding wheat, barley and oats, and
also gathering other ancient cereals,
but believed these activities involved
harvesting wild plants. In the new
findings, the team identified large
numbers of early weed species at the
site that would thrive only in land
prepared for agriculture.
“The Ohalo II people were clearing
land, sowing wheat and barley and
harvesting them,” says Weiss.