Iowa’s First Farmers Domesticated Plants Around 4,000 Years Ago

Dec 16, 2015

It's long been taught that the origins of modern agriculture are in the fertile crescent in the Middle East, but recent archaeological finds point to the fact that cultures the world over were developing ways to domesticate plants and animals in the same time period.

"We used to think about the fertile crescent that way because that's where the most excavation had been done," explains Bruce Smith, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution. "But it's more true that agriculture developed simultaneously all around the world than in just one place." 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Smith, and Cherie Haury-Artz, who works as an archaeologist in the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist about how humans learned to farm and why. 

Haury-Arts says it's important to remember that early humans had vast knowledge of the world around them. There's evidence that early Iowans were domesticating plants like little barley as far back as 4,000 years ago. 

"We talk about 'primitive societies.' I think when we associate that word with pre-industrial societies we get the wrong idea and think of this very difficult hand-to-mouth existence. They weren't primitive in that sense at all. Early humans were intimately familiar with their environment and with the plants and animals around them. They were intelligent human beings. You have this picture of the caveman dragging his knuckles and grunting, and that wasn't the case at all."