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Early Human Communities Around the World

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  • 0:02 The Neolithic Revolution
  • 1:31 Agriculture Across the World
  • 3:01 The Neolithic World
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the rise of the first early human communities and the changes that lead people to settle down and build cities. Then, you will be able to test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Neolithic Revolution

For thousands and thousands of years, people lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers and lived nomadic lifestyles, meaning they had to continually follow food supply and never lived in one single place. Then, everything changed. People realized that if they controlled the way that certain plants grew, and raised animals to live with them, they could stay in one place. This change, called a sedentary lifestyle, changed human history. Humans domesticated plants and animals and developed agriculture to help them grow food. The change from nomadic to sedentary societies is called the Neolithic era, or 'New Stone Age.'

Agriculture had a dramatic impact on human society. Rather than move around, people stayed in one place. For the first time, they had sturdy homes and other buildings. Villages, towns, and finally cities were the result. Thanks to agriculture, people could grow more food than they needed and save the extra for the future. This let the population size increase, and the small bands of hunter-gatherers turned into towns with hundreds of people.

Additionally, farming provided enough food so that not everybody had to devote their time to finding food. Some people didn't have to farm, so they could spend all their time building houses, making tools, or creating art. Suddenly, people had professions, and society became more complex. To govern these complex societies, there had to be rulers and officials to determine how food was divided and what was a fair value for trading. The first early human communities owed their existence to agriculture, and they quickly developed into complex societies around the world.

The Rise of Agriculture Across the World

The first human cultures to develop agriculture were in the Fertile Crescent, an area in the modern-day Middle East between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The term 'Fertile Crescent' refers to the shape of this region, which is between two rivers and has very fertile soil. Across the Middle East, the long growing season with short periods of rain helped early humans grow grains that were large enough to support their population.

The oldest evidence of domestication of plants dates back almost 20,000 years ago, in modern-day Jordan and Lebanon along the Jordan River. With agriculture, these people could live in one place, and were able to plan for the future by growing more than they needed. These pioneers in agriculture grew wheat, barley, lentils, and chickpeas, and created some of the first sedentary societies in human history.

The humans of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions were not the only ones to start creating more complex communities. In Asia, the first evidence of agriculture and sedentary societies appeared in China around 8,000 years ago, in between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Millet was the grain that inspired these people to settle down, and rice came later.

The Americas were not exempt from this revolution, either. The first people to start domesticating plants and animals in the Western Hemisphere were the inhabitants of Central Mexico in the fertile highland valleys where volcanic soil and mountain lakes provided the conditions for agriculture. These people domesticated maize, which is the ancestral form of corn, and squash. In a few centuries, they added beans to the menu. Agriculture spread south from Mexico into South America after a few centuries, north into the American Southwest.

The Neolithic World

These were not the only people to develop agriculture and were definitely not the only people affected by this change in society. The cultures we talked about were just some of the first to start settling in one place, but they influenced hundreds of other cultures to become sedentary within the next centuries. Even for cultures that decided to remain nomadic, the rise in agriculture changed their lives.

Agricultural societies always had a supply of high-quality food, so they often traded with nomadic cultures for the wild game that sedentary people might not want to chase after. Many nomadic cultures moved from city to city, trading items across the world. Trade items, people, ideas, and technology were spread around the world through this style of trade.

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