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9 July 2013
Farming in Iran 12,000 years ago

Archaeologists digging in the foothills of Iran's Zagros Mountains have discovered the remains of a Stone Age farming community. The findings offer a rare snapshot of a time when humans first started experimenting with farming. They also show that Iran was an important player in the origin of agriculture.
     Based on the suggestion of an Iranian colleague, archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tubingen began excavating a mound about eight meters high. The sediments were rich with artefacts. "Sculpted clay objects, clay cones, depictions of animals and humans," says Conard.
     There were stone tools that looked like sickles, and mortar and pestles, and grains and seeds - hundreds of them. Conard's colleague Simone Riehl confirmed the grains were varieties of lentils, barley and peas. She also identified a range of nuts and grasses, and Emmer wheat - commonly grown in later centuries throughout the Middle East - but most of the grains Riehl looked at were pre-agricultural.
     12,000 years ago, says Riehl, "They were cultivating what we consider wild progenitors of modern crops". However, Riehl's samples spanned a period of 2,000 years, and the younger samples - about 10,000 years old - did show the first signs of domestication.
     Melinda Zeder, curator of old world archaeology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, says scientists had thought agriculture arose in the western parts of the Fertile Crescent - a region that includes Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Iran is on the eastern edges of the Crescent, and was thought to be "a non-player in the history of agriculture". The new study proves otherwise, she says - communities across the Fertile Crescent started experimenting with farming around the same time.

Edited from NPR.org (5 July 2013)

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