Reasons to Believe

Agriculture's Origin Fits RTB Human Origins Model

Did Adam and Eve really exist? Some people say no. They view the biblical account of humanity's beginning as mythical. However, recent scientific advances substantiate the historicity of the biblical record,1 and now a new discovery sheds light on an apparent discrepancy regarding the emergence of agriculture.

Studies on the genetic diversity of people groups from around the world indicate that modern humans originated recently (less than 100,000 years ago), from a single location (at or near the presumed location of the Garden of Eden), from a small initial population that traces back to a single man and woman. Archeological and genetic evidence reveals that by 30,000 to 40,000 years ago humans had spread from the Middle East into Asia and Europe with a migrational pattern that fits with the biblical text.

Despite such affirming genetic data, the timing of agriculture's emergence presents a difficulty. Scientific evidence indicates that wide-scale agricultural practices emerged suddenly and independently in three separate locations around the world less than 12,000 years ago-well after humanity's origin and global spread.2 Agriculture first became prominent in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago, and next appeared in Mesoamerica about 9,000 years ago, and finally in southern Asia around 7,000 years ago.

The RTB human origins model predicts that some type of farming and animal husbandry existed at (or close to) the time humanity first appeared. Genesis 4:1-4 explains that Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel, "worked the soil" and "kept flocks," respectively. The RTB model also maintains that farming and animal husbandry spread from the Middle East to different locations around the world as a consequence of human migrations.

Does the scientific evidence contradict the predictions made by the RTB human origins model? Not necessarily. The archeological and genetic evidence traces the origin of large-scale domestication of plants and animals. It's quite possible that the first humans engaged in small-scale farming and animal husbandry well before 12,000 years ago¾ at levels that escape scientific detection. Although the first humans lived as hunter-gatherers, they may have supplemented this lifestyle by harvesting wild plants and taming wild animals.

The near-simultaneous, independent, and sudden rise of agriculture in three disparate regions of the world supports this assertion. It seems highly unlikely that human beings would have independently and simultaneously engendered plant and animal domestication. It could be argued that humans took with them a well-developed understanding of farming and animal husbandry when they migrated to different regions of the world.

Recent excavations of the Ohalo II site, located on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, support the idea that small-scale agricultural practices were established long before the Neolithic revolution (~ 10,000 years ago).3 Archeologists have found the remains of six grass huts, a hearth, and graves at Ohalo II. Over 40 radiocarbon measurements date the site to about 23,500 years ago.

The site also contains well-preserved plant remains in its water-logged sediments. Archeologists discovered wild grasses, including wheat and barley, among the plant remains. Size analysis indicates that the Ohalo II humans were preferentially harvesting grasses that had larger seeds. Researchers also uncovered starch grains derived from the wild grasses that were associated with stone grinding implements. Some were even charred, indicating that the occupants of the site had ground the seeds to make flour and to bake dough in the hearth.

The Ohalo II site shows that at least 12,000 years before the Neolithic revolution, humans engaged in proto-farming. It's possible that humans developed these practices as far back as 45,000 years ago. Stone grinding implements have been discovered at sites in northern Africa, Europe, and southwest Asia. Because plant remains have not survived at these sites, it's not known whether the implements were used to process wild grass seeds. (These grinding stones could have been used to prepare pigments from ochre, for example.) The discovery at Ohalo II, however, makes it much more likely that grinding implements at other sites were also used to process grass seeds.

In light of this evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that agricultural practices may have extended back to near the time of humanity's origin, as the RTB model predicts.

References

  1. The scientific papers that describe these advances are copiously reference in RTB's upcoming book, Who Was Adam?, slated for publication in October, 2005 by NavPress.
  2. Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution: A Core Textbook (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998), 499-508; M. A. Jobling, M. E. Hurles, and C. Tyler-Smith, Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples & Disease (New York: Garland Publishing, 2004), 300-38.
  3. Dolores R. Piperno et al., "Processing of Wild Cereal Grains in the Upper Paleolithic Revealed by Starch Grain Analysis," Nature 430 (2004): 670-73.

Subjects: Human Origins and the Bible, Origin of Agriculture/Human Civilization, TCM - Human Origins

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana