According to research conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, the first time water was used to grow crops in a controlled manner was around 4,000 years ago in northern China.
This took place in the region of China now known as Mongolia. This was part of a plan to grow new grains that had been brought in from southwest Asia.
However, from that point onward, the story’s structure starts to become more convoluted. Wheat was the only crop on which the first farmers focused their attention when it came to water management, despite the fact that barley existed at the same time as wheat.
These results, which were published online on November 9 in an article called “Antiquity,” show that the spread of domesticated crops and the knowledge of how to use them well can be traced back in time and space in different ways.
What was the main purpose of this study?
This study was a collaborative effort between academics from a number of prestigious institutions in both China and Australia. The field trip to the Loess Plateau was led by Guanghui Dong, who is affiliated with Lanzhou University.
According to Xinyi Liu, an associate professor of archaeology in the Arts and Sciences department, the first farmers who grew wheat in this region figured out how to get enough water to meet the higher demand for this newly introduced grain. Xinyi Liu said this.
It is possible that the water was managed by planting strategically in soils that hold more water or by using artificial irrigation methods. Both of these options are viable possibilities.
On the other hand, barley, the other new grain, was simple for early farmers to cultivate in a system that relied on rainwater, as if it were merely another variety of millet, which was the most common grain in northern China at the time and had been domesticated there. Barley was one of the first new grains to be cultivated in China.
On the study, Liu and Yufeng Sun, who was also a doctoral student at Washington University, collaborated together. Both Haiming Li and Petra Vaiglova had worked on Liu’s research team in the past, so they were both co-authors on the paper.
Wheat and Barley Brought to East Asia From Fertile Crescent
Both wheat and barley were initially cultivated as winter crops in what archaeologists refer to as the Fertile Crescent, which is located in southwest Asia. The local farmers used to sow their seeds in the fall, well ahead of the onset of the summer drought, and then harvest them in the early summer, well ahead of the onset of the subsequent drought.
Around 4000 years ago, wheat and barley were brought to East Asia from their original location in the Fertile Crescent. It’s likely that the weather in East Asia was quite different from what they were used to in their home country.
Because of the East Asian monsoon, during the summer months, a region of Asia that is typically dry receives rain that originates in the Pacific Ocean. According to Liu, “this climate is perfect for growing rainfed millet because local grains like sorghum and kamut can survive drought but need a lot of water during the summer growing season.”
“This climate is perfect for growing rainfed millet because local grains like sorghum and kamut can survive drought.” According to the author, “However, if you try to grow wheat there, that’s an entirely different story.” Not only does it require a significant amount of water, but the manner in which it grows is incompatible with the wet season.
What is Liu’s motive for testing the new grains?
The question that Liu and his coworkers were interested in answering was whether or not farmers in northern China who had switched to the new grains had also switched to new methods for watering their fields.
“Scholars have made assumptions about a new irrigation system, but now we have the resources to look for direct evidence,” said Liu. “Now we have the tools to look for direct evidence.”
For example, by analyzing the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of charred plant remains, scientists are now able to determine how crops grew in the past, including the amount of water and soil that they had access to. These techniques are relatively modern.
The field of plant science was the first to apply these methodologies in order to investigate the effects that modern agriculture has on the surrounding ecosystem. Since then, historians have made use of them to investigate the past.
Studies of a similar nature that were conducted in the past were of great assistance to those in charge of early crop management in Europe and the Middle East. The main goal of this research is to figure out how the mysterious East Asian monsoon works in a way that has never been done before.
More than 35,000 charred seeds of cereal plants such as wheat, barley, and millet were discovered by researchers in this study at more than 50 archaeological sites on China’s Loess Plateau that date back more than 8,000 years. These sites were found on the Loess Plateau.
Radiocarbon dating and isotopic analysis were both carried out on some of the plant remains that belonged to this collection.
It was discovered that wheat and barley are not similar in any way to one another.
The majority of wheat samples from all time periods had isotopic values that were higher than an optimal watering threshold, despite the fact that the region is dry. This demonstrates that the dearth of water did not play a role in their development in any way.
New Evidence Suggests Wheat Was Planted in Drier Regions 4,000 Years Ago
According to Liu, this takes place for the very first time during the Qijia culture period, which is also the time when wheat and barley were initially introduced to the region.
“The isotopic data of wheat show unambiguously that there has been a significant amount of water manipulation since 4,000 years ago,” for example.[Citation needed] This would mean that the new crop was brought in along with ways to control water to keep it alive after it was planted.
Ditch defenses are more complicated than they appear at first glance.
Wheat crops may have been planted in areas with the most water, such as near local springs or in soils that hold a lot of water, according to Liu, who is quick to point out that this possibility exists. It’s possible that this was done rather than irrigation on a large scale.
According to Liu, “In those places, small ditches are sufficient to spread water.” [Citation needed] Because of this, channels or other irrigation systems in the area were not found until a long time after they were built.
On the other hand, it looks like barley could have been grown on the dry hills of the Loess Plateau without the complicated water management techniques that the Neolithic millet farmers in the area were already used to using.
They believe that this and other data show that ancient farmers tried to get the most out of each acre of land by taking advantage of the differences in the amounts of water that these two crops required. Liu and his team came to this conclusion.
As a result of what the research found, Liu said that the spread of domesticated crops and the knowledge of how to use them well can be tracked in many different ways over time and space.
He stated that the primary concern of their investigation was the contention that arose between farming practices that were historically associated with non-native plant species.
It is reasonable to assume that non-native concepts, after being implemented in a different cultural and geographical context, would have undergone some degree of modification. Since globalization has been going on for a long time, people have always wondered how it happens.
Ancient China: The Birthplace of Wheat and Barley
This study is supported by the Laboratory for the Analysis of Early Food Webs at Washington University, which is directed by Liu. They believe that the findings of this study are consistent with what they have discovered in the past.
Wheat and barley arrived in ancient China approximately 4,000 years ago, but grinding and baking techniques from the West did not, as Sun and Ritchey’s earlier research at Washington University demonstrated.
These grains were taken to the east, where they went through phenotypic selection to make them better for steaming and boiling, which were common ways to cook food in ancient China.
According to Liu, for a very long time, people have been using ancient China as an example of what they call “oriental despotism.” This is due to the fact that a number of academics have incorrectly believed that irrigation and bureaucracy originated from the same place.
The “hydraulic empire” theory says that the need to control floods and give water to crops would have eventually led to the creation of a centralized government that could keep its power.
Liu stated, “Our results imply that this is not the case.” This indicates that irrigation was a much more decentralized practice that did not call for the establishment of a central coordination mechanism or a specialized bureaucracy.
He was quoted as saying, “Dits and careful planting can produce results that are comparable to those produced by multinational conglomerates.”