Usage of Herbs, spices and Vegetables
2,000,000 TO 2,000 B.C.
Fast food is not new - the only difference in pre-historic times was that it ran on four legs. The history of Man is reflected in the changes in eating tastes and habits throughout the world, but much of what we think of as innovative and modern, has, in fact, been around for centuries, if not millennia.
Since recorded history began, the food habits of a country have been a result of geography, climate and soil, whether rich or poor, crowded or uncrowded, plus a few imponderables such as religious or tribal taboos. Even now, half the world depends upon wheat, oats, barley, corn and rye and the other on rice.
Homo Erectus - the cave dweller of many a fantasy, was using fire as long ago as 500,000 BC, but only from natural happenings such as lightning strikes and had actually been aware of the phenomenon since at least 2,000,000 B.C. It is from this that the fire ceremonial stems. Man was a gatherer for his food and gradually developed into a hunter-gatherer, who lived off the land around him and plundered Natures ready supply of resources.
Finds at Chou-Kou-tien in China, dated back to 500,000 BC, have included evidence of hackberry fruits and the bones of deer.
By 200,000 BC Neanderthal Man had evolved in Asia and spread out to colonise Europe. It was not until 150,000 BC that modern Man - Homo Sapiens - evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and started to move outward to Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, India, Malaysia and on to Australia, and through Russia to China, whilst others pressed out into Europe.
By 125,000 BC, the Ice Age was forcing the Neanderthals into the Near East and Homo Sapiens began migration in the same direction.
By 40,000 B.C. Homo Sapiens was sweeping into Europe in large numbers and by 33,000 B.C. had spread as far as the Americas overland from Asia. Homo Sapiens was the dominant species and suddenly, in historical terms, Neanderthal Man began to disappear and by 30,000 BC, Neanderthal Man was extinct.
The move towards agriculture was very slow, as no stimuli existed for many thousands of years to change the status quo to any significant degree as prehistoric man could shop from Natures ample larder without applying himself to the soil.
By 14,000 BC there is evidence that the beginnings of agriculture took place in the Near East and South East Europe, where dogs were started to be tamed, but the real history of food was marked by the retreat of the Ice Age in around 12,500 BC.
End of the Ice Age
By 12000 B.C. early Man was beginning to learn how to manipulate plants and animals as the retreat of the Ice presented new opportunities.
10,500 - 10,000 BC saw the end of the Ice Age and the Palaeolithic era moved into the Mesolithic. By 9000 B.C. the first evidence of pottery supposedly appeared from the famous Jonion in Japan, and there was early evidence of wheat, barley and sheep farming in Eurasia.
Modern agriculture dates back to this time, when Neolithic Man learnt how to make fire by friction and intensified his exploration of resources, triggering the start of technological innovation. Man was still a hunter-gatherer, but evidence indicates the beginnings of organised agriculture in Mesoamerica, the Middle East and Far East.
This period of pre-history is one of wide disagreement between historians and archeologists. Man had already spread to most areas of the globe from his birthplace in East Africa long before the Ice retreated, so the claim of some that agricultural development was simultaneous in Southeast and Southwest Asia, the Nile Delta, around the Danube, in Macedonia, Thrace and Thessaly, the Yellow River in China, the Indus in India, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Tehuacan in Mexico, could certainly have been possible.
Each of these areas would have been responding to the warmer climate and gradual disappearance of larger animals set against a backdrop of arable land ideally irrigated by major rivers.
It is around this time that the Osiris legend would have begun, leading to his becoming the major god in the Egyptian pantheon millennia later. Several modern archeological theories based around astrological alignments linked to around 10,500 BC from Egypt to South America to Cambodia to Japan lend intellectual support to the Osiris mystery.
This brings us back to the more likely explanation that modern agriculture spread around the world from one particular area and there seems little doubt that food production and town life spread from Western Asia in the area between the Himalayas and the Mediterranean not later than 8000 B.C. Even this is a 'best guess' based on known information as a new discovery recently discovered deep beneath the seas in the Gulf of Cambay off the coast of Gujarat in India, suggests an advanced civilisation 9000 B.C. or even earlier. This, and possibly other cities would have been destroyed by flood waters as the Ice Age ended, fitting in with the mystical suggestions of cataclysm around 10,500 B.C. and even Plato's fabled lost island of Atlantis.
There was plenty of impetus for the growth of communities as excess produce first became the key to trade and then as a sign of wealth and largesse. This theory is supported by clear evidence that cereal production around world is descended from three crops which originated in South East Turkey and the Upper Jordan Valley. The best emmer came from the latter and both barley and einkorn from the former to become the ancestors of modern crops.
Decent sized towns already existed by 8000 B.C. and Jericho, which has been carbon-dated to 7800 B.C. and certainly existed long before, was a town of 10 acres by this time. Evidence of elementary farming at Shanidar in Kurdistan dated to 8900 B.C. further supports this theory.
Open settlements in Iraq and Jordan are evident soon after 9000 B.C. and domestication of animals had already begun in Western Anatolia, Jordan and Khurzistan. Plant domestication came a little after with similar development in Palestine, Lebanon, Hindu Kush and most highland zones of the Near and Middle East.
Between 8000 - 7000 B.C. numerous Natufian nomadic groupings gathered together to form communities from the Nile Valley to Anatolia and there is evidence of the domestication of plants, pulse crops (pease, lentils and horse beans), pistacchios, goats and gazelles around Beidha in Jordan.
Elsewhere in the world development seems to have been behind those in the Middle East and Turkey by as much as a millennium, supporting the theory that they were very much influenced by happenings in those areas.
Chilli was being gathered in South America by 7000 B.C. but it was not until 5000 B.C. that evidence indicates organised cultivation. Man had entered the Americas via the Bering Straits overland from 30,000 B.C. but by 7000 B.C. immigration began by sea introducing ideas and influences from Asia and Middle East.
Peasant farming began the story of agriculture in Greece around 6000 B.C. stretching to the South Balkans by 5000 B.C. By 6000 B.C. Catal Huyuk in Turkey was a flourishing town of some 32 acres and pottery appeared at the same time from Zagros in Iran to the East Mediterranean basin.
Alongside the development of agriculture came the development of civilization to a level rarely appreciated today and from 5000 B.C. civilization advanced rapidly either side of the Syrian Desert in Mesopotamia and Jordan/Egypt.
By 6000 - 5000 B.C., millet was cultivated in North China, olive oil was used, chillies and squash were cultivated in Mexico and lima beans in Peru. Cereal farming had grown gradually since the end of the Ice Age to supplement mass fish harvesting techniques and shellfish supplies. The population increased and, as occasional food scarcities occurred, poisons were boiled out of plants for use. Extra food began to be produced as a status symbol and people started to produce food, have more children, and gather in bigger communities.
Lending credence to the Osiris legend, evidence indicates organised agriculture at Fayum in the Nile Valley in 5000 B.C. with every indication it had been present for some time. The first inhabitants of the Nile Delta were the Tasians followed by the Badanas who had wheat, barley, the hoe, plough and bread, with evidence of storage pits for cereals at Fayum.
The Cradle of Civilization
On the other side of the Syrian Desert in the cradle of civilization the Hassuna culture from a location some 22 miles south of Mosul on the Assyrian Plain in North Iraq was very much an agricultural community. In the same area Erhil is still one of the best corn growing areas in Iraq today.
Zawi Chemi was one of the first major sites in this region some 2000 years before the well documented Jarma settlement close to the Tigris River. Another very early farming settlement of the time was Umm Bubaghiyeh on the plains between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
It is here that the worlds first major civilization, the Sumerians, they of the legendary King-Hero Gilgamesh, appeared introducing advances that were to shape the world.
Metal worked tools had been known in several areas since 5000 B.C. and Sumer built up the infrastructure of civilzation including cuniform writing by 3500 B.C. in fabulous Eridu. The Sumerians of Mesopotamia cultivated dates and, later, cereals as the land improved. Sheep and cattle were kept and donkeys ridden. They were the earliest people to use the wheel and, gradually, city states grew up and trade spread as far as India.
The Indus Valley
India was first populated 250,000 years ago but the first major civilization was the Harappans who occupied the Indus Valley where Baluchistan was a farming community from 3500 B.C. Once again, however, this may well have been pre-dated by the 9000 B.C. Gulf of Cambay civilisation once more is known about it.
By 3000 B.C. turmeric, cardamom, pepper and mustard were harvested in India. The Harappans who occupied Harappa and Mohenjodero in the Indus Valley, were of mixed stock, somewhat larger in stature than either the Sumerians or Egyptians denying theories that they were an extension of those communities. They had club wheat, barley, sheep and goats from the Iranian Plateau and cotton from Southern Arabia or North East Africa but were held back by their reliance on flood waters due to general lack of knowledge of irrigation.
Sumer had trade links with the Indus Valley via Hindu Kush by 3000 B.C. and by sea from 2500 B.C., thus linking the Harappans with both Sumerians and Egyptians, where cumin, anise and cinnamon were used for embalming by 2500 B.C.
By 1750 B.C., the Harappan civilization had disappeared, probably due to floods and tectonic shifts, to be replaced by the Aryans who invaded via Hindu Kush by 1500 B.C. The Aryans had considerable contact with Babylon from whence the original flood legend arose to be adopted by both the Aryans and the Hebrews and several other civilizations.
The Aryans were descendants of Indo-Europeans from the Caspian Sea and Russian Steppes, who also went on to Greece, Asia Minor and Iran. They regarded the indigenous Dasas they found in the Indus Valley as the lowest form of life, seemingly mainly because they were darker skinned and flat-nosed and, more threateningly, cattle thieves.
Aryan civilization revolved around the cow hence gavishti, literally to send for cows, came to mean to fight. As cattle were a measure of wealth, meat eating was taboo except on very special occasions. The caste system did not exist at this time and did not really take hold until the Dasas were positioned as non-persons. In fact the Sanskrit word for caste varna means colour. Gradually their society developed into warriors & aristocracy - priests - cultivators - others. The staple diet was milk, ghee, vegetables, fruit and barley.
In civilization terms the coming of the Aryans was a partial step backwards as the Harappans had had script but the Aryans did not develop it until 700 B.C. In Southern India the megolithic cultures of the Madras, Kerala and Mysore areas arrived from Western Asia - first Negrita, then Proto Australoid, Mongoloid and then Mediterranean, associated with the Dravidians.
Rice was domesticated in West Bengal in the Ganges Delta around 3000 B.C. and was introduced into the Yangtze Basin area of China soon after via the Burma Road.
There is evidence however, that rice farming was known at Ho-mu-tu in Huang He in the Yangtze Delta much earlier with a division into short and long grain varieties, and evidence was recently discovered in a cave in Southeast Asia (Thailand) of rice dating back to 6000 B.C.
As the Aryans were entering India, the early Hsia Dynasty in China was giving way to the Shang Dynasty and Chinese farming was developing along the Yellow River with millet, foxtail, brown corn, pigs, dogs and fish.
Before the Aryans arrived, there is evidence of pepper being traded from India by 2000 B.C. but they introduced a culture based on cattle as a source of wealth with cultivation of cereals by ox-drawn plough and feasting and drinking becoming important social occasions.
In China, large farming villages were widespread and food included millet, animals and a few vegetables with boiling, roasting and steaming in use as cooking methods. By 3,000 BC, cultivation was universal and social differentiations started to appear in larger villages. An emperor of the Shang Dynasty (1520-1030 B.C.) held food and its preparation in such high regard that over 2,000 people were employed in the Imperial Kitchens and one of his cooks was elevated to the position of Prime Minister.
The Spread of Civilization
By 4,300 BC the population in the Nile Valley had settled into two tribes, with allegiance to the serpent god in the north and Horus, the falcon and Nekhebet, the vulture goddess, in the south, later combining to be ruled by the Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom between 3,500-2,700 BC.
By 4,000 BC raised bread was known, although leavened bread was not discovered until 400 BC. Flat breads had been a feature of the late Stone Age, becoming tortilla, Johnny-cake, chapati and pancake.
The Canaanites settled in what is now the Lebanon in 3,000 BC and later became known as the Phoenicians, who were so influenced by the Egyptians and later, the Assyrians, and spread their culture throughout the known world.
In 814 B.C. the adventurous Phoenicians colonised Carthage soon followed by Urtica in Northern Tunisia, Malta, Molys in Sicily, Cadiz, Mogador in Morocco, Nova in Sardinia and Ibiza.
Around the time the Canaanites were entering the Lebanon, winter squash, tomatoes, avocados, beans and corn were used as staples in Central America, potatoes in Peru and rice, coconuts and bananas in Asia.
The Sumerians appeared in Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C. and civilisation began to develop apace after cuniform writing was invented by them whilst Shen Nung assembled the first ever documentation on herbs in China. In Ur, in Mesopotamia, beer was brewed in 3000 B.C. and Gilgamesh, he of legend, ruled 2700-2650 B.C. Their typical diet was made up of cereals and vegetables, flavoured with watercress and mustard leaves. Tablets with cuniform text dated back to 1700 B.C. have been found near Babylon containing early recipes for meat in sauce with bread - probably an offering to the god Marduk.
The great period of pyramid building in Egypt took place between 2680-2565 BC and rice was farmed in an area which ranged from Taiwan to Central India. Silbury Hill dates back to 2,700 BC and the enigmatic Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain to 2,000 BC.
The Semetic ruler Sargon I (2335-2279 B.C.) united the ancient lands of Akkad and Sumer and pushed out to even try and conquer Cyprus. He showed the nomads another way of life and trade to India and Egypt was conducted. By 2,200 BC, Semitic Amonites had settled around the village of Babylon, and it was here that Hammurabi (1799-1750 B.C.) created his kingdom and settled his nomadic tribe and produced the famous Code of Hammurbi, including laws on irrigation, navigation, agriculture and more. Corn was ground by hand, bread leavened and baked in a small brick oven. Flat cakes were made and thrown against the side of the oven. Mesopotamia was on a downward spiral by 2,070 BC when the Hittites attacked, introducing the horse.
Meanwhile, the Phoenicians were looking seawards due to the poor nature of their land. They went out to Africa, to Greece, Sicily, France, Spain, and even Cornwall. The called Spain Shapan leading to the name Espana today and the City of Cadiz, Gadir which was founded in 1100 B.C. even before Rome. They carried cinnamon and cassia to Greece and saffron as far as Cornwall.