Between 10,000 and 3,500 BCE, the earliest human cultures in Asia created some of the most basic inventions that are still in use today. They domesticated many of the plants and animals that we rely upon for food or companionship: wheat, peas, sheep, cats, cattle, chickens, and rice. They also invented pottery, woven cloth, alcohol, and the wheel. It's hard to imagine life without these key early inventions!
Humans have probably gathered the seeds of wild grasses for food for millennia. At some point, someone in the Middle East realized that they could save some of the grass seeds, and plant them. This allowed people to grow a food supply in a place of their choosing. The first archaeological evidence of cultivated wheat comes from Abu Hureyra, a Fertile Crescent site in modern-day Syria
Sheep and goats were the first livestock animals to be domesticated. They are less dangerous than wild cattle and horses, and are also very useful. Humans get wool, skins, milk, and meat from these animals. The first domesticated sheep and goats were probably raised in Mesopotamia
, in the Fertile Crescent.
Early domestic cats have long been associated with Egypt, where the animals were worshipped. However, recent evidence shows that the cat was probably domesticated even before dynastic Egyptian times, in the Middle East. Cats are not useful pets for nomadic hunter/gatherers, since they are very territorial and dislike moving. Settled farmers, on the other hand, need cats to protect their stored grains from rodents. So, unlike dogs, cats were not domesticated until people settled down and turned to agriculture.
Cattle likely were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East around 8,000 B.C., although a different species of African cattle may have been tamed even earlier. Wild cattle were extremely dangerous, so it seems likely that the first domestic cows were captured as calves and hand-raised, perhaps after their mothers were killed by human hunters.
The oldest piece of pottery ever discovered was found in China, and dates to about 7,900 BCE. These earliest attempts at pottery were not fired, but were pressed into a mold and then sun-dried. As a result, the first pottery was not very durable; all that remains now is crumbly bits of pots and figurines. The first fired pottery known is from about 6,500 BCE. The kiln was invented in Mesopotamia, in 1,500 BCE.
c. 6,500 BCE | Invention of weaving, Judea
The first known woven cloth comes from a cave at Nahal Hemer in Judea. While this amazing linen cloth is the earliest yet found, it is too finely-woven and sophisticated to represent the human race's true first attempt at weaving! Given the rarity of well-preserved ancient cloth, the first weaving probably actually took place as early as 10,000 BCE.
Chickens are descended from the red and green junglefowl, which lives across Southeast Asia. The first domestic chickens likely lived in what is now Thailand
, although the birds may have been tamed simultaneously in several different sites.
c. 5,400 BCE | Discovery of alcoholic beverages, Mesopotamia
Early humans in the region of Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent) probably left a pot of ripe fruit or honey open too long, some 8,000 years ago, and later found that it had changed. Airborne yeast spores settled into the nice sugary mix, and began to ferment it. Thus, the very first alcoholic beverage was discovered. Residue from wine also has been found in a jar, c. 5,400 BCE, at Hajji Firuz Tepe, in Iran's Zagros Mountains. Early alcoholic drinks were relatively weak, until an Arab chemist created the distillation process around 700 CE.
The first solid proof of domesticated rice comes from the Yangtse Valley of China, about 7,000 years ago, in the form of stored rice grains. However, the grain likely was first domesticated some two to three thousand years earlier. Today, rice is the most popular grain around the world, and a staple food for much of Asia.
c. 3,500 BCE - Invention of the wheel, Sumer
We do not know exactly when the wheel was invented, but the first known depiction of a wheel is a Sumerian pictograph from 3,500 BCE. The wheel probably evolved from rollers, such as tree trunks, that were laid down to move large blocks of stone and other heavy objects. The wheels-and-axle system was invented simply by paring down the middle of a roller, leaving two wheels on each end. Lighter, more sophisticated spoked wheels first appeared in the second millenium BCE, also in the Middle East.