The Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural Revolution, occurred about 12,000 years ago. For those, like me, who are not the best at math, that is around 10,000 BCE. There was a global trend away from nomadic hunting and gathering and towards sedentary farming. It appears to have arisen independently in multiple places in the Middle East, as well as in China and Papua New Guinea. Egypt and the Indus River Valley may have independently developed agriculture as well, or gotten the idea and the seeds from the Middle East or China.
Cereals, like barley in the Middle East and rice in China, were likely the first to be domesticated, eventually supplemented by protein-rice plants like peas and lentils. As people began to settle down they also domesticated animals. The earliest archaeological evidence of sheep and goat herding comes from around 10,000 BCE in the Iraq and Anatolia. Animals could be used as labor in the fields, or as sources of additional nutrients and calories to supplement the new cereal-heavy diet.
The Neolithic Revolution did not happen everywhere, and not all at once. And there remain a variety of hypotheses as to why humans stopped foraging and started farming. Population pressure may have caused increased competition for food and the need to cultivate new foods; people may have shifted to farming in order to involve elders and children in food production; humans may have learned to depend on plants they modified in early domestication attempts and in turn, those plants may have become dependent on humans. Whatever the reason, the Neolithic Revolution changed humanity – and our world – for good.
Kalaw Lagaw Ya, the language spoken by central and western Torres Strait indigenous peoples, was a lingua franca before western colonization. Kalaw Lagaw Ya was the language often used by Papua New Guineans and Australians to communicate when trading or traveling.
The indigenous people of Papua New Guinea did not develop metalworking before modern contact. Instead, they fought with sharpened bone daggers. Here there was a choice: fight with daggers crafted from human thighbones or daggers crafted from cassowary thighbones – giant, flightless, dinosaur-like birds. The preferred weapon in Papua New Guinea was human bone daggers.
And a new study suggests why: the dagger fashioned from human bone is stronger than the giant bird’s thighbone, largely because of the way the warriors of New Guinea carved the weapons. The human bone daggers retained more of the natural curves of the bone, making them stronger than the flatter, less curved cassowary bone daggers. Given that cassowary daggers are easier to replace than human-bone daggers, it makes sense that the human daggers were carved with greater care to make them stronger.
When the Aitape skull was discovered in 1929 in Papua New Guinea, it was mistakenly thought to belong to Homo erectus. But subsequent radiocarbon dating determined it was only around 6,000 years old and therefore a Homo sapiens skull.
Now, a reevaluation of the skull and its findspot has added a new twist. Geochemical analysis of the sediments in which the skull was embedded suggests they were deposited miles inland by a powerful paleo-tsunami, making the skull perhaps part of the world’s oldest known tsunami victim!
This is what bananas used to look like! When it was first domesticated, between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, Papua New Guineas were eating a very different thing than we eat today. Today’s sweet, seedless bananas are the result of thousands of years of cross-pollinating and selective breeding.