Fossils and artifacts unearthed in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in Iran reveal that the early inhabitants of the region began farming cereal grains, like barley and wheat, sometime between 12,000 and 9,800 years ago, U.S. journal Science reported Thursday.
The discovery implies that the transition from foraging to farming took place at roughly the same time across the entire Fertile Crescent, not in a single core area of the "cradle of civilization", as previously thought.
Until recently, excavations of archaeological sites in the eastern Fertile Crescent, or modern-day Iran, have been limited, while findings to the west, at sites in Cyprus, Syria, Turkey and Iraq, for example, provided detailed clues to the origins of agriculture.
"For some time, the emergence of agriculture in Iran was considered as part of a cultural transfer from the west," Simone Riehl from the University of Tubingen in Germany said in a statement.
But "during the last few decades, numerous archaeological excavations were conducted in the Near East that led researchers to consider the possibility that multiple regions in the Fertile Crescent began cultivating cereal grains roughly at the same time, rather than just a single core area," said Riehl.
Riehl, along with colleagues from the Tubingen Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology, analyzed plant remains at the pre-pottery Neolithic site of Chogha Golan in Iran.
According to the researchers, the plant remains found at the Chogha Golan site document more than 2,000 years of the region's land use and represent the earliest record of long-term plant management in Iran.
The people who once lived at the site 12,000 years ago eventually domesticated wild barley, wheat, lentils, grass peas and emmer, they said.
Their results show that people were growing and grinding cereal grains like wheat and barley at the same time as their counterparts to the west, the researchers said.
Taken together, the researchers concluded that these findings mean that the eastern region of the Fertile Crescent along with the well-studied regions to the west made significant contributions to the development of agriculture in the region.