Today, farming comes to Europe. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that
make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created
In fall, 1974, my family and I walked a trail on the plateau
above the Serbian side of the Danube. It was rainy and verdant.
Small farms broke into the forest here and there. The compact and
efficient style of farming seemed old as the river itself.
I didn't realize that day above the Danube that these were the
very first northern European farmlands. Peter Bogucki tells how
agriculture passed through this gate on its way into Europe.
Farming first arose in the Middle East some nine thousand years ago. The
Greeks were farming 500 years later.
From there, the technology of farming split into two forms.
One was temperate-zone farming. It reached Italy 7800 years ago
and found its way into Spain and France 7400 years back. That
migration, it turns out, took place by sea. Our Stone Age ancestors
were accomplished sailors and traders before they learned to farm.
But farming spread even more rapidly up the Greek peninsula,
through Macedonia, to the Danube. For eight thousand years, people had been
farming the plateau I walked that day.
At first, farming settled into the plains of Serbia and
Hungary. Much of this movement appears to've been colonization.
Farming reached central Europe 7400 years ago, but it
didn't get to England and Scandinavia until 1600 years later.
You can trace that migration in two technologies that followed
it. One was the livestock that came out of Turkey and went with
the farmers: sheep, goats, cows, and pigs. Even today, diets in
that part of the world are rich in roast lamb, beef, and pork.
The other marker was a so-called Linear Pottery Culture that
came out of Hungary some 7600 years ago. Throughout the migration,
people decorated their pots with scribed lines in the clay.
Their farming had to differ radically from that in the dry
Mediterranean countries. Mediterranean farmers broke their brittle
soil with a stick plow that simply fractured it. Northern farmers
had to turn furrows with a much heavier plow. Our word plow comes
from an old word, plug, which has no kin in any European language.
Not long ago we discovered the preserved body of a man from
one of those farming communities frozen in the Tyrolean Alps --
the so-called ice-man. As we study him, it becomes clear he lived
a civilized life. He lived in a house and had some of the first copper
implements in that world. He was probably on a trading mission.
I often go back to that rainy day in 1974 -- to smells of
apples, straw, manure -- to the ancient quiet of a peaceful people
once living there -- to a straw-roofed peasant hut -- to the sense
that if I'd suddenly been shifted back 8000 years, things wouldn't
have seemed so different. As I relive that day, I feel my kinship
with people who once moved their modest herds into Europe and began
forming the world we know today.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're
interested in the way inventive minds work.
Bogucki, P., The Spread of Early Farming in Europe.
American Scientist, Vol. 84, No. 3, May-June, 1996, pp. 242-253.
For more on the invention of agriculture, see Episode 540.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H. Lienhard.
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