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
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
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
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
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
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
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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