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Enter UP kisan in farm origin debate

Lucknow, Feb. 5: Recent excavations suggest a village about 300 km from here is among the earliest sites where humans took to agriculture thousands of years ago.

The findings at Lahuradewa in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, which imply a farming village existed there in the seventh millennium BC, were discussed at an international archaeology conference in Lucknow last month.

At the January 18-20 seminar, some Indian researchers argued before seven internationally acclaimed foreign archaeologists that Lahuradewa could be a contender for the earliest known farming village in the world.

This amounts to the claim that it was perhaps on the Gangetic plain, and not West Asia or China, that humans took the giant step from hunting-gathering to agriculture.

In the eastern Uttar Pradesh village, the state directorate of archaeology has found remains of carbonised material containing grains of rice and wild grass, which have been dated back to roughly 6,200 BC.

Current theories postulate that farming began sometime between 9,000 and 8,000 BC, either in a “Fertile Crescent” ' extending from Israel through Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and southern Turkey ' where they grew barley and wheat, or in China where rice was the chosen crop.

There is also some evidence of early farming of maize and squash in Central America, and wheat and barley in the Kachi plain of Baluchistan. The Pakistani site has been dated back to the seventh millennium BC, making it a contemporary of the neolithic (new stone age) village in Lahuradewa.

But none of these theories is fully confirmed or accepted by everyone in the field, and P.C. Panth, former professor of archaeology with Benares Hindu University, pointed to just this as he made a bold claim. “It is possible that middle Ganga valley was the home of the first farmer,” he told The Telegraph.

State archaeology director Rakesh Tiwari echoed him: “The studies at Lahuradewa and Sanai tal (a nearby lake) indicate this settlement could be (the site of) the earliest genesis of agriculture developments than ever found before elsewhere in the world.”

The international experts ' who included Professor Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University and Dorian Q. Fuller of the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London ' were non-committal. But they agreed that agriculture may have begun at more than one site about roughly the same time.

Many experts believe that humans began to give up the nomadic life after the end of the last ice age 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, when the retreating glaciers left behind a warmer and wetter world. A spread of lush vegetation sprang up, attracted grazing animals and then the human hunter-gatherers, who came both for the grass and the animal meat. Sometimes, they liked the place so much that they stayed back, giving birth to the earliest villages.

But this period was followed by a spell of dry, cold weather more than 11,000 years ago that lasted several centuries. The vegetation was suddenly gone and the villagers faced a tricky choice ' they could move on to other places and risk the wrath of hungry local populations, or stay back and grow their own crop. Many chose cultivation.

The Lahurdewa site was a mound, 26 km east of a crossing near Gorakhpur Road, where local villagers used to worship a forest god.

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