Archaeologists digging in the foothills of Iran's Zagros Mountains have discovered the remains of a Stone Age farming community. It turns out that people living there were growing plants like barley, peas and lentils as early as 12,000 years ago.
The findings offer a rare snapshot of a time when humans first started experimenting with farming. They also show that Iran was an important player in the origin of agriculture.
In 2009, archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tubingen led an excavation in the foothills of the Zagros, a mountain range that runs along the Iran-Iraq border.
Based on the suggestion of an Iranian colleague, he'd picked an area close to the border with Iraq and began excavating a mound about eight meters high. Before long, they hit pay dirt: The sediments were rich with artifacts. "Sculpted clay objects, clay cones, depictions of animals and humans," says Conar
There were stone tools, too: things that looked like sickles, and mortar and pestles, some clearly used for grinding food. And then there were the grains and seeds — hundreds of them, charred but otherwise intact and well preserved.
Now, Conard is no botanist. He's an expert on stone tools. But even his untrained eye recognized some of the grains.
"They look like lentils you might buy at the store, or pieces of wheat or barley you might have encountered in other aspects of life."
He suspected he was looking at an "agricultural village," but he sent the grains to his colleague Simone Riehl to double check.
"That was a fantastic feeling, when I first get these plant remains under the microscope," says Riehl, an archaeobotanist at the University of Tubingen.
She confirmed that the grains were indeed varieties of lentils, barley and peas. She also identified a range of nuts and grasses, and a kind of wheat called Emmer, known to be a commonly grown crop in later centuries throughout the Middle East.
But most of the grains Riehl looked at were pre-agricultural. "They were cultivating what we consider wild progenitors of modern crops," says Riehl.
In other words, 12,000 years ago, people were simply taking wild plants and growing them in fields. They hadn't started breeding crops yet, selecting varieties for yield and other desirable qualities.
"They were probably just trying to secure their everyday needs," says Riehl.
Now, Riehl's samples spanned a period of two thousand years. And in the younger samples, those about 10,000 years old, she did detect the first signs of domestication: The Emmer wheat from this period had tougher ears. "That's because of human selection," she says. Those tough ears, she explains, helped keep the grains from falling to the ground when they were ripe. It made harvesting a lot easier.
Experts in prehistoric agriculture have welcomed the study, which is published in the latest issue of the journal Science.
"It's allowing us to push back our picture of early agriculture to these very, very initial stages, when people are beginning to play around with plants and their environment," says Melinda Zeder, curator of old world archaeology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
The study also changes our understanding about the geographic origins of agriculture, she says.
Until now, she says scientists had thought agriculture arose in the western parts of the Fertile Crescent — a region that includes Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel — because that's where all previous evidences of early agriculture came from.
Iran, on the other hand, is on the eastern edges of the Crescent, and was thought to be "a non-player in the history of agriculture," says Zeder.
The new study proves otherwise, she says. It shows that communities across the entire Fertile Crescent started experimenting with farming around the same time. And that, says Zeder, is exciting.
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At this year’s event, there will be live music, art work, and food from about two dozen vendors. The Champaign Park District’s Laura Auteberry said people who come to the Taste should nott hold back on the food.
“Remember that they are eating guilt free because this is the park district’s major fund raiser each year for our youth scholarship program," she said. "What that does is it allows us to provide fee waivers to children in our community whose families might not be able to afford to pay for day camps, swim lessons, or sports programs.”
Auteberry said she hopes to raise about $15,000 for the cause.
Also, this is the first time in the event’s 43-year history that people will be able to drink beer. Beer sales will be contained in the main entertainment area, and there will be increased security.
The Taste of Champaign-Urbana goes from 5pm until 10pm on Friday, 11am until 10pm on Saturday, and 11am until 6pm on Sunday.
On Friday, members of the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum stopped by Davis’ Champaign office to deliver a large Father's Day card, which featured photos of families who have been affected by deportation.
“There has to be something to benefit the people who are here doing the right thing: people that came to work, people that came to better themselves, people that came to help the country,” said Lorenzo Macedo, a member of the C-U Immigration Forum. “We want him to support that.”
“Many of these kids have neighbors or family members who have been affected by deportation,” said Lucia Maldonado, the Latino parent liaison for the Urbana school district. “We want to make sure that Congressman Davis saw that. An image always says a lot of things a lot better than words.”
The C-U Immigration Forum is hoping to meet with Davis to find out where he stands on the issue.
In an interview on Thursday, Davis said he hopes lawmakers can come to an agreement on a comprehensive plan.
“There’s no better time than since 1986 to look at a complete comprehensive immigration reform package than now, but what we have to make sure of is you don’t get bogged down in the differences between what the House bill and the Senate bill does because the Senate bill will always have more cost and never pass the House, and the House bill will have less cost and never pass the Senate,” Davis said. “Unless we pass them out of both houses, we can’t ever come to a common sense solution.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently told ABC News that passing an immigration bill in the House is the most important thing on his agenda this year, and that he anticipates President Obama will sign a bill before January.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have a product come out of the committee by the end of June,” Bohener said. “I believe that it’s important for the House to work its will on this issue. And I would expect that a House bill will be to the right of where the Senate is.”
Meanwhile, the Senate is currently debating its own immigration proposal that would provide a pathway to citizenship for roughly 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. The plan was drafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
During a procedural vote last week, the Senate voted 82-15 to advance discussion of the immigration plan. However, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was in the minority to vote 'no' because of how the bill addresses border security.
“I was disappointed to hear (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) dismiss a constructive border security amendment set to be introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) as a “poison pill” before the text of the amendment had even been released,” Kirk said on his blog. “If requiring real border security with verifiable metrics and independent certifications is a “poison pill” for the Democratic leadership, then I fear we are setting a course for division and partisanship. My votes yesterday were a demonstration of this great disappointment.”
Macedo said he was disappointed by Sen. Kirk’s action.
“Hopefully we can change his mind,” Macedo said on Friday, shortly after the Father’s Day card was dropped off at Rep. Davis’ office. “I guess we’re going to have to do something like this to see if we can touch his heart as well.”
Urbana Police will be acting on feedback from the community to improve its procedures and overall contact with the public.
The city is one of those participating in a survey program offered by the University of Illinois at Chicago deigned to establish new benchmarks.
Mailed surveys will go out to people involved in traffic offenses, victims of a burglary, and others connected to non-violent crime. UIC’s Center for Research in Law and Justice will collect and manage the data, which will remain anonymous.
Urbana Assistant Police Chief Sylvia Morgan said by not identifying the person involved, that should provide for better feedback.
“We don’t get to see who it was that responded a certain way, or what particular officer they might be talking about," he said. "So it kind of gives an overview of how we’re doing as a whole, not specifically and finger-pointing and things of that nature. So I think it’s important that citizens know they remain completely anonymous.”
Morgan said UIC’s reports for the department will include data on officer performance.
The first surveys are expected to go out soon, and the program will remain in place for about seven months. About two-dozen police departments in Illinois are participating in UIC’s program.
Burmese immigrants who attended an Indiana speech by Myanmar's opposition leader say the Nobel laureate was inspiring and brought some of them to tears.
San San Oo left Burma in 2006 and now lives in Fort Wayne. She says seeing Aung San Suu Kyi during her Tuesday visit to Fort Wayne was wonderful and left her almost speechless. She called the 67-year-old Suu Kyi "our mother.''
Suu Kyi spoke to about 5,100 people at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, an Indiana city with one of the nation's largest Burmese populations.
Han Han Thi of East Lansing, Mich., left Burma in 2002. She says she's glad Suu Kyi called for an end to the tough economic sanctions that Burma has faced for years.
Illinois Public Media’s Neighbors series is designed to introduce us all to our neighbors here in east central Illinois. If you have an interesting neighbor you think we should know about, tell us – you can e-mail us at email@example.com.