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Ancient Farming

Innovations and Inventions


Ancient farming methods used by farmers throughout the world varied quite a bit. Farmers developed many ways to maintain soils, ward off frost and freeze cycles and protect their crops from animals. On this page you'll find core concept definitions, articles on ancient farming techniques of the past and bibliographies of related topics.

Ancient Farming Technique: Chinampa

The Chinampa field system is a method of raised field agriculture best suited to wetlands and the margins of lakes. Chinampas are constructed using a network of canals and narrow fields, built up and refreshed from the organic-rich canal muck.

Ancient Farming Technique: Mixed Cropping

Mixed cropping, also known as inter-cropping or co-cultivation, is a type of agriculture that involves planting two or more of plants simultaneously in the same field.

Ancient Farming Technique: Raised Fields

Raised Fields at Huatta
Clark Erickson (c) 1998)

Raised fields are large artificial platforms of soil created to protect crops from flooding, and they were used in areas where flooding was a frequent problem.

Ancient Farming Technique: Slash and Burn Agriculture

Slash and burn agriculture—also known as swidden or shifting agriculture—is a traditional method of tending domesticated crops that involves the rotation of several plots of land in a planting cycle.

Ancient Farming Technique: The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters is the name of a mixed cropping system, in which maize, beans and squash were grown together in the same garden. The three seeds were planted together, with the maize acting as support for the beans, and both together acting as shade and humidity control for the squash, and the squash acting as weed suppressant. However, recent scientific research has proven that the Three Sisters were useful in quite a few ways beyond that.

Core Concept: Agricultural Field Systems

An agricultural "field system" is a term that refers to the suite of innovations used by prehistoric and historic farmers to improve crop success and reduce the impact of variable climates.

Core Concept: Horticulture

Horticulture is a process by which a plot of soil is prepared for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. It is tended to control competition from intrusive plants (weeds), and protected from predatory animals including humans.

Core Concept: Pastoralism

Horse Herd of Nomadic Kazak Herders in Xinjiang China
China Photos / Getty Images

Pastoralism is what we call herding of animals—whether they are goats, cattle, horses, camels or llamas. Pastoralism was invented in the Near East or southern Anatolia, at the same time as agriculture.

Core Concept: Seasonality

Seasonality is a concept archaeologists use to describe what time of year a particular site was occupied, or some behavior was undertaken. It is part of ancient farming, because just like today, people in the past scheduled their behavior around the seasons of the year.

Core Concept: Sedentism

Sedentism is the process of settling down. One of the results of relying on plants and animals is that those plants and animals require tending by humans. The changes in behavior in which humans build homes and stay in the same places to tend crops or take care of animals is one of the reasons archaeologists often say that humans were domesticated at the same time as the animals and plants.

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