Early Agriculture in India

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Early Agriculture in India describes the early domestication of crops and livestock and the adoption of agriculture in the history of India.

Early Agriculture in Mehrgarh

A site called Mehrgarh (now in Pakistan) provides important evidence of early agriculture in the Indian subcontinent.[1] The settlement dates back to about 9000 BP (Before Present) "which presents the oldest evidence so far for the beginning of agriculture and domestication of animals in the Indus system... Mehrgarh provides an important evidence for the change from hunting, gathering and pastoralism to a subsistence economy, centered around settled agriculture and the domestication of wild animals. Agriculture might have allowed people to become sedentary, establish permanent villages and towns and become aware of the social system of the societies. "[1] Early agriculture centered around wheat and barley cultivation, with cattle, sheep, and goats as livestock.

Archeologists divide the civilization at Mehrgarh into several periods:[2]

  • Period I: Neolithic (7000–5500 B.C.)
  • Period II: Burj Basket Marked (5500–4500 B.C.)
  • Period III: Togau (4500–4000 B.C.)
  • Period IV: Togau/Kechi Beg (4000–3800 B.C.)
  • Period V: Kechi Beg (3800–3500 B.C.)
  • Period VI: Kechi Beg/Damb Sadaat (3500–3200 B.C.)
  • Period VII: Damb Sadaat (3200–2600 B.C.)

Periods I and II

During Period I, granaries appear for storing grain, likely barley and wheat (emmer, einkorn, and durum). Fruits include jujubes and dates.[2]

"Palaeobotanical material from Period I is rich and complex. Most of the evidence came from thousands of impressions in the abundant mud bricks of the period. The dominant plant is naked six-row barley (Hordeum vulgare, subspecies vulgare, variety nudum). More than 90 percent of the seeds and imprints were identified as this plant. There is hulled six-row barley (H. vulgare, subspecies vulgare), two-row barley (H. vulgare, subspecies spontaneum, and H. vulgare, subspecies distichum), einkorn (Triticum monococcum), emmer (T. turgidum, subspecies dicoccum), and hard wheat (T. turgidum, cf. conv. durum) present in greatly reduced amounts. The only unidentified noncereals include the Indian jujube (Zizyphus sp.) and dates (Phoenix dactylifera), represented by stones in an upper level of Period IB as well as Period IIB. Einkorn and emmer disappear from use in the region, but bread wheat and shot wheat continue on as the eastern species of Triticum."[2]

Whereas evidence suggest hunting of a variety of large game species during the early part of Period I, by the end, most of the animal bones found are from cattle, sheep, and goats, suggesting they were kept as domesticated livestock.[2]

During Period II, cotton appears, "although identification is from seeds and the exact use of this plant at Mehrgarh has not yet been determined."[2]

History of Pulses in India

Since ancient times, pulses have been an important part of Indian agriculture and cooking. Many important pulses were domesticated in India. Black gram and green gram (mung beans) appear to have been domesticated in India - both from the same plant - by 5500 BC and 7000 BC, respectively.[3] Two other indigenous foods, horse gram and moth bean, also appear in the written record around 7000 BC, and horse gram appears in the archaeological record around 2000 BC.[3] Lablab beans also appear in the archaeological record as far back as 3200–2000 BC.[3] Indian texts refer to the pigeon pea, which was domesticated in India (in the Eastern Ghats), by 700 B.C.[3]

Despite its richness in indigenous pulses, India also adopted several crops that were domesticated elsewhere into its traditional cuisine. Lentils, which were domesticated in Southwest Asia around 8500–6000 BC. While the archaeological record seems to show them in India during the Harappan period (3300–1300 BC), written records hint that they might have reached India thousands of years earlier.[3] Cowpeas (Black eyed peas), domesticated in Africa, were found in the excavation at Harappa, showing that they were cultivated in India by 3200–2000 BC.[3] Chickpeas were introduced by 400 BC but may have been introduced thousands of years prior to that.[3] The pea, originally domesticated in Southern Europe, has a more mysterious entry into India, as it does not appear to have come from the Persians or Arabs. However, peas appeared in an Indian dictionary by 200 B.C.[3]

Y.L. Nene, author of a study on Indian pulses, makes the following conclusions about the history of pulses in India:[3]

  • "Pulses have been and will continue to be an important ingredient in the daily food and nutrition of the people of the Indian subcontinent.
  • "In terms of the quantity needed, pulses have always been second to cereals.
  • "Pulses have not been normally grown in rich soils or with irrigation.
  • "Pulses have almost always been grown as subordinate crops in cropping systems."

Storage of Pulses

"These were stored in large pots, their borders and inner walls were smeared with oil, and ash was spread all around the pots (Risala-Dar-Falahat c. 1400 AD; Majumdar, 1984). Apparently, ash and oil were commonly used by the Romans (Orlob, 1973), and the technique must have spread to India through West Asia, because I have so far not come across the use of oil and ash to protect stored grain in any of the ancient Indian texts. During the Sultanic period (1206–1555 AD), grain was stored by mixing with pounded bones of elephants and also by placing leaves of pomegranate and Lactuca sp. with the grain, in a ratio of 1 part leaves to 100 parts grain (Naqvi, 1984). Again, I must point out that I have not read about the practice of placing leaves (e.g., neem) so far in any of the ancient Indian texts."[3]

Species Domesticated in India



  • Cattle (Bos indicus)[11]
  • Possibly water buffalo[12]

Important Species Domesticated Elsewhere

Some of the most important Indian crops and livestock were not domesticated in India.

Crops include:

  • Wheat (Reached India by 5000 BC)[13]
  • Barley[1]
  • Dates[14]
  • Lentil (Lens culinaris)[3]
  • Pea (Pisum sativum)[3]
  • Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata)[3]


Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gupta, Anil K. (2004), "Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration", Current Science, 87 (1), Indian Academy of Sciences.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Mehrgarh: Period I, Period II, Period III, Craft Production in Early Periods, Periods IV–VII, Hordeum vulgare, vulgare, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 Y. L. Nene, "Indian Pulses Through the Millennia," Asian Agri-History Vol. 10, No. 3, 2006 (179–202).
  4. Patrizia Sebastian, Hanno Schaefer, Ian R. H. Telford, and Susanne S. Renner, "Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and melon (C. melo) have numerous wild relatives in Asia and Australia, and the sister species of melon is from Australia," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Edited by Barbara A. Schaal, June 16, 2010.
  5. A. Frary, S. Doganlar and M. C. Daunay, "Chapter 9, Eggplant," Vegetables: Genome Mapping and Molecular Breeding in Plants, 2007, Volume 5, 287-313, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-34536-7_9
  6. "Ziziphus mauritiana - a valuable tree for arid and semi-arid lands," Winrock.org, June 1998, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  7. Richard E. Litz, The Mango: Botany, Production and Uses, CABI, 2009, p. 9
  8. Plant Culture: Mango History, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  9. DQ Fuller, [www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~tcrndfu/articles/Sesame2.pdf Further Evidence on the Prehistory of Sesame], Asian Agri-History, Vol 7, No 2, 2003 (127-137)
  10. Dorothea Bedigian, "Evolution of sesame revisited: domestication, diversity and prospects," Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, Volume 50, Number 7, 779-787, DOI: 10.1023/A:1025029903549
  11. K. Kris Hirst, [http://archaeology.about.com/od/domestications/qt/cattle.htm Cattle (Bos spp): History of the Domestication of Cattle, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  12. History of the Domestication of Animals, Accessed September 18, 2011.
  13. Origins, History, and Uses of Oats and Wheat, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  14. Daniel Zohary and María Hopf, Domestication of plants in the old world: the origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 165-169.
  15. [Science Magazine Podcast http://podcasts.aaas.org/science_podcast/SciencePodcast_090424.mp3], April 24, 2009. (Transcript
  16. Goats, Accessed September 10, 2011.
  17. Melinda A. Zeder and Brian Hesse, "The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 Years Ago," Science 24 March 2000: Vol. 287 no. 5461 pp. 2254-2257 DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5461.2254
  18. Old Goats in Transition, July 2000, Accessed September 10, 2011.

External resources


  • Vinod Chandra Srivastava, History of agriculture in India, up to c. 1200 A.D., Concept Publishing Company, 2008.
  • Michael D. Petraglia and Bridget Allchin, The evolution and history of human populations in South Asia: inter-disciplinary studies in archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics and genetics, Springer, 2007.

External articles