Explain the importance of the inventions of metallurgy and agriculture (the growing of crops and the domestication of animals)

Focus Question: How were metallurgy and agriculture (the growing of crops and the domestication of animals) important to the development of human societies?

This page outlines the role of metals and agriculture in early human societies. Topics include:

external image Bronze_he_ewer_with_animal_mask_design%2C_Bronze_period%2C_from_site_of_Rosin_Factory%2C_Xinyi_-_Hong_Kong_Museum_of_History_-_DSC00741.JPG
The Bronze Age in China
What is Metallurgy?
Uses and Importance of Metals
Ancient Agriculture
Domestication of Animals
Women in the Neolithic Age

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 2.30.48 PM.pngFor more see AP World History Key Concept 1.2

The Bronze Age in China
multicultural.pngThe Great Bronze Age in China, Asia for Educators and Metropolitan Museum of Art

What is Metallurgy?

Metal production in Ancient Middle East
Metal production in Ancient Middle East

Metallurgy is the process of working metal into artifacts such as tools and toys.
  • Metallurgy is one of the oldest applied sciences. Its history can be traced back to around 6000 BCE.
  • Of course, its form at that time was primitive, but the shaping of metals became extremely important to many ancient human societies.
  • Metallurgy was used in early societies and greatly benefited their civilization.

More Information on Metallurgy

See Special Topic Page on Metallic Advancement through the Ages

The above image shows examples of ancient copper tools.

Uses and Importance of Metals

Gold and silver were used mostly in rings, bracelets, and other jewelry. Gold (and silver) are very malleable and could be smelted at relatively low temperatures. This means they can be extracted and worked easily. They are also both quite rare and beautiful and gold specifically is most suitable for ornamental uses since it is very soft. Gold and silver had intrinsic value and became the first forms of currency in the form of coins.

Copper had a much wider usage than gold, as it was harder but still fairly simple to manipulate. The oldest metal weapons and tools were made out of copper.

Lead was easy to extract because it would collect at the bottom of a campfire. Tin was not used directly, it was alloyed with copper to become bronze which was extremely important in the manufacture of ancient weapons. Metals, being stronger than stone, made it possible for primitive people to advance technologically, to create stronger weapons, tools, and more ornate and aesthetically pleasing forms of art.

Click here for link to gallery of Neolithic Age tools found around the world.

Ancient Agriculture

Multimedia.pngYoutube documentary on agriculture

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of Agricultural Developments

Before agriculture, people lived by hunting wild animals and gathering edible plants.
  • When the herds were plentiful and the plants flourishing, life was sustainable.
    • But when the herds migrated to other parts of the world, people had to follow them and often discover a whole new set of plants to supplement their diet.
      • In most groups, the division of labor was gendered, with men doing the hunting and women doing the gathering.

Intensive food gathering, in which the local inhabitants of a region set up permanent residences and made extensive use of already present plants, seems to have started in the Near East around 9000 - 7000 BCE.
  • The abundance of the harvest from domesticated plants allowed major increases in population.
    • Having all of one's plants and animals in one place allowed the agriculturist to move from random caves and makeshift huts into permanent or semi-permanent villages with homes made from stones or wood.
      • An early example is the city of Jericho. It started as such a village around 9000 B.C. and has been a settlement of one sort or another ever since.

Notice the "Fertile Crescent" area, in which agriculture flourished in ancient times.
Model of a granary.
Model of a granary.

Many of the early civilizations began along major river systems.
  • For example, Egyptians settled along the Nile River, Harappa culture along the Indus River, Chinese Empire along the Huang River and the Mesopotamian Countries along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.[4]
    • The river systems of these areas provided these early civilizations with a consistent source of nutrient-rich soil from the floods, not to mention water for the crops.
    • The soil was like natural fertilizer, bringing new minerals to enrich the crop-depleted soil. Despite having a near-river location, agriculture would not have been able to thrive throughout Mesopotamia without the use of irrigation systems.
      • Irrigation allowed Mesopotamians to live farther away from the river banks and to expand their living situations into a village layout.

One of the earliest sites of Agriculture was the "Fertile Crescent" in the foothills where irrigation was a necessity.
  • One of the most well known and studied area within the foothills of the Fertile Crescent has been in the foothills, is Jarmo, a village of 24 mud huts and 150 people.
    • In Iran where recent discoveries have been made that change our understanding about the origins of agriculture.
      • The initial stages of ancient agriculture began with harvesting of crops and was regimented through the use of a granary, where crops from fertile years could be stored and kept accounted for in case of future years of drought or bad harvest.
      • This system allowed officials to keep tight control over the crops through taxation by calculating the potential yield of lands and checking them against accrued totals. However, experimentation of the plants also took place.
      • Domestication of agriculture did not take long, as foragers would search for the best and largest seeds they could find, resulting in domesticated varieties becoming larger than their wild counterparts. Many think that these practices began in one community and spread, but evidence suggests that farming began in many communities at the same time.

  • Click on this link to watch a video about the beginnings of agriculture and domestication of animals. The video also reviews a timeline of important time periods leading up to the advents of agriculture and domestication of animals. There is also a written summary and quiz that can be used following the video for further review.

podcast icon.png
  • Listen hereto gain an understanding of what purpose these ancient granaries serve

  • Listen here to find our where and how ancient agriculture originated
Multimedia.pngtimeline2_rus.svg.png This is a Multimedia Timeline on Agriculture
primary_sources.PNGThis is an informative Chapter on Ancient Agriculture from a Textbook on Plants and Society

Domestication of Animals

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Rock art depiction of Neolithic plow using two oxen

  • The first animals known to be domesticated were sheep and goats. They were utilized as a food source for traveling tribes.
  • Cattle and pigs were the next to be domesticated. They were utilized by more settled communities for multiple aspects of their day to day life. These communities were able to see animals as a source of not only meat, but also secondary products.
  • They were a source of manure for the crops, a regular supply of meat and dairy, and, after death, a source of wool, leather, bones, and horn used for cloth and tools.
  • Agricultural communities utilized the strength of oxen to improve crop yield. They would be harnessed to primitive sledges and plows to transport heavy loads and break the ground of large fields.
  • The introduction of domesticated animals improved overall agricultural conditions, progress, and overall food supply.
  • Horses were also domesticated in later years, utilized for meat and transportation. Early civilizations rode horses to more easily travel and hunt.

An article discussing the domestication of a variety of animals:

Top Ten domesticated animals:

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of Animal Domestication

game_icon.svg.pngThis is an interactive game where students can see if they would survive and thrive during the Iron Age.

Tomb of Nahkt, Egypt
Tomb of Nahkt, Egypt
Stack.pngClick here for a unit including resources and videos on the Agricultural Revolution

More Information on the Origins and Growth of Agriculture

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 3.55.03 PM.pngRationalSkepticism.org has a discussion of Diamond's article and a link to a Ted Talk about violence among hunter-gatherers

Female_Rose.pngWomen in the Neolithic Age

  • The Women Warriors is an an article written about a discovery in a Neolithic burial mound. A group of women in the burial site were found with bronze tipped arrows. This article discusses the importance of this finding, female power, and the formation of a patriarchy.


[4] Rymer, E (2000). Retrieved February 7, 2007, from Africa Farming Development Web site: http://historylink101.com/lessons/farm-city/africa1.htm
Kibbutz Reshafim. "Agriculture and Horticulture in Ancient Egypt". Retrieved February 9th 2013 from:
Butler, Chris. "The Birth of Metallurgy and its Impact". Retrieved February 9th 2013 from: