The first rice fields in China were swamped – literally! In fact, Chinese rice fields in the Neolithic period, around 7,700 years ago, were located in eastern China’s coastal wetlands – which is almost 2,000 years before anyone had previously believed rice farming in China even existed.
At the site of Kuahuqiao in China, it appears that inhabitants created wooden huts that were perched on stilts above the wetlands – which enabled the rice farmers to utilize natural resources such as fire and flooding to help manage and cultivate rice paddies. Fire would have been used to clear brush and scrub from the area, while flood-prevention methods were organized to prevent brackish, murky swamp water from leaking into the fields.
Flood control was likely managed through the use of earthen dikes called ‘bunds’, and it is possible that dung from humans and/or animals was used as fertilizer. Many of the varieties of rice found in the fields belonged to strains of wild rice, though the grains were much larger than what would typically be found in the wild – large grains almost always mean domestication.
The site has also yielded a dugout canoe from 8,000 years ago, plenty of tools made from wood and bamboo, dog and pig bones, and pottery that used wild rice as a bonding agent.
Why would people in this area begin to farm rice, if there was wild rice around for the taking? Evidence suggests that the climate in the area began to see increased temperatures, which would have acted as a prompt for cultural change. Farming rice would have been a natural, easy option for a stable food source, since warmer and wetter conditions are ideal for growing cereal plants.
The regular flooding of these coastal wetlands enabled the ancient Chinese of this area to begin China’s history of domesticated rice crops – however, rice farming probably evolved independently elsewhere in other parts of Asia, including parts of southern China and northeast India.
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