the invention of crop rotation -- 8/12/20
Today's selection -- from The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began by Valerie Hansen. With the invention of crop rotation came the proliferation of villages:
"The population of Western Europe also rose as the residents adopted far-reaching changes in agriculture, which the British historian R. I. Moore has called 'cerealization.' They planted more and more land with wheat and barley. In northern France and England, cultivators first recognized that raising the same crop in a given field year after year lowered its fertility, so they allowed one third to one half of their land to lie fallow.
"After 1000, farmers began alternating their crops. One popular rotation was turnips, clover, and grain, which helped retain nutrients and soil quality. This practice, so important for raising agricultural yield, spread only slowly (it was already well known in China). At the same time, other innovations also increased output: horse-drawn plows, water mills, windmills, and iron tools that could dig deeper into the soil than wooden tools. Before cerealization, most of the land in Western Europe was not under regular cultivation; afterward much of it was.
"In addition to raising population, these changes contributed to the rise of settled communities in Europe. Before the growing of grain became widespread, many farmers in Western Europe had been itinerant, moving from place to place to work the land and raise livestock. This continued to be true of farmers in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, who followed their herds of pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, and horses. But first in France, England, and Germany, and later in Eastern and Northern Europe, farmers began to build houses and settle down in villages, thanks to crop rotation and other agricultural advances.
"Europe's population nearly doubled, from less than 40 million in 1000 to 75 million in 1340 (before the Black Death struck in 1347). This increase in population coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, which began in 1000, peaked around 1100, and had ended by 1400. Because climate historians do not yet know whether the warming trend occurred all over the world, they now refer to this period as the Medieval Climate Anomaly. Ongoing research suggests that while some regions, such as Europe, experienced an increase in temperature, others became colder.
"The distribution of people across Europe changed, too. The population of Southern and Eastern Europe -- Italy, Spain, and the Balkans -- increased by 50 percent. But because of improved agricultural techniques, the growth in Western and Northern Europe -- the region of modern France and Germany -- was far greater: there the population skyrocketed by a factor of three, so that nearly half of Europe's people lived in Northern and Western Europe by 1340."