Our farming concept. Tilapia fish ponds and traditional rice fields

Fish and ricefarming historical figures

We review the origins and dispersal of rice in Asia based on a data base of 443 archaeobotanical reports. Evidence is considered in terms of quality, and especially whether there are data indicating the mode of cultivation, in flooded (‘paddy’ or ‘wet’) or non-flooded (‘dry’) fields. At present it appears that early rice cultivation in the Yangtze region and southern China was based on wet, paddy-field systems from early on, before 4000 bc, whereas early rice in northern India and Thailand was predominantly dry rice at 2000 bc, with a transition to flooded rice documented for India at c. 1000 bc. On the basis of these data we have developed a GIS spatial model of the spread of rice and the growth of land area under paddy rice. This is then compared with a review of the spread of ungulate livestock (cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goat) throughout the Old World. After the initial dispersal through Europe and around the Mediterranean (7000–4000 bc), the major period of livestock expansion is after 3000 bc, into the Sub-Saharan savannas, through monsoonal India and into central China. Further expansion, to southern Africa and Southeast Asia dates mostly after 1000 bc. Based on these two data sets we provide a quantitative model of the land area under irrigated rice, and its likely methane output, through the mid to late Holocene, for comparison to a more preliminary estimate of the expansion of methane-producing livestock. Both data sets are congruent with an anthropogenic source of later Holocene methane after 3000 bc, although it may be that increase in methane input from livestock was most significant in the 3000–1000 bc period, whereas rice paddies become an increasingly significant source especially after 2000 bc.