The transition from hunting and gathering of wild resources to food production through plant cultivation and animal domestication was one of the most decisive and crucial steps in the development of human societies. The appearance of large, sedentary communities which were reliant on food production precipitated the appearance of more complex societies in southwest Asia, but also caused some of the first problems in resource over-exploitation, deforestation, spread of disease and social inequality. The emergence of these Neolithic societies occurred independently in 6-7 key centres worldwide in the timeframe from 10,000 to 5,000 BCE: in the yellow river Basin China, Papua New Guinea, the Indus River Valley India, the Fertile Crescent in southwest Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and central America. In all of these regions different environmental, economic, social and cultural parameters shaped the emergence of food production in different ways. From these centres farming spread into other parts of the world, with plants and animals transferred from here to newly colonized regions, where indigenous hunter-gatherers either took up farming or were replaced. The spread of farming established the basis for the emergence of early state societies and came to nearly completely replace hunting and gathering societies worldwide.
Although scholars have examined the emergence of farming economies and village societies around the world for nearly a hundred years, much of this research has been carried out in isolation. Experts studying the emergence of cereal cultivation in southwest Asia have rarely compared their results with those studying the cultivation of rice in China or India.