The Long History of Data in Agriculture

Today is National Agriculture Day, and I'm a data scientist in 𝗮𝗴𝗿𝗶𝗰𝘂𝗹𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲!

When fellow and aspiring data scientists approach me they seem surprised that something as "modern" as data science and as old as agriculture to be uttered together!

But it's only natural for data and agriculture to be paired together. Agriculture is about 10,000 years old — the world's oldest (and largest) industry. However, it was very small-scale for thousands of years. Modern agriculture was born in southern Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, where the Sumerians supercharged it by inventing NOT ONLY the wheel and the plow but ALSO data!

Above picture by: MET Museum, Featured image by: Del Adams

Indeed, the Sumerians invented the first accounting and writing systems to keep records for inventories of grain harvests, storage, and transactions. This cuneiform tablet is around 5,000 years old and is one of the oldest known written artifacts. It concerns the distribution of barley and emmer.

Ancient scribes weren't just bookkeepers and accountants. Their data would help answer questions like when to plow the fields? How much will the crops yield? And what fields are most productive? In fact, the first farmer's almanac is Sumerian.

Is it a stretch to say they were the first data analysts? Do you agree?

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