for National Geographic News
Stone Age paddy fields tended by the world's earliest known rice farmers have been uncovered in a swamp in China, scientists say.
The discovery shows rice growing began in the coastal wetlands of eastern China some 7,700 years ago, according to a new study.
Evidence of prehistoric rice cultivation, including flood and fire control, was found by a team led by Cheng Zong of Britain's Durham University.
The team's research, which sheds new light on humans' critical transition from hunter-gathers to farmers, centers on the site of Kuahuqiao in Zhejiang province near present-day Hangzhou (see China map).
The research follows previous excavations at the site that revealed a Stone Age community of wooden dwellings perched on stilts over the marshy wetlands.
An 8,000-year-old dugout canoe, pottery made with wild rice as a bonding material, wood and bamboo tools, and the bones of dogs and pigs were also found.
Zong's team analyzed the sediments of the ancient swamp for signs of rice paddies.
The researchers found the land was deliberately managed for rice growing.
Fire was used to clear scrub, while flood-prevention measures helped keep brackish water from getting into the fields, the study suggests.
"The site provided us well-dated evidence for the earliest rice cultivation," Zong said.
Kuahuqiao supported rice farming until around 7,550 years ago, when rising sea levels suddenly deluged the area, Zong said.
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