With the recent rise of organic farming another all-natural movements, it is easy to forget why and how humans started using pesticides. This week and next week, we are exploring the history of pesticides. Read on to learn the ancient history of pesticides and other agricultural practices today.

Start Of Civilization And Agriculture

The start of agriculture actually marks the beginning of civilization. Ancient people planted the first fields in Mesopotamia. They cultivated wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and much more.

A couple 1000 years later, China domesticated rice. Rice was also domesticated in regions of Africa. In the Americas, indigenous people domesticated corn, squash, and potatoes. A majority of the food that we still eat today actually started about 7,500 years ago.

While agriculture is amazing, it quickly became evident that pests would be a problem. The first evidence of humans intentionally using pesticides is in Mesopotamia about 2500 BC. They dusted the plants with elemental sulfur and other mixtures to keep critters away. Fast forward around 1300 years and people in China would use pesticides for a bit of a different application. They used mercury and arsenic mixes to eliminate body lice.

Ancient Greece And Rome

Ancient Greeks and Romans used a combination of science, magic, and spirituality as a type of pest control. This combination was believed to ward off insects and other bugs, weeds, and larger animal pests.

The most common means of pest control in ancient Greece and Rome was through the use of smokes. The farmers would burn trash and compost and allow the smoke to blow over their fields. They noticed that certain plants did not attract insects at all, in fact, the plants repelled them. Farmers would often burn and smoke those specific plants as a means of pest control.

They also used an early version of traps, ones that used all-natural ingredients. They would spread tar or other sticky substances on tree trunks so that any crawling insects would be caught. Modern humans still use the same technique today and flypaper.

Consistency in Using Natural Products

The most important thing to remember about ancient through medieval pest control is that everything was all natural. Ancient peoples used a wide variety of natural pesticides, because the chemical industry didn’t exist yet.

Items such as:

  • Straw, chaff, hedge clippings, or any other greenery that did not serve a useful purpose
  • food waste, such as crab shells, fish bones, and animal horns
  • animal waste
  • particular plants, for example, wild cucumber another bitter or sour smelling plants

The use of inorganic compounds and chemicals as a form of pest control didn’t start until the late 1800s. It was not widely spread until the mid-1900s. While pesticides are widely available today, they only used to be available to farmers.