Tillage of the earth began about 12,000 ago when hunter gatherers discovered how to store seed to grow crops (although scientists in Israel now believe the date may have been 11,000 years earlier). The earliest farmers lived in the Fertile Crescent, a region in the Middle East including modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Palestine, south-eastern Turkey and western Iran. The earliest crops were peas and chickpeas, lentils, bitter vetch, flax, barley and early forms of wheat.
Crops require tillage – preparation of the land for growing crops. Yet the plough is a modern invention. Its precursors included the caschrom (Gaelic “cas-dhìreach”) or “foot-plough” used in the north west of the Scottish Highlands until quite recently. A wooden shaft with a blade at right angles at the bottom of the shaft and a peg, also at right angles at the bottom of the shaft for the operator to push against with his foot for the blade to penetrate at an angle into the ground. Lifting the device on the heel of the shaft as a fulcrum lifted the earth and lay it to one side. The Peruvians use(d) a similar device called the chaki taklla and the aboriginal Maoris the kō. When man discovered how to pull such a device through the ground and then have a horse or a bullock do so the first ploughs as we know them had arrived.
These prints illustrate the progress in agricultural equipment developed from that point – particularly in the late 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century and the early motor tractors. We may soon be approaching a time when farming can be conducted from a room with a switchboard and a screen. Yet, despite the industrial revolution, it was the density of farm labour in England in the 19th century that slowed the development of equipment here and the dearth of labour in North America that accelerated it there.