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In the earliest written records, of both Egypt and Mesopotamia, grain is the prevalent standard of exchange.The storability and transferability of grain also made possible the beginning of government because grain was a suitable means of taxation, and taxation is the essential feature of the transfer of wealth for common purposes, a defining feature of government.Until humans learned to remove hulls from the seeds of certain grasses around 9000 BCE, nomadic human populations relied on hunting and gathering for sustenance.
Collective organization would be required both to put irrigation in place and to allocate and protect possession of the irrigated fields.
The wild grains were not a major food of early humans because the seeds, over their desirable starch and protein, have an indigestible hull.
Equally, without humans the great cereal grains— wheat, barley, rice, maize—would have remained limited in range and distribution, just grasses among the roughly seven thousand species in the family Gramineae.
Perhaps the greatest environmental shift brought about by grains is the shift of the dominant form of vegetation on the planet from trees to grasses.
The advantages of grains as foodstuffs have profoundly altered human culture.
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Grains, although not perfect foods, do contain large amounts of carbohydrates and small but important amounts of proteins (although certain proteins such as lysine are not available in the major grains and must be obtained from other sources).
The storability of grain also made it a transferable basis of value.
As a means of payment, grain made possible the specialization of labor because persons could develop skills and devote their entire time to the production of goods that could be traded to farmers for their surplus grain.
The original food grains (emmer and einkorn wheats and barley) were initially domesticated in their natural wild range habitat—the Near Eastern arc of open hillsides with yearly rainfall of more than 250 millimeters, lying between forest to the north and arid plains to the south.
All of the early agricultural settlements arose in this area, but it is relatively limited.