About 12,000 years ago, humans began the transition from hunter-gathering to a sedentary, agriculture-based society. From its origins in the Near East, farming expanded throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, together with various domesticated plants and animals. Where, how and why agriculture originated is still debated. But newer findings, on the basis of genome-wide measures of genetic similarity, have traced the origins of some domesticated cereals to wild populations of naturally occurring grasses that persist in the Near East. A better understanding of the genetic differences between wild grasses and domesticated crops adds important facets to the continuing debate on the origin of Western agriculture and the societies to which it gave rise.