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The first Harvester was created by accident when the smiths of Amgarrak Thaig were experimenting on Caridin's work with the hope of recreating and improving it. The smiths used dead casteless dwarf bodies instead of metal and stone, claiming that "It would be a honor for a casteless dwarf to die in such way". Nereda, the Tevinter mage with the expedition in Amgarrak, sealed a Fade spirit inside a construct made out of flesh and bone. When the construct came alive, the head removed itself from the body and disappeared, becoming the first Harvester. It killed numerous people in the thaig and after witnessing what their twisted creation was capable of, they were forced to trap it in a level of the Fade via the use of the Lyrium wells and seal the thaig. Since then, people have long forgotten about both the Harvesters and the thaig.
Harvesters set about gathering the flesh of the dead to add to their bodies to create a sort of flesh golem which they use like an armor. It seems that the Harvester is capable of manipulating the Lyrium Wells and using them to its advantage.
It's also seen that, with a secret ritual of Blood magic, a living mage can willingly merge with a large number of corpses and become a Harvester.