Origins of Agriculture
Broad Spectrum Revolution
• Around 15,000 years ago
• recession of glaciers
• warming of the climate
• change in human subsistence away from big game hunting to a broad range of foods
• Foraging: subsistence strategy based upon gathering wild plants, hunting wild animals, fishing and shellfish collecting.
• For 99% of hominid history, we were foragers
• By 10,000 ya, food production had begun in the Middle East
• Food production (agriculture): human control over the reproduction of plants and animals
• Domestication: the modification of wild plants and animals
– Human selection
– Deliberate or accidental
• Domesticate: the plant or animal that is modified by human selection
– Examples: wheat, goats
Transition to Food Production
• The transition to food production occurred at different times in different parts of the world
• At each location, different plants and animals were domesticated
• The transition in each location was unique
• Neolithic- cultural period that begins with domestication
• At least seven independent inventions of food production:
-Middle East: Around 10,000 ya, wild wheat and barley were plentiful.
– Sub-Saharan Africa: 11,000-9,000 ya, cattle, Sorghum, millet, peanuts, yams, Donkey, guinea fowl
– Northern and Southern China
– Andes of South America
– Eastern United States
Transition to Food Production - Middle East
• Around 10,000 ya, wild wheat and barley were plentiful.
• People could remain in the same location and support themselves by gathering wild cereals.
• Sedentism: sedentary (settled) life in villages
• Population density increased
• Settlements expanded out of the areas with the most abundant resources into marginal zones
• Here people may have begun cultivating wheat plants
• Wild sheep and goats grazed on the stubble from harvested wheat
• Humans domesticated these wild animals
• The plants and animals changed genetically
• Over time, agriculture became the primary subsistence pattern
Transition to Food Production - Sub-Saharan Africa
• Earliest domesticates: cattle
– 11,000 – 9,000 ya
– used for milk and blood products, not killed for food
• Other early African domesticates:
– Sorghum, millet, peanuts, yams, Donkey, guinea fowl
Transition to Food Production - Northern and Southern China
• By 7,500 years ago two independent domestications had occurred in China
• North China – foxtail millet
• South China – rice
• Other plants and animals followed: water buffalo, pigs, dogs
Origins of Agriculture in the New World
• Arrival of Humans in Western Hemisphere
• Arrival of humans from Northeastern Asia – c. 18000 ya.
• Crossed from Bering Straight, called Beringia.
Crossing made possible by low temps during the Pleistocene
- Sea level as much as 400 ft lower than current level.
Lower sea level exposed Beringia, enabling herds, then humans to cross.
• Hunters and gatherers
– Horses, camels, bison, mammoths, giant sloths
– Many now extinct
• Nomadic lifestyle
– Followed herds
• Eventually spread throughout N. America, Mesoamerica, and S. America
• Clovis Culture
– Distinct stone tool technology
– Fluted spear points
• Clovis people were very successful – population grew
• Big game animals began to disappear
– Excessive hunting
– Climate change - warmer
Agriculture in the New World
• 3 regions of development:
– Mesoamerica – c. 4700 BP
– South America – c. 4500 BP
– Northeastern America – c. 4500 BP
Early Animal Domestication
• South America
– Largest animal domesticated in new world.
– Bred for meat, labor.
• Alpaca – wool
• Dog - companion.
• Guinea pigs, ducks
• Mesoamerica –
• North America –
• Importance of dog as companion found in burials.
• New world herding?
• No cattle, sheep or goats were domesticated in the new world.
• Unlike old world, no herding relationships between herders and farmers.
• Mesoamerica – 4,700 BP
– Maize, beans, squash
– “Three Sisters” of nutrition
– Plants grow well together and provide complete nutrition
– Botanical Domesticates
• South America – 4,500 BP
– Potato, beans, quinoa, manioc, cotton
• North America – 4,500 BP
– Goosefoot, Marsh elder, sunflower, squashtt
Spotlight on Maize
• Earliest domesticated maize dates to 5,000 ya in Mexico.
• Comes from teosinte, a wild grass still found in Mexico
• A few small genetic changes led to maize:
– More kernels, larger cobs, more cobs
Results of Higher Crop Yields
• Foodstores – Surplus can be created.
• Labor – Food production can enable larger labor forces to be accrued.
• Craft specializations develop, including pottery, astronomy, writing, military, cult.
• Social stratification begins, struggles for power develop.
Effects of Agriculture
• Surplus of labor and time.
– Craft specialization
– Technological innovations
• Need for storage locations/vessels.
• Social stratification.
• Higher standard of living.
Cost vs. Benefit of Agriculture
– More intensive labor
– Routine maintenance
– Reliance on water
– Creation of terraces
– Creation of corrals
– Public health declines
• Diets less varied, less nutritious
• Greater exposure to pathogens
– Yields more reliable
– Higher yields
– Higher birth yield
– Technological innovations
– Trade and markets
• Independent development of agriculture in various geographic regions at various times.
• Effects of agriculture are to varying degrees in differing locations.
• Each culture dealt with agriculture independently, with unique responses.
• Aided in the development of cultural diversity.