The dawn of agriculture
- Agriculture likely began during the Neolithic Era before roughly 9000 BCE when polished stone tools were developed and the last ice age ended.
- Historians have several theories about why many societies switched from hunting and foraging to settled agriculture.
- One of these theories is that a surplus in production led to greater population. Not everyone needed to be focused on food production, which led to specialization of labor and complex societies.
The world before agriculture
The birth of agriculture
Why did agriculture emerge when and where it did?
- End of a glacial period: The last glacial period ended 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. This seems to coincide with the emergence of agriculture. After the glacial period ended, there was more moisture in the air, less frozen soil, and better conditions overall for more plant and animal life. These conditions would have also been more suitable for agriculture. This theory still has several open questions:1) Why have we not found evidence of agriculture during the last interglacial—warmer—period over 100,000 years ago? Have we just not found it yet?2) Even during the glacial period, weren’t there some places on Earth in the tropics that would have still been suitable for agriculture?
- Continued human development: Even though anatomically modern humans have been around for roughly 200,000 years, our brains, language, and culture may have continued to develop and change—including through natural selection. It is possible that only 10,000 to 20,000 years ago did we first have the right mix of environmental, mental, and cultural development to implement agriculture. This theory is bolstered by the fact that the dawn of agriculture seems to coincide with humans being able to make the more sophisticated stone objects which define the Neolithic period.
Pastoralism: a branch of agriculture
Impact of agriculture
What do you think?
- What do you think is the most compelling theory about the birth of agriculture?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of hunting and foraging versus agriculture?