7. Agriculture & Civilization

If everyone had to survive as foragers, there wouldn't be nearly enough food to feed 7 billion people. Farming sustains us, and it's easy to assume it has always existed, but it hasn't. Humans invented agriculture. This altered our relationship with the Earth, drove population growth, and enabled the emergence of magnificent civilizations.

7.0—The Rise of Agriculture

All living things need energy to survive. For a long time, humans met their energy needs almost exclusively by eating the food they foraged in their local environment. In other words, humans were completely dependent on the plants and animals that nature provided. The invention of farming about 12,000 years ago gave humans access to vast new food and energy resources, which helped to dramatically transform the way humans lived. Among other things, farming made possible dramatic population growth, and it allowed humans to settle in larger, denser communities than a foraging lifestyle could support. These larger and denser communities eventually led to the development of cities and civilizations, which accelerated collective learning and innovation.
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Activity: This Threshold Today
2:38
Threshold 7: Agriculture
When humans began farming, new, more complex ways of living were possible.
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Threshold Card: Threshold 7 – Rise of Agriculture
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Gallery: Agriculture
10:03
Why Was Agriculture So Important?
The invention of agriculture is not just a matter of tastier food. It unlocked powerful forces that transformed history.
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Collective Learning (Part 2)
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Quiz: The Rise of Agriculture
Quiz 7.0

7.1—The First Cities and States Appear

The invention of farming led to dramatic changes in the way humans got their food. By domesticating plants and animals, people could settle in one place. Because domestication gave people more control over the plants and animals in an area, human groups could grow bigger and denser. As these populations grew and turned into cities, states, and empires, greater opportunities for collective learning evolved but so did the types of challenges human communities had to face. Population growth, specialization of labor, and the emergence of rulers and social hierarchies all paved the way for increased collective learning, but they also created some complex problems and relationships that we are still struggling to resolve today.
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Activity: Comparing Crops
10:46
Where and Why Did the First Cities and States Appear?
Fueled by surplus crops, agriculture led to the formation of the world's first large-scale civilizations.
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Gallery: Civilization
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Activity: Comparing Civilizations
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Intro to Agrarian Civilizations
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Uruk
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Mesoamerica
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Jericho
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East Asia
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Greco-Roman
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Quiz: The First Cities and States Appear
Quiz 7.1

7.2—Ways of Knowing: Agriculture and Civilization

The mysterious pyramids of Ancient Egypt, the Great Wall of China, and the beauty of Machu Picchu (an old Incan city in Peru) are all impressive remnants left behind from some of the world’s ancient agrarian civilizations. But not every civilization has left behind such noticeable clues. In fact, many artifacts from agrarian civilizations fade away with time. But the clues that remain become important windows to the past. Researchers in a variety of disciplines such as history and archaeology use both written record and historical artifacts to pose, analyze, and answer questions about the past. As you will see, written record is of particular importance. Unlike other species, writing gives us the ability to preserve and pass on large amounts of information from one generation to the next. With this ability comes incredible power.
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Activity: Social Status, Power, and Human Burials
8:15
Intro to History
Historians ask questions about the past to help understand the present, and gain insight to the future.
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Recordkeeping and History
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Claim Testers: Episode 3 – Planting Seeds
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Quiz: Agriculture and Civilization
Quiz 7.2

Glossary

Review Big History vocabulary.
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Glossary: Agriculture & Civilization

Resources

Download the teacher resources from the Big History Project classroom version of this course. Text transcripts for videos are also available.
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Guide, Slides, and Text Reader
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Video Transcripts