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The Agricultural Revolution in PrehistoryWhy did Foragers become Farmers?$
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Graeme Barker

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199281091

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199281091.001.0001

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Approaches to the Origins of Agriculture

Approaches to the Origins of Agriculture

(p.1) 1 Approaches to the Origins of Agriculture
Title Pages

Graeme Barker

Oxford University Press

Humans have occupied our planet for several million years, but for almost all of that period they have lived as foragers, by various combinations of gathering, collecting, scavenging, fishing, and hunting. The first clear evidence for activities that can be recognized as farming is commonly identified by scholars as at about 12,000 years ago, at about the same time as global temperatures began to rise at the end of the Pleistocene (the ‘Ice Ages’) and the transition to the modern climatic era, the Holocene. Subsequently, a variety of agricultural systems based on cultivated plants and, in many areas, domesticated animals, has replaced hunting and gathering in almost every corner of the globe. Today, a relatively restricted range of crops and livestock, first domesticated several thousand years ago in different parts of the world, feeds almost all of the world’s population. A dozen crops make up over 80 per cent of the world’s annual tonnage of all crops: banana, barley, maize, manioc, potato, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugar cane, sweet potato, and wheat (Diamond, 1997: 132). Only five large (that is, over 100 pounds) domestic animals are globally important: cow, sheep, goat, pig, and horse. The development of agriculture brought profound changes in the relationship between people and the natural world. Archaeologists have usually theorized that, with the invention of farming, people were able to settle down and increase the amount and reliability of their food supply, thus allowing the same land to support more people than by hunting and gathering, allowing our species tomultiply throughout the world. The ability to produce food and other products from domesticated plants and animals surplus to immediate subsistence requirements also opened up new pathways to economic and social complexity: farming could mean new resources for barter, payment of tax or tribute, for sale in a market; it could mean food for non-food producers such as specialist craft-workers, priests, warriors, lords, and kings. Thus farming was the precondition for the development of the first great urban civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus valley, China, the Americas, and Africa, and has been for all later states up to the present day.

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