Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Why Only Some Became Farmers: A Global View

Why Only Some Became Farmers: A Global View. Noel Broadbent, Goran Burenhult, and Moreau Maxwell discuss the sweeping changes associated with adoption of food production and offer an explanation why these events only took place independently in a few locations.

This essay is originally from The People of the Stone Age, American Museum of Natural History, pages: 187-193.

From the site:

The transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer was one of the most sweeping events in the history of humankind. Most experts today agree that the impetus for this transition came from need rather than desire. Such a fundamental shift in the way of life led to major changes in social structures, and to the development of new religious systems - farmers' gods were different from those of hunter-gatherers. Increased sedentism created entirely new settlement patterns, and at the same time, population growth increased. Mobile hunter- gatherers have to restrict their group size, both for practical reasons-you cannot carry more than one child at a time during long journeys and in order to be able to survive when times are harsh. In a farming economy, on the other hand, as long as virgin land is available, more hands mean that more crops can be grown and more cattle raised, thus starting an endless circle of population growth leading to a demand for more food.

The developing farming tradition was accompanied by a number of new phenomena. With increased population pressure came the need to control personal territory, and this created the risk of conflict. For the first time, evidence of aggression appears in the form of fortified settlements and ceremonial combat weapons-symbols of power and dominance. With this new emphasis on strength and aggression, women's status declined. In many places, inequality between the sexes had its roots in the social organization of the established farming societies.

With large numbers of people living in the same area for long periods, problems of hygiene arose that were unknown to mobile hunter-gatherers. As time went on, the farming way of life also led to a far less balanced and less nutritious diet than that enjoyed by hunter-gatherers. The quality of stored food deteriorated as a result of infestation by rats and other vermin, creating a breeding ground for new, deadly strains of bacteria. Epidemic disease appeared for the first time.

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