The Dawn of Everything - Farming (Part 1)
Graeber and Wengrow on the agricultural (non) revolution
In chapters six and seven of The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow present an alternate account of the origins of agriculture than that found most conventional history books. This account, they say, contradicts many of the assumptions made by the authors of Big History who tend to portray farming as inevitably leading to inequality, hierarchy, private property, and violence, culminating in centralized states.
Instead, they argue that early farming societies were no more hierarchical than their predecessors, and may have even been less violent more egalitarian than their hunter-gatherer neighbors. The imply that cultivation may have even initially began as a strategy expressly designed to avoid succumbing to the values of hierarchy and violence. They are especially critical of Yuval Noah Harari's Russian reversal-style metaphor of "wheat domesticating us," which they say is yet another "Garden of Eden-type narrative," (236) except with "wheat taking the place of the snake" (231).
Instead, by taking the viewpoint of the actual people who first practiced cultivation, they posit that"maybe farming began as a more playful or even subversive kind of process." (211) The Davids especially emphasize the flexibility and relative ease of early methods of cultivation, rejecting the notion that it was some sort of trick played on us by plants and animals to get us to be their unwitting slaves.
I think this narrative is one of the most compelling parts of the book. So let's take a look.
Why did farming take off when it did?
Anatomically modern humans have been around for roughly 350,000 years and behaviorally modern humans for probably at least the last 120,000. During all that time, there were only two periods when the the climate was warm enough and stable enough to make farming a more viable option than hunting and gathering.
One was over a hundred thousand years ago when human populations were still very small and almost exclusively confined to Africa. The other began around 12,000 years ago. By that time, humans had left Africa and established a presence on every continent except Antarctica. It is at this time when we first begin to see signs of intensive plant exploitation more-or-less simultaneously around the globe:
Since our species came into existence, there have been only two sustained periods of warm climate of the kind that might support an agricultural economy for long enough to leave some trace in the archaeological record.
The first was the Eemian interglacial, which took place around 130,000 years ago. Global temperatures stabilized at slightly above their present day levels, sustaining the spread of boreal forests as far north as Alaska and Finland. Hippos basked on the banks of the Thames and the Rhine. But the impact on human populations was limited by our then restricted geographical range.
The second is the one we are living in now. When it began, around 12,000 years ago, people were already present on all the world's continents, and in many different kinds of environment. Geologists call this period the Holocene, from the Greek holos (entire), kainos (new). (257)
During this second round of global warming, large herd animals started disappearing all over the world. Many of these extinctions coincided with the arrival of humans. At the same time, a warmer, wetter climate encouraged the exploitation of plant resources including nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes and tubers.
Scrub and forest replaced open steppe and tundra across much of this postglacial world. As in earlier times, foragers used various techniques of land management to stimulate the growth of various species, such as fruit and nut bearing trees. By 8000 BC, their efforts had contributed to the extinction of roughly two-thirds of the world's megafauna, which were ill-suited to the warmer and more enclosed habitats of the Holocene.
Expanding woodlands offered a superabundance of nutritious and storable foods: wild nuts, berries, fruits, leaves and fungi, processed with a new suite of composite ('micro-lithic') tools. Where forest took over from steppe, human hunting techniques shifted from the seasonal co-ordination of mass kills to more opportunistic and versatile strategies, focused on smaller mammals with more limited home ranges, among them elk, deer, boar, and wild cattle. (259)
In short, a stable, warming climate combined with the extinction of large herd animals in every corner of the globe caused humans everywhere to rely more heavily on plant foods as a staple of their diet, and correspondingly less on animals which were—in the aftermath of the Ice Age—smaller, solitary, and more nimble. Climate reconstruction shows that this was only the second time during the existence of Homo sapiens that this could have occurred, and the first when we lived outside of our ancestral African homeland.
Sediments from lake in Japan reveal stable climate led to origin of agriculture (Science Daily)
Two Fertile Crescents
As the climate gradually became warmer and more stable, humans migrated into Western Asia into the region that we now know as the Fertile Crescent—a “crescent shaped belt of arable lands bounded by deserts and mountains.” (226). While today mostly arid, during this time it would have filled with lush grasslands and forests, especially in the Jordan rift valley. Here, people started to gradually settle down and abandon their nomadic way of life, exploiting rich and well-watered landscapes teeming with edible plants, fish, and game.
Scholars now believe that the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent during this era were "complex" or "affluent foragers" in the mold of the Pacific Northwest Coast Indians, the Calusa, or the Jōmon of Japan, rather than small, nomadic forager bands like the those found in the Kalahari (although the Davids would consider this a meaningless distinction).
Graeber and Wengrow highlight two distinct ecological and topographical regions of the Fertile Crescent: a lowland crescent, including the Jordan and Euphrates river valleys, and an upland crescent following the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros mountains and the adjoining steppe.
The upland crescent follows the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros Mountains, running north of the modern border between Syria and Turkey. For foragers at the end of the last Ice Age, it would have been something of an open frontier; an expanding belt of oak-pistachio forest and game-rich prairie intersected by river valleys.
The lowland crescent to the south was characterized by Pistacia woodlands, as well as tracts of fertile terrain bound tightly to river systems or to the shores of lakes and artesian springs, beyond which lay deserts and barren plateaus…(226)…Towards the Mediterranean coast these lowland regions acted as refugia for wood- and grassland species, which survived continually through the Last Glacial Maximum and early Holocene. (562)
According to the Davids, these two distinct ecological zones became the home to very different types of civilizations: "Between 10,000 and 8000 BC, foraging societies in the 'upland' and 'lowland' sectors of the Fertile Crescent underwent marked transformations, but in quite different directions." (226)
Among the settled hunter-foragers of the upland crescent, there appears to have been a"striking turn toward hierarchy," (226) as evidenced by the presence of gigantic stone monuments like Göbeckli Tepe and Karahan Tepe in the Urfa valley. These megaliths, they tell us, may be derived from an earlier building tradition using timber from the heavily forested uplands.
There is also evidence of headhunting, for example, the "House of Skulls" discovered at Çayönü Tepesi which contained the remains of over 450 people, "including headless corpses and over ninety crania, all crammed into small compartments." (243). There were also numerous defleshed and decapitated bodies found at these sites. Human remains were stored alongside those of large prey animals, and stone altars potentially indicate the presence of human sacrifice.
By contrast, large stone megaliths were entirely absent from the lowlands. People lived in small villages of semi-sunken pit houses with thatched roofs. There was evidence of a skull cult here, too, but instead of a violent context, skulls were adorned with shells, ochre, and plaster in the image of deceased ancestors. Artwork portrayed "humble figurines of women and domesticated animals, and hamlets of clay," (242) in contrast to the fearsome imagery of the uplands which depicted "images of male virility and predation" (245). The Davids argue that this ecological frontier became a "cultural interaction sphere" very similar to that of the Pacific Northwest Coast which they described in the previous chapter:
It might...be argued that, after the last Ice Age, the ecological frontier between 'lowland' and 'upland' Fertile Crescent also became a cultural frontier with zones of relative uniformity on either side, distinguished almost as sharply as the 'Protestant foragers' and 'fisher kings' of the Pacific Coast. (226)
The Davids argue that these contrasting cultures may have been the result of schismogenesis, just like the contrast between the Yurok and their more aristocratic, slaveholding neighbors north of the Klamath River in the Pacific Northwest: "lowland and upland populations in the Fertile Crescent were following quite different—and in some ways, mutually opposed—cultural trajectories throughout the centuries when plants and animals were first domesticated." (247)
Just like in the Pacific Northwest, there was extensive contact between these two neighboring cultures. A trade network became established along the Levantine corridor of the eastern Mediterranean, similar to the "grease trails" of western North America. As a result of these economic exchanges, lowland villages began to specialize in various crafts such as stone grinding, bead carving, and shell processing. These activities appear to have been associated with ritual buildings or subterranean lodges, indicating that they may have been under the control of guilds or secret societies:
These two adjacent societies...were well acquainted. We know this because they traded durable materials with each other over long distances, among them were the same materials, in fact, that we found circulating as valuables on the West Coast of North America: obsidian and minerals from the mountains, and mollusc shells from the coast. Obsidian from the Turkish highlands flowed south, and shells (perhaps used as currency) flowed north from the shores of the Red Sea, ensuring that uplanders and lowlanders stayed in touch…There were constant opportunities for foragers to exchange complementary products—which included foods, medicines, drugs, and cosmetics—since the local growth cycles of wild resources were staggered by sharp differences in climate and topography. (227)
By the ninth millennium BC, larger settlements had developed along the principal trade routes. Lowland foragers occupied fertile pockets of land among the drainages of the Jordan valley, using trade wealth to support increasingly large, settled populations. Sites of impressive scale sprang up in such propitious locations, some, such as Jericho and Basta, approaching ten hectares in size. (227)
According to the Davids, cereal cultivation may have begun as just one of many specialized activities undertaken by the inhabitants of the lowlands to maintain access to this trading network. They argue that, just as acorn gathering was a deliberate choice among the Native Americans of northern California, cereal cultivation may have been undertaken as a deliberate choice by lowland societies to reject the cultural values of the slave-taking, head-hunting, megalith-building, upland societies. These societies appear to have also have featured a high degree of gender equality. Note that this inverts the usual narrative where agricultural societies are portrayed inherently more violent, domineering and hierarchical than peaceful, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies. Indeed, at least in this case, it may have been the opposite:
In the Fertile Crescent, it is—if anything—among upland groups, furthest removed from a dependence on agriculture, that we find stratification and violence becoming entrenched; while their lowland counterparts, who linked the production of crops to important social rituals, come out looking decidedly more egalitarian; and much of this egalitarianism relates to an increase in the economic and social visibility of women…(248)
Inhabitants of lowland villages focused on different plants and animals based on their local ecology, climate, and topography, including cereal grasses and fruit trees. This is why there appears to be no single epicenter of domestication in the Fertile Crescent. Instead, the earliest crop cultivation and animal domestication activities appear to have been spread throughout Western Asia. Over time, such activities, pursued independently, gradually led to the establishment of the full "Neolithic package" of plants and animals which eventually spread beyond the Fertile Crescent after 8000 BCE.
Neolithic farming began in Southwest Asia as a series of local specializations in crop-raising and animal-herding, scattered across various parts of the region, with no epicentre. These local strategies were pursued, it seems, in order to sustain access to trade partnerships and optimal locations for hunting and gathering, which continued unabated alongside cultivation...(244)...The founder cops of early agriculture—among them emmer wheat, einkorn, barley and rye—were not domesticated in a single 'core' area (as once supposed), but at different stops along the Levantine Corridor, scattered from the Jordan Valley to the Syrian Euphrates, and perhaps further north as well.
At higher altitudes, in the upland crescent, we find some of the earliest evidence for the management of livestock (sheep and goats in western Iran, cattle too in eastern Anatolia), incorporated into seasonal rounds of hunting and foraging. Cereal cultivation many have began in a similar way, as a fairly minor supplement to economies based mainly on wild resources: nuts, berries, legumes and other readily available foodstuffs. (228-229)
[O]ver thousands of years such local innovations—everything from non-shattering wheat to docile sheep—were exchanged between villages, producing a degree of uniformity among a coalition of societies across the Middle East. A standard 'package' of mixed farming emerged, from the Iranian Zagros to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and then spread beyond it...(244)
Villages situated near oases and wetlands would have been especially suited to the cultivation of cereal grasses. In fact, cultivation may have been initially undertaken in these villages to produce straw, which would have been useful for a variety of purposes, especially in the absence of clay pottery (ceramics were used for sculpture, but not yet for storage containers). The intensive collection and cultivation of reeds, papyrus and straw for basket weaving and other objectsmay have unwittingly kicked off the the later process of domestication and the eventual cultivation of wild stands of grasses as a storable food resource:
Human populations in the Middle East began settling in permanent villages long before cereals became a major component of their diets. In doing so, they found new uses for the stalks of wild grasses; these included fuel for lighting fires, and the temper that transformed mud and clay from so much friable matter into a vital tectonic resource, used to build houses, ovens, storage bins and other fixed structures. Straw could be used to make baskets, clothing and thatch. As people intensified the harvesting of wild grasses for straw (either by sickle or simply uprooting), they also produced one of the key conditions for some of these grasses to lose their natural mechanisms of seed dispersal. (232-233)
The growth of lowland settlements may have been supercharged by a cold snap known as the Younger Dryas, which temporarily brought back glacial conditions between roughly 11,000 and 9500 BCE. These colder and drier conditions would have encouraged foragers to settle near abundant water supplies.
People living near alluvial soils and wetlands during the Younger Dryas would have probably utilized a technique known as flood retreat agriculture or décrue farming, which the Davids describe as a particularly ‘lackadaisical’ way to raise crops. Flooding prepares the soil so very little effort is needed—you just broadcast the seeds and let nature do most of the work for you. Critically, the Davids point out that flood retreat agriculture would have required very little in the way of centralized management or top-down control. In fact, many scholars now believe that the famous “Walls of Jericho” were, in fact, designed to protect the settlement from seasonal flooding rather than defensive walls.
Flood retreat farming was an especially important feature of Early Neolithic economies in the more arid, lowland sectors of the Fertile Crescent, and particularly the Levantine Corridor, where important sites often developed on the margins of springs or lakes (e.g. Jericho, Tell Aswad) or on riverbanks (e.g. Abu Hureya, Jerf el-Ahmar)...(236)...In lowland regions of the Fertile Crescent, such as the Jordan and Euphrates valleys, ecological systems of this kind fostered the incremental growth of settlements and populations for three millennia. (239)
They also tell us that flood retreat agriculture provides an "inbuilt resistance to the enclosure and measurement of land" (235) since permanent boundary markers would be washed away and different plots would be fertile from year-to-year. Instead, parcels were probably distributed communally among the inhabitants of Neolithic farming villages. Just like other specialized activities of the lowlands, cereal cultivation appears to have been associated with ritual buildings rather than individual dwellings, and granaries were centrally located, further indicating that farming was undertaken communally rather than in individually. The earliest animal husbandry was probably similarly 'lackadaisical', with the management of wild herds and the bringing of animals like sheep and goats into villages during the winter where they could be kept in pens and fed on excess grain.
Communal methods of land tenure, or “open-field” systems, they tell us, appear to have been the standard practice among farming communities all over the world: "Communal tenure, 'open-field' principles' periodic redistribution of plots and co-operative management of pasture are not particularly exceptional and were were often practiced for centuries in the same locations." (250)
The Anglo-Saxon method was known as rundale in England and run-rig in Scotland. The Russian mir system was typical among the Slavic communities of eastern Europe, while among south Slavic communities it was known as zadruga. Evidence indicates that similar methods were commonly practiced from the Scottish Highlands to the Balkans. Nor was it confined to Europe—the Palestinian mash'a system and the Balinese subak are listed as further examples, and early scholars like Maine and Lavaleye wrote about similar ones they encountered in India, Pakistan and Java during the nineteenth century. In North America, such systems were utilized by the Iroquois Confederation of the Eastern Woodlands and the Pueblo of the Southwest, among many others.
This may have been the reason why the earliest farming villages appear to have been so resolutely egalitarian. Rather than farming leading directly to the need for things like formalized laws, private property and centralized management—as often portrayed—flood retreat agriculture required none of those things to be successful, nor did it cause people to engage in unrelenting, bitter toil or force them to abandon the fiercely egalitarian social ethos of hunter-gatherer society.
Instead of fixed fields, they exploited alluvial soils on the margins of lakes and springs, which shifted location from year to year. Instead of hewing wood, tilling fields and carrying water, they found ways of 'persuading' nature to do much of this labour for them.
Theirs was not a science of domination and classification, but one of bending and coaxing, nurturing and cajoling, or even tricking the forces of nature, to increase the likelihood of securing a favorable outcome. Their 'laboratory' was the real world of plants and animals, whose innate tendencies they exploited through close observation and experimentation. This Neolithic mode of cultivation was, moreover, highly successful...(238-239)
In short, there is simply no reason to assume that the adoption of agriculture in more remote periods also meant the inception of private land ownership, territoriality, or an irreversible departure from forager egalitarianism. It may have happened that way sometimes, but this can no longer be treated as a default assumption. (251)
The Davids note that in cultures all over the world, activities like tending garden plots and fiber arts like weaving and basketry are traditionally associated with women. This strongly suggests that women played an important role in these early farming societies, which is bolstered by the presence of feminine and domestic imagery: "[T]he art and ritual of lowland settlements in the Euphrates and Jordan valleys presents women as co-creators of a distinct form of society—learned through the productive routines of cultivation, herding and village life—and celebrated by modelling and binding soft materials, such as clay or fibres, into symbolic forms." (245) It's worth noting that harvest goddesses in most Near Eastern cultures such as the Mesopotamian Dumuzi/Tammuz and Greek Demeter were female.
This also comports with the idea, suggested by Brian Hayden, that the earliest domesticated crops were not staple foods to increase food production, but luxury foods cultivated for activities such as feasting and religious ceremonies, including those with mind-altering properties. Feasting activities such as potlatch are common among affluent foragers all over the world. Archaeologists have long suspected that cereals may have originally been cultivated primarily for beer brewing rather than as a food source, and have discovered that, "stone mortars...were used in brewing cereal-based beer millennia before the establishment of sedentary villages and cereal agriculture."
The Ecology of Freedom
Based on these facts, rather than requiring adapting to an entirely novel way of life, farming and animal husbandry appear to have been practices undertaken by various foragers after the Ice Age to supplement the more important (to them) activities of hunting, gathering, and fishing. Nor did it necessarily require committing permanently to one spot or surrendering the ability to move around. In fact, the evidence shows that, for many thousands of years, humans all over the world retained their freedom throughout the process of cultivation and domestication, in no way becoming "enslaved" to their crops and herds.
Moving freely in and out of farming in this way, or hovering on its threshold, turns out to be something our species has done successfully for a large part of its past. Such fluid ecological arrangements—combining garden cultivation, flood retreat farming on the margins of lakes or springs, small-scale landscape management (e.g. by burning, pruning or terracing) and the corralling or keeping of animals in semi-wild states, combined with a spectrum of hunting, fishing, and collecting activities—were once typical of human societies in many parts of the world. Often these activities were sustained for thousands of years, and not infrequently supported large populations. (260)
The Davids refer to this as "The Ecology of Freedom," a phrase taken from Murray Bookchin. As an example, they describe the farming practices used by the natives of Amazonia where the distinction between 'wild' and 'domesticated' resources is especially blurred.
Inhabitants of the rain forest grew crops like manioc, maize and squash in swidden plots enriched with special terra preta or terra mulata soils and practiced agroforestry allowing them to retain a high degree of freedom and mobility while nonetheless sustaining large and complex civilizations: "Amazonia shows how this 'in-and-out-of-farming' game could be far more than a transient affair. It seems to have played out over thousand of years, since during that time there is evidence of plant domestication and land management, but little commitment to agriculture." (268) This, the Davids note, is a radically different picture than the grim inevitability portrayed by the authors of Big History:
The ecology of freedom describes the proclivity of human societies to move (freely) in and out of farming; to farm without fully becoming farmers; raise crops and animals without surrendering too much of one's existence to the logistical rigors of agriculture; and retain a food web sufficiently broad as to prevent cultivation from becoming a matter of life and death. It is just this sort of ecological flexibility that tends to be excluded from conventional narratives of world history, which present the planting of a single seed as the point of no return. (260)
The Davids describe this sort of low-level food production as “play farming,” which they define as, "those loose and flexible methods of cultivation which leave people free to pursue any number of other seasonal activities." (429). To help explain this concept, they contrast the "Gardens of Adonis" in ancient Greece—fast-growing gardens of lettuce and fennel seeds planted in the late summer in broken pottery shards which quickly sprouted before withering and dying—with the more "serious" harvest festivals and rituals associated with the goddess Demeter. As they ask, "Which of these two ideas really embodies the spirit of the first agriculturalists: is is the stately and pragmatic Thesmophoria, or the playful and self-indulgent Gardens of Adonis?" (211)
None of this evidence, they argue, indicates that "wheat domesticated us," or that humans were duped by an unthinking, nefarious plant. That framing, they say, takes away the agency from ancient peoples who clearly made deliberate, conscious choices about their food supplies from the very beginning rather than having those resources prescribe their lifestyle to them. Throughout this process, they emphasize that *people* were in charge, not plants, concurring with Bookchin that, "human engagements with the biosphere are always strongly conditioned by the types of social relationships and social systems that people form among themselves." (568)
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of how leisurely the earliest cultivation was undertaken is the extremely long span of time it took for cereals to become domesticated. This indicates that there was no deliberate, concentrated effort to domesticate cereal crops—if anything, there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to avoid domestication: "to balance out their dietary needs and labour costs, early cultivators may have even strategically chosen practices that worked against the morphological changes which signal the onset of domestication in plants." (235)
A number of recent studies have shown that, had there been a deliberate and concerted effort to produce domesticated cultivars from wild varieties in the ancient Near East, it could have been accomplished in as little as 20-30 years, and no more than 200 years, maximum. In reality, the process of cereal domestication took over three thousand years:
Experiments…with wild wheat...showed that they key genetic mutation leading to crop domestication could be achieved in as little as twenty to thirty years, or at most 200 years, using simple harvesting techniques like reaping with flint sickles or uprooting by hand. (232)
...in certain parts of the region such as northern Syria, the cultivation of wild cereals dates back to at least 10,000 BC. Yet in these same regions, the biological process of crop domestication was not completed until closer to 7000 BC—that is roughly ten times as long as it need have taken—if, that is, humans had really stumbled blindly into the whole process, following the trajectory dictated by changes in their crops. (234)
This three thousand year period means that agriculture and farming can not in any sense be considered a "revolution" (which is also the view of most modern scholars). For perspective, they inform us that this is the same amount of time that separates us from the Trojan War. Yet this extremely long epoch is typically ignored or glossed over in most accounts of the origin of farming and domestication:"We need to understand this 3,000 period as an important phase of human history in its own right. It's a phase marked by foragers moving in an out of cultivation...but in no way enslaving themselves to the needs of their crops or herds."
Nor, they say, was this leisurely time frame confined to Western Asia. We now know that, rather than spreading out from a few key locations, there were multiple independent centers of domestication all over the world. Archaeologists have identified at least twenty of them so far, with each of these centers following its own unique trajectory. We currently know much less about those places than we do about the Fertile Crescent, yet all of the available evidence indicates that the beginnings of agriculture looks similarly leisurely and decidedly “un-revolutionary” in all of them:
In Mexico, domestic forms of squash and maize existed by 7000 BC. Yet these crops became staple foods around 5000 years later. Similarly, in the Eastern Woodlands of North America local seed crops were cultivated by 3000 BC, but there was no 'serious farming' until around AD 1000. (271)...in the American Southwest, the overall trend for 500 years or so before Europeans arrived was the gradual abandonment of maize and beans, which people had been growing in some cases for thousands of years, and a return to a foraging way of life...By the time Spaniards arrived in the Southwest, the Pueblo societies which had once dominated the region were reduced to isolated pockets of farmers, entirely surrounded by hunter-gatherers. (254)
China follows a similar pattern. Millet-farming began on a small scale around 8000 BC, on the northern plains, as a seasonal compliment to foraging and dog-assisted hunting. It remained so for 3,000 years, until the introduction of cultivated millets into the basin of the Yellow River. Similarly, on the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze, fully domesticated rice strains only appear fifteen centuries after the first cultivation of wild rice in paddy fields. It might have even taken longer were it not for a snap of global cooling around 5000 BC, which depleted wild rice stands and nut harvests.
In both parts of China, long after their domestication, pigs still came second to wild boar and deer in terms of dietary significance. This was also the case in the woodland uplands of the Fertile Crescent...where human-pig relations long remained more a matter of flirtation than full domestication...Such 'flirtations' probably took the form of selective herd management with husbandry limited to females, allowing males to run wild.
...the truth is that Holocene developments in both hemispheres are starting to look increasingly similar, at least in terms of the overall pace of change. And in both cases, they look increasingly un-revolutionary. In the beginning, many of the world's farming societies...hovered at the threshold of agriculture while remaining wedded to the cultural values of hunting and foraging. (pp. 271-272; 570 n. 52)
These extremely long time spans from multiple regions around the world indicate that people weren't deliberately trying to domesticate their food sources, nor were they in any way "enslaved" to them. Thus, the evidence indicates that farming did not represent a fundamental shift in the lifestyle of Neolithic peoples, nor was it adopted out of necessity or desperation. Rather, these activities were supplementary practices to the normal, everyday activities of hunting and gathering which continued apace for many generations: "Early cultivators, it seems, were doing the minimum amount of subsistence work needed to stay in their given locations, which they occupied for reasons other than farming: hunting, foraging, fishing trading and more." (236)
One of the exemplars of this hybrid style of living was the town of Çatalhöyük situated on the Konya plain of southern Turkey, first settled around 7400 BC. When it was discovered in the 1960s, it presented something of an anomaly. Here was a place where large numbers of people lived in close contact subsisting primarily on domesticated food resources thousands of years before larger, more complex civilizations emerged. Yet there were no signs of either rulers or ritual specialists—palaces and temples were absent. Nor were there any notable signs of inequality between families or genders. Despite the vast majority of calories coming from domesticated plants and animals, hunting and gathering activities still dominated cultural and ritual life, with the skulls of wild animals displayed prominently on domestic altars. And women appear to have played an important role in cultural life based on the presence of enigmatic goddess figurines.
What does this mysterious place have to tell us about the first agriculturalists and their culture? Well take a look at that next time.
C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky in Labor in the Ancient World:
In mid-twentieth century the Neolithic began ca. 5,000 BC. It was believed that the population of Neolithic villages numbered only in the hundreds, occurring in a restricted geographical region, referred to as a "nuclear area," from which it diffused throughout the rest of the Old World. Neolithic villages were conceived as self-sufficient egalitarian communities.
Today the Neolithic Revolution begins ca. 10,000 BC. The populations of Neolithic villages number in the thousands, and the domestication of plants and animals occurs as independent processes in a number of regions throughout the Old World.
Most dramatically, Neolithic villages are neither self-sufficient nor egalitarian. By 7,500 BC there is a settlement heirarchy of large villages in excess of 10 hectares to ones of a hectare; a network of trade unites the communities in the exchange of desirable resources, i.e. obsidian, flint, limestone and shell, while some communities appear to be specialized with respect to ritual functions and the production of new materials, i.e. copper implements. (p. 38)
Even today in the southern Tigris/Euphrates region, Marsh Arabs still construct boats (mashoof) and buildings (mudhif) out of reeds and straw.
The English jurist Sir Henry Sumner Maine wrote in Lectures on Ancient Institutions, “We at length know something concerning the beginnings of the great institution of Property in Land. The collective ownership of the soil by groups of men either in fact united by blood-relationship, or believing or assuming that they are so united, is now entitled to take rank as an ascertained primitive phenomenon, once universally characterising those communities of mankind between whose civilisation and our own there is any distinct connection or analogy.”
And Friedrich Engels: “Two fundamental facts, that arose spontaneously, govern the primitive history of all, or of almost all, nations: the grouping of the people according to kindred, and common property in the soil.”
Greg Wadley & Brian Hayden, Pharmacological Influences on the Neolithic Transition (BioOne)
A prehistoric thirst for craft beer (Science Daily)
The Neolithic is no longer conceived as a "Revolution" of short duration representing a rapid transformation from hunter-gatherer to farmer. The Neolithic is its own long duree, a millennia long process of increasing population, social complexity, and technological innovation....there are even some archaeologists who refer to the Neolithic manifestation as characterized by "cities" with a distinctive "civilization." (p. 38)
Slightly off topic, but do you have any thoughts as to why the warmer regions of the world (Africa, South Asia, South America, etc.) did not develop agriculture before the Holocene? Presumably the cold of the ice age would have had less effect there.