Day By Day

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Origins of Agriculture

The Jerusalem Post reports some interesting findings from the Jordan Valley regarding the early development of agriculture in the area. Usually the process has been presented as unidirectional, proceeding from a single source through through the gradual accumulation of more and more crops. The new finds, however, present a much more plausible scenario.

It now appears that domestication of plants took place in a number of places widely separated by distance and time, and that the process was not unidirectional. Some crops, like rye and oats, appear to have been successfully cultivated in some places and then abandoned, to be recultivated elsewhere at other times.

Until now, the general assumption has been that agriculture was begun by a single line of human efforts in one specific area. But the BIU researchers found a much more complicated effort undertaken by different human populations in different regions, drawing a completely new picture of the origins of agriculture.

Agriculture, the BIU researchers suggest, originated through human manipulations of wild plants - sometimes involving the same species - that took place in various spatially and temporally distinct communities. Moreover, some of these occasions were found to be much earlier than previously thought possible....

According to the researchers, it was not a particular individual or community who changed the way we live our lives today, but rather many human groups scattered throughout the world who manipulated several different local wild plants. Some of these groups failed in their attempts and some succeeded. Some plants were domesticated and some were abandoned.

Moreover, some of the plants abandoned during the Neolithic Period were later domesticated in other parts of the world.

Read it here.

Multiple origins, mixed successes and failures, gains and retreats -- as I said, a much more plausible scenario than a simplistic model of continuous and irresistable human achievement usually presented.

Can we finally bury the concept of a "neolithic revolution" once and for all?

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