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Development of Agriculture

Homo erectus first to leave Africa => Europe and Asia up to Java (2 mil. years ago).

Homo sapiens left Africa about 50,000 years ago. First to Europe/SW Asia – to Australia 40,000BCE, North America 12,000BCE. In the latter case, animals were not familiar with humans, were not afraid, they were exterminated. Hence few if any domestic animals in Australia and the Americas. Humans (Homo erectus) have been in Europe and Asia for a long time.

Earliest archeological findings of domesticated crops and animals (Local) ([GGS], p. 100)

  • Southwest Asia (Fertile Crescent: Today's Iraq, Syria, Israel and parts of Turkey and Iran) 8500 BC
  • China 7500 BC (There may be older Chinese sites that have not been found.)
  • New Guinea 7000 BC ???
  • Sahel (zone below Sahara) 5000 BC
  • Mesoamerica 3500 BC
  • Andes and Amazonia 3500 BC
  • Tropical West Africa 3000 BC
  • Eastern U.S. 2500 BC
  • Ethiopia ???

Local domestication following imports

  • Western Europe 6000-3500 BC
  • Indus Valley 7000 BC
  • Egypt 6000 BC

We shall use the term food production to denote agriculture and domesticated animals and the term foraging to denote hunting and gathering. Regions that started food production earlier they also developed ahead of those who started food production later or never did.

Why food production started at such diverse times in different regions?

This is a puzzling question and [GGS] devotes several chapters (6-10) to it. Suitability of land for farming does not appear to be a major factor. Clearly, it is a necessary condition, but it is by no means sufficient. For example, the Amerindians of California never went into food production. That had to wait for the European settlers. The main motivation for food production seems to have been that foraging became difficult. After all farming requires more labor than foraging and it does not appears as an attractive alternative, at least at first. Some scholars argue that the Fall from Eden described in the book of Genesis describes the transition from foraging into food production. The economist Esther Boserup has argued that humans turned to agriculture as an adaptation to the increased difficulty of foraging for food (Quoted in [ADT], p. 79.)

Food production arose gradually from foraging. After all there was no previous model for it. Thus the distinction between early food production and foraging is blurry [GGS, p. 106]. It was driven mainly by the exhaustion of foraged natural resources. For example, the decline of the population of wild gazelles in the Fertile Crescent contributed to animal domestication [GGS, p. 110]. In the same region climate change contributed to the spread of wild cereals and that led to crop domestication.

Food production is an auto-catalytic process [GGS, p. 111]. Increased population density encourages food production and that in turn result in higher population density.

Food production started in 8500 BCE and not earlier because only then foraging became hard.

Once a society adopted food production it started developing much faster than foraging societies. Eventually food producers replaced foragers except in isolated regions. Foragers either went into food production or were replaced by food producers.

Foragers tend to be nomadic (though not always). Thus the concept of country (as opposed to ethnic group) is associated with food producers.

Not only food production started at different times, it also developed at different rates.

Advantage of the Fertile Crescent [GGS, p. 136]. Mild, wet winters and long, hot, dry summers. Plants adapt to that climate. They are annuals producing a lot of seeds that can survive a long dry season. This makes them attractive to domestication. They also happened to be self-pullinated plants ("selfers"). Other zones with similar climate are smaller and with less internal variability. [GGS] argues that the Fertile Crescent just offered more opportunities for food production. Similar arguments are made for domesticating animals, some areas had wild animals more suited to domestication than others.

Orientation of continents also plays a role. The Americas and Africa are large in the N/S direction while Eurasis is large in the E/W direction. The latter has large areas with similar climate so that food production can spread easily form region to region.

According to [GGS] Geography implies destiny!