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Old 05-28-2017, 10:34 PM
Machinaforce Machinaforce is offline
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Why did humans start farming?

I heard that initially hunting and gathering expended less energy, which makes me wonder why people would pick up farming if the alternative was less energy consuming?

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/...e-to-own-stuff
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Old 05-28-2017, 10:56 PM
Velocity Velocity is online now
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1) You can get far more crops and food by farming than by gathering/scavenging/hunting.

2) It gives a certain schedule and reliability to your food supply - you plant seeds, you reap harvests, you know how to schedule your eating around. Whereas with scavenging or hunting, there is no guarantee of a reliable food supply, or even food at all.

3) Your wheat field, pigs, chickens and other stuff is right outside your door (if you're a farmer.) A hunter or gatherer might have to go long distances.
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Old 05-28-2017, 11:02 PM
Velocity Velocity is online now
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To elaborate further on 1#, when a population gets to a certain size, farming is the only practical way to generate a food supply to feed all those mouths.

Take the USA's population (roughly 300 million) or China's (1.3 billion,) for instance. There is no way that 300 million Americans or 1.3 billion Chinese people could feed themselves by scavenging or hunting. Not enough wild deer, wild strawberries, crayfish in the creek to go around.



Finally, farming allows you to get better-tasting food with more variety. You can't get chicken fettuccini by finding a few stalks of grain that grow in the wild for the pasta, or cows that roam about in the wilderness for milk, or wild chickens for the chicken meat. What about the wild garlic, the thyme, the oregano? A hunting/scavenging lifestyle means that most fancy or even moderately-complex food recipes are impossible. Where do you get your soy sauce, vinegar, butter, spinach, avocadoes?

If you are only hunting and scavenging, you would never taste food from other countries. No coconuts from Pacific islands, no mangoes from Vietnam, no oranges from Central America, no avocadoes from Argentina, etc.


Society's diet on a purely hunting/scavenging basis would be pretty awful.
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Old 05-28-2017, 11:18 PM
Machinaforce Machinaforce is offline
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
To elaborate further on 1#, when a population gets to a certain size, farming is the only practical way to generate a food supply to feed all those mouths.

Take the USA's population (roughly 300 million) or China's (1.3 billion,) for instance. There is no way that 300 million Americans or 1.3 billion Chinese people could feed themselves by scavenging or hunting. Not enough wild deer, wild strawberries, crayfish in the creek to go around.



Finally, farming allows you to get better-tasting food with more variety. You can't get chicken fettuccini by finding a few stalks of grain that grow in the wild for the pasta, or cows that roam about in the wilderness for milk, or wild chickens for the chicken meat. What about the wild garlic, the thyme, the oregano? A hunting/scavenging lifestyle means that most fancy or even moderately-complex food recipes are impossible. Where do you get your soy sauce, vinegar, butter, spinach, avocadoes?

If you are only hunting and scavenging, you would never taste food from other countries. No coconuts from Pacific islands, no mangoes from Vietnam, no oranges from Central America, no avocadoes from Argentina, etc.


Society's diet on a purely hunting/scavenging basis would be pretty awful.
Those last few sound more like luxuries than actual reasons.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Neolithic_Revolution

What about all these downsides though?
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:34 AM
naita naita is offline
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_Some_ people started farming. This allowed them to grow in numbers and dominate their habitat in such a way any remaining hunter/gatherers where overwhelmed. It also allows you to exploit areas that don't provide enough resources to be a long term place of hunter/gatherers.

Any of the drawbacks are swamped by the benefit of growing and expanding, and returning to hunting and gathering requires a very different set of knowledge and skills to allow you to survive.
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:53 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Because the night is dark and full of terrors, and winter is coming.

No, really. Hunting and gathering is fine in the spring, summer, autumn. Then comes winter, and unless you're a bear who can sleep it off, you need to have prepared for it extensively. You need heat (so, lotsa wood that you don't have to go gather in the freezing cold), and you need food because everything around you is dead and most of the animals are gone south, sleeping in caves or buried under the snow. And if you go looking for them you'll catch your death - quite literally. Also, because the days are shorter in winter, you can't hunt long distances any more as you have to find shelter or go back to the village sooner ; and you might also get stuck by the weather.
So you need a spring/summer/autumn activity that generates a surplus of food ; and food that keeps (which fresh fruit & berries isn't). Farming grain is the perfect answer to that problem.

Last edited by Kobal2; 05-29-2017 at 05:55 AM.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:02 AM
Doughbag Doughbag is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
To elaborate further on 1#, when a population gets to a certain size, farming is the only practical way to generate a food supply to feed all those mouths.

Take the USA's population (roughly 300 million) or China's (1.3 billion,) for instance. There is no way that 300 million Americans or 1.3 billion Chinese people could feed themselves by scavenging or hunting. Not enough wild deer, wild strawberries, crayfish in the creek to go around.



Finally, farming allows you to get better-tasting food with more variety. You can't get chicken fettuccini by finding a few stalks of grain that grow in the wild for the pasta, or cows that roam about in the wilderness for milk, or wild chickens for the chicken meat. What about the wild garlic, the thyme, the oregano? A hunting/scavenging lifestyle means that most fancy or even moderately-complex food recipes are impossible. Where do you get your soy sauce, vinegar, butter, spinach, avocadoes?

If you are only hunting and scavenging, you would never taste food from other countries. No coconuts from Pacific islands, no mangoes from Vietnam, no oranges from Central America, no avocadoes from Argentina, etc.


Society's diet on a purely hunting/scavenging basis would be pretty awful.
Farming lead to a grow in population - not the other way around.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:12 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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It's also interesting to note that, while winter has long been a source of utter dread for mankind (as evidenced by myths, legends and rituals - we don't celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, I mean the birth of baby Jesus, for nothing) the most difficult period in purely agrarian societies is... dammit, what's the English word for soudure, do you even have one ? Anyway, it's spring/early summer (late Feb to early May), when the reserves from last year start running short but the new harvest's not in yet.

But in that period, well, you *can* supplement your diet with gathering and hunting/fishing - and so even though lean years and famines around that time have been a very regular staple throughout recorded history, it hasn't become a central cultural or religious focus of doom and gloom like winter used to be - to the point that English might not even have a bloody word for it that I can find .
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:12 AM
Doughbag Doughbag is offline
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Originally Posted by Machinaforce View Post
I heard that initially hunting and gathering expended less energy, which makes me wonder why people would pick up farming if the alternative was less energy consuming?

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/...e-to-own-stuff
There are several reasons, one of them was constant hunger and chasing your next meal.
Also, if you liked a place, you had to move on again to find food again.

Once they figured out that you can purposely plant and grow food reliably in one place- it made life that much easier - you could actually own stuff and keep more than you could carry with you on your back, since cars and airplanes was not an option.

After you found a place, where you could grow this magic food out of the ground and had your base established you could gather some wood over the year for the cold times in the winter, which made them cold evenings much more comfortable.

With this more reliable form of food supply, your children had a better chance of survival.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:19 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Finally (and that's also something that's evident from early artwork), agriculture brings forth a notion of mastering one's own life and destiny, of controlling nature rather that being subject to its whims. And, yes, obviously you're still a part of nature and are subject to its whims since a late frost can ruin your entire year. But that's something to consider. Consider the art produced by the societies of the Fertile Crescent : their first potteries depict small man figures surrounded by huge beasts, floods etc... but flash forward a few thousand years and instead on pots and seals you'll see the towering figure of the god-king trampling over snakes and lions (and other men) - a bushel of wheat or sickle in one hand and the Law in the other.
It's a whole different mental paradigm, that might even have been self-realized/self-aware.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:31 AM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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Climate change (in the Levant. And Central Mexico. But probably not elsewhere) That and a ready beer supply.

Last edited by MrDibble; 05-29-2017 at 06:32 AM.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:49 AM
Grrr! Grrr! is online now
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Originally Posted by Machinaforce View Post
Those last few sound more like luxuries than actual reasons.
Luxuries is a perfectly valid reason to prefer farming over scavenging.

Last edited by Grrr!; 05-29-2017 at 06:50 AM.
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Old 05-29-2017, 07:50 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Also keep in mind - humans didn't "choose" agriculture. It would have been a gradual evolution... It didn't take rocket science to figure out the pits and spare grains and such sprouted if they got wet, and turned into new plants.

So then the gradual process - instead of creating a big heap of leftover garbage, spread the seeds and leftover rotten stuff around in the meadow - when we get back here next year, there will be a bumper crop compared to normal. Oops, if you don't get back in time, the wild pigs and birds eat it all - arrive a little early to tend the crop. I also saw birds eating the seeds - we should bury them; if we're by here in the spring, we can plant them so they aren't exposed all winter. Store them in sealed clay jars over winter. Dry this fall? Adding water keeps the crops growing bigger. Wow, we have a lot - too much to carry it all. We can put it in clay pots, but we'll have to stick around here until it's all used up. Eventually range becomes less and less and crops become more important until it makes sense to wait out the harvest in one place.

This has the added bonus of allowing permanent structures for shelter which can be built up and defended - important as the tribe down the river also becomes more numerous.

I would also point out - seasonal variations may be significant, but less scary during the evolution of farming, as most of it happened in locales like the middle east, Egypt, and south central China where winter was not the blizzard and frozen pond experience of north Europe.

Once the technique of farming was perfected - the farming peoples had the advantage of a larger food supply nearer at hand, and the technique to use wherever the soil and climate permitted. The same sort of scenario would play out as happened across the world until recently - the agricultural people would move into a new area, and the local people either learn the new technique or slowly lose more of their prime hunting lands to farmers. And if it came to a physical confrontation, they were outnumbered and war was expensive to a small group.

Also, another point I've seen is that in fact the agricultural diet was more limited in variety than the hunter-gatherer diet until the rise of larger civilizations and the luxury of extended trade routes. Before that, agriculturalists had all their eggs in one or two baskets, so to speak.

Last edited by md2000; 05-29-2017 at 07:51 AM.
  #14  
Old 05-29-2017, 08:13 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is online now
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Originally Posted by Doughbag View Post
Farming lead to a grow in population - not the other way around.
This must be the case. When hunter-gathers suddenly encounter a lack of food it's too late to start farming.

Some wild crop, maybe grain, must have been a sufficient food source to keep HGs coming back to the same location. There could be many generations of gathering those crops before any deliberate action was taken to increase the yield.
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Old 05-29-2017, 08:35 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
To elaborate further on 1#, when a population gets to a certain size, farming is the only practical way to generate a food supply to feed all those mouths.

Take the USA's population (roughly 300 million) or China's (1.3 billion,) for instance. There is no way that 300 million Americans or 1.3 billion Chinese people could feed themselves by scavenging or hunting. Not enough wild deer, wild strawberries, crayfish in the creek to go around.



Finally, farming allows you to get better-tasting food with more variety. You can't get chicken fettuccini by finding a few stalks of grain that grow in the wild for the pasta, or cows that roam about in the wilderness for milk, or wild chickens for the chicken meat. What about the wild garlic, the thyme, the oregano? A hunting/scavenging lifestyle means that most fancy or even moderately-complex food recipes are impossible. Where do you get your soy sauce, vinegar, butter, spinach, avocadoes?

If you are only hunting and scavenging, you would never taste food from other countries. No coconuts from Pacific islands, no mangoes from Vietnam, no oranges from Central America, no avocadoes from Argentina, etc.


Society's diet on a purely hunting/scavenging basis would be pretty awful.
All of those things happened long after farming was begun. None of them was the cause of farming. Others have, I think, answered the OP's question pretty well.
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Old 05-29-2017, 08:42 AM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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Some wild crop, maybe grain, must have been a sufficient food source to keep HGs coming back to the same location. There could be many generations of gathering those crops before any deliberate action was taken to increase the yield.
Wild grain, and gazelles.
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:00 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is online now
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The relationship between game and vegetation and farming could be very complex. Certainly for HGs the availability of both edible plants and game would be very attractive and keep people more centered in a particular location for a long time increasing the opportunities to make farming viable.
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:06 AM
igor frankensteen igor frankensteen is offline
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MD2000's post at position 13 is the closest to my response to this.

As an Historian, I have become aware (apparently more than most) that most explanations of human behavior come AFTER THE EVENTS THEMSELVES. In fact, the whole notion of coming up with a question like the one posed for this thread, is the result of people getting into the habit of explaining human events as being due to deciding things in advance, when a careful and unprejudiced study of the actual past, reveals that most of what has happened before was not premeditated at all.

I have my own personal theory as to how things came to be as they did, which this subject area hinges off of. My theory is based on noticing that the various "cradles of civilization" that we have come to recognize, the so-called fertile crescent in the ME, the Nile basin, the valleys of China and so on, all had the same basic set of things in common: great fertility, concentrated in a location surrounded by a wide expanse of barren territory. To my thinking, civilization was an accident, caused by humans stumbling into a hospitable environment, and being unable to easily migrate out of it again. Discovering animal husbandry and agriculture would have followed naturally, unless everyone killed each other off.

And remember too, how damnably long it took for humans to change from hunter-gatherer to "civilized." Had they been making a reasoned choice, they would have chosen much more quickly.

But most of all, I want to point out that most lists of why "agriculture is cool and hunter-gathering is not" are based on values assigned to each after the shift. After we were already stuck with the latter. This observation is informed as well, by a fairly recent new interpretation of some of the early myths, such as the many "out of Eden" kinds of stories. The idea there, is that transitioning to agriculture was not at all a smooth and peaceful event, and that many hunter-gatherers fought against it. We know that exactly that happened in the United States, during the transition from cattle ranching to a more inclusive economy.

Last edited by igor frankensteen; 05-29-2017 at 09:06 AM.
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:15 AM
TriPolar TriPolar is online now
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But most of all, I want to point out that most lists of why "agriculture is cool and hunter-gathering is not" are based on values assigned to each after the shift. After we were already stuck with the latter. This observation is informed as well, by a fairly recent new interpretation of some of the early myths, such as the many "out of Eden" kinds of stories. The idea there, is that transitioning to agriculture was not at all a smooth and peaceful event, and that many hunter-gatherers fought against it. We know that exactly that happened in the United States, during the transition from cattle ranching to a more inclusive economy.
I can see conflicts arriving when those who stayed in one place to farm encountered other HGs returning or happening upon the location for a quick meal and endangering the farmer's chances of surviving until the next season.
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:30 AM
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Protection from wolves ...
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:34 AM
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Here in the American Southwest agriculture existed within 'hunter gatherer' societies. During the Archaic (4000 to 12000 years ago) small groups lived sedentary lives around shallow lakes. Large prey like Mammoths were abundant in the marshy shorelines. Agricultural was an integral food source using native plants and products brought north from Mexico. As the late ice age climate continued to warm, the large prey animals died off and the economy slowly shifted toward agriculture.

The process did not involve a decision.

Crane
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:38 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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This question has an analogy in the transition from farming to city dwelling after the Industrial Revolution. People can quickly point out the horrors of cities, with their slums, the grinding toil in dangerous factories, the crime, the epidemic diseases and ask why millions left farms.

The answer is that people did so of their own free will because they looked at the two choices and decided that city life was the better of the two. They were already poor. They already lived in horrible conditions. They already worked most of the day. Their kids already died in infancy. They gained a steady source of income. They gained year round food supplies. They gained better housing. They gained a social and community strength from having others in similar conditions with them. They gained the possibility of rising in the world and having their children go to schools and get better jobs. For them a choice that seems to our superficial understanding of the situation a poor one was a rational calculation. Tens of millions of people made this choice and most of them stuck to it. Tens of millions of people waited a little longer until cities got even better and made the choice then. Farm population in western countries dropped from about 95% to about 3% in less than 200 years.

The same must have been true when hunter-gatherers turned to farming under the protection of city-states and then kings. It was a rational calculation to improve their lives. They knew the alternative very well - far better than the OP does.

It's true that both these world-changing decisions are irreversible. Once the population started climbing there was no going back to foraging for food; that would have led to mass starvation. Our technological civilization can't go back to subsistence farming; again, that would lead to mass starvation. The critical point is that at the times when these choices were between realistic alternatives those who were in a position to make them overwhelmingly chose one over the other.
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Old 05-29-2017, 09:38 AM
MichaelEmouse MichaelEmouse is offline
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Would semi-nomadic herding have preceded sedentary farming?

Herding has the advantage that it turns grass and plants inedible to humans into meat which has nearly everything they need. You get to keep moving around to graze lands and your food moves itself.

Nutritionally, is milk much different from meat? If they're similar, herding milk-producing livestock means you can feed low quality food that lies all over the ground to an animal and then get a near complete, meat-like diet without killing the animal.

Do we know if the first grain reserves were built to feed mainly humans or their livestock?
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Old 05-29-2017, 10:56 AM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Would semi-nomadic herding have preceded sedentary farming?

It's not a continuous curve going ever upwards towards "sedentary agriculture". It varies from place to place, culture to culture and environment to environment - it's not like sedentary peasants are somehow "more advanced" than their nomadic counterparts.
And you can be a semi-nomadic agriculturalist, too - Great Plains Indians were just that. In the warm months the villages would follow the bison herds, hunt 'em, eat 'em, make every single thing out of them and so on ; then when winter came they went back to the fields of maize and squash they'd planted before heading out and harvest them. They'd also dig silos to store whatever reserves they couldn't take on the hunt.

Quote:
Do we know if the first grain reserves were built to feed mainly humans or their livestock?
Not really. A silo's a silo, you know ? It's not like they left a paper trail to account for usage . That said, in Mesopotamia at least grain was stored in giant granaries slash temple at the heart of the cities, so one'd assume that was for people. Animals get the hay and straw anyway, don't they ?
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Old 05-29-2017, 11:18 AM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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Originally Posted by igor frankensteen View Post
I have my own personal theory as to how things came to be as they did, which this subject area hinges off of. My theory is based on noticing that the various "cradles of civilization" that we have come to recognize, the so-called fertile crescent in the ME, the Nile basin, the valleys of China and so on, all had the same basic set of things in common: great fertility, concentrated in a location surrounded by a wide expanse of barren territory.
That's not a valid generalization. For one thing, you're overlooking the agricultural societies outside of Eurasia and Egypt. There were of course major agricultural centers in Mesoamerica and the Andes. One of the earliest centers of crop domestication was New Guinea. Many crops were also domesticated in the Amazon basin in South America.

The interesting thing to me is that crop domestication seems to have begun almost simultaneously between 11,000 and 9,000 in widely scattered parts of the world in quite different climates, just after the end of the Pleistocene at the end of the Ice Ages. Humans seem to have started to domesticate crops as soon as the climate stabilized enough to make conditions somewhat predictable in particular areas.
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Old 05-29-2017, 11:21 AM
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I can see conflicts arriving when those who stayed in one place to farm encountered other HGs returning or happening upon the location for a quick meal and endangering the farmer's chances of surviving until the next season.
Daniel Quinn would point to the story of Cain and Abel as an example of our species' cultural memory of such conflict. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Quinn
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Old 05-29-2017, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Machinaforce View Post
I heard that initially hunting and gathering expended less energy, which makes me wonder why people would pick up farming if the alternative was less energy consuming?

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/...e-to-own-stuff
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Originally Posted by MrDibble View Post
Climate change (in the Levant. And Central Mexico. But probably not elsewhere) That and a ready beer supply.
In case anyone thinks that that last bit is not serious, here is a bit more of an in depth analysis of the beer hypothesis. It is not a joke.

Beer and feasts went together. And feasts, with alcohol, served symbiotic religious and political functions. Beer helped make alliances and fostered trade.

But the phrasing of "why" invites one to imagine conscious choices; the reality is that some did and the issue is more "how" the farming model outcompeted the hunter-gatherer one. Once the idea was adopted groups that farmed out reproduced and out-survived those that more exclusively practiced hunter-gatherer lifestyles who either mostly died off or switched to a similar agricultural model themselves.

As the op's cite points out, first but not least, an agricultural model was much more conducive to have more children and having more of them survive to reproduction age themselves than was the HG lifestyle.

It also sparked new tool-making skills to make hoes and such (including several thousand years in, the wheel) ... skills that could then also be applied to creating new weapons to defend the crops, deter attempts to steal, and possibly take others' crops and other goods. Those with feast facilitated politico-religious alliances were able to be the bigger and baddest at applying those skills and new tools as well. Violence between groups certainly occurred before agriculture but agriculture raised the stakes and began the offensive-defensive-deterrent arms races we still see today. And alcohol was no doubt served at peace talks.


More than Cain-Abel, the Jacob-Esau myth might even more have its origins in symbolic reflection of then not too distant past history conflicts between the models, with the more conniving Jacob the farmer prevailing and giving rise to a nation-state. Esau sold his birthright for some bread and lentil stew when he was hungry, and of note, alcohol was part of how Jacob tricked Issac!
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Old 05-29-2017, 12:46 PM
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An archeologist friend told me that relatively few hunter gatherers chose to become farmers. Instead, farmers, with their higher population density, greater organization, and growing population just took more land from the hunter gatherers with every generation, often via war, and eventually hunter gatherers only existed in odd corners of the world.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:04 PM
igor frankensteen igor frankensteen is offline
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
I can see conflicts arriving when those who stayed in one place to farm encountered other HGs returning or happening upon the location for a quick meal and endangering the farmer's chances of surviving until the next season.
All part of why it took a VERY long time for the shift.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:16 PM
igor frankensteen igor frankensteen is offline
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That's not a valid generalization. For one thing, you're overlooking the agricultural societies outside of Eurasia and Egypt. There were of course major agricultural centers in Mesoamerica and the Andes. One of the earliest centers of crop domestication was New Guinea. Many crops were also domesticated in the Amazon basin in South America.

The interesting thing to me is that crop domestication seems to have begun almost simultaneously between 11,000 and 9,000 in widely scattered parts of the world in quite different climates, just after the end of the Pleistocene at the end of the Ice Ages. Humans seem to have started to domesticate crops as soon as the climate stabilized enough to make conditions somewhat predictable in particular areas.
What I'm trying to get at is that just as humans evolved as creatures physically, they also evolved as societies, and for the same reasons. People react to pressures by trying to adapt, one way and another. I'm not suggesting at all, that the ONLY way a group of humans switches from hunter gatherer to agriculture is because there's a desert all around the fertile valley they stumbled into. Only that in general, such environmental conditions directly contributed to WHERE such developments took place. Wide flat grass covered plains aren't nearly as conducive to organizing a defensible permanent settlement as valleys are. And islands do fit the concept every bit as well as valleys do.

Humans cooperating obviously predated the advent of what we refer to as civilization, it was and is necessary for hunter-gatherer tribes, every bit as much as it is for agriculture.

But mainly, I'm just staying with the idea that people didn't intellectually DECIDE to switch from free-roaming tribes to land-holding groups. They didn't conduct a formal study by all the brightest and most imaginative hunters and come up with "lets stick food in the ground on purpose and then hang around and wait, and then invent a name for it." They also didn't DECIDE to switch from primarily agriculture based lives, to industry based lives either. That evolved as well, and did so every bit as crudely and painfully as the shift to agriculture and semi-stable city life did.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:16 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Yuval Harari in his fascinating, and sometimes counterintuitive, pop anthropology book Sapiens has an interesting chapter on the beginning of agriculture. He makes a good case that hunter-gatherers actually ate better than early farmers, but that that mode of food "production" could not sustain as many people - not by a long shot.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:19 PM
blindboyard blindboyard is offline
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Originally Posted by MichaelEmouse View Post
Would semi-nomadic herding have preceded sedentary farming?

Herding has the advantage that it turns grass and plants inedible to humans into meat which has nearly everything they need. You get to keep moving around to graze lands and your food moves itself.

Nutritionally, is milk much different from meat? If they're similar, herding milk-producing livestock means you can feed low quality food that lies all over the ground to an animal and then get a near complete, meat-like diet without killing the animal.

Do we know if the first grain reserves were built to feed mainly humans or their livestock?
Pastoralism was a later development than agriculture.

Animal domestication is just as alengthy a process as plant domestication and the first domesticated animals were dogs, used for hunting other animals.

Early humans weren't nomadic, they tended to stick in one place. No animals to carry things for them, relying on intimate knowledge of sources of food and clean water, they found somewhere good and stayed there. The seaside was very popular, lots of shell fish and similar food sources.

In some parts of the world there were plants and animals that lent themselves to change through selection by humans, so they ended up with humans planting patches of fruitful crops, and eventually selecting for certain characteristics and bringing animals into the fold.

Some people then became nomads after they came into possession of animals capable of carrying burdens and carrying or dragging humans.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:23 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Early humans weren't nomadic, they tended to stick in one place.
Once out of Africa, humans spread across Asia (and later Europe) like wildfire. You don't do that by sticking to one place.
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Old 05-29-2017, 02:01 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Once out of Africa, humans spread across Asia (and later Europe) like wildfire. You don't do that by sticking to one place.
Populations expanding the boundaries of their area while establishing permanent farming communities is not how nomadism is defined.
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Old 05-29-2017, 02:04 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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That's not a valid generalization. For one thing, you're overlooking the agricultural societies outside of Eurasia and Egypt. There were of course major agricultural centers in Mesoamerica and the Andes. One of the earliest centers of crop domestication was New Guinea. Many crops were also domesticated in the Amazon basin in South America.

The interesting thing to me is that crop domestication seems to have begun almost simultaneously between 11,000 and 9,000 in widely scattered parts of the world in quite different climates, just after the end of the Pleistocene at the end of the Ice Ages. Humans seem to have started to domesticate crops as soon as the climate stabilized enough to make conditions somewhat predictable in particular areas.
This detail fascinates me also. For say, 60,000 years, from the last population bottleneck until about 12,000 years ago, everyone seems to have hunted and gathered. then within about 5,000 years, several societies at once seem to have evolved to agriculture. Plus, the population in the Americas, who had been isolated from the rest for about 25,000 years and definitely isolated for the last 12,000 or so, also began raising crops within about 5000 years too. It can't all be climate - the Ice Age just means the prime agricultural areas should have been a few thousand miles further south. IIRC, the Sahara would have been grass plains, for example.

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Originally Posted by blindboyard View Post
Pastoralism was a later development than agriculture.

Animal domestication is just as lengthy a process as plant domestication and the first domesticated animals were dogs, used for hunting other animals.

Early humans weren't nomadic, they tended to stick in one place. No animals to carry things for them, relying on intimate knowledge of sources of food and clean water, they found somewhere good and stayed there. The seaside was very popular, lots of shell fish and similar food sources.

In some parts of the world there were plants and animals that lent themselves to change through selection by humans, so they ended up with humans planting patches of fruitful crops, and eventually selecting for certain characteristics and bringing animals into the fold.

Some people then became nomads after they came into possession of animals capable of carrying burdens and carrying or dragging humans.
I assume this also - to domesticate food animals efficiently, especially the large ones, and especially in significant numbers you would want fences and corrals. Domestication was a progressive process of culling the uppity animals and breeding the tranquil ones, plus selecting for most productive food production. that's not something hunter tribal groups of 20 or 30 can do on their own. But once the farmers had corralled and bred a bunch of goats or ox, I'm sure some guy visiting from the outback said "I want some of those..." and it was ideal for the grazing land that they roamed; breeding food was easier than trying to find new food all the time.

Dogs (and cats) were a special case, animals that hung around - dogs scavenged off the garbage piles, and the less skittish eventually found that hanging around with humans resulted in a good meal; as cats found that hanging around the farm granaries meant they got a convenient diet of mice.

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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
Once out of Africa, humans spread across Asia (and later Europe) like wildfire. You don't do that by sticking to one place.
Consider the spread through the Americas. 13,000 miles from one end to the other. To do that distance in, say, 1,000 years, groups would have to travel 13 miles a year. Hardly a break-neck speed. They probably went that far in one hunting trip.

I would see two factors at work - as soon as the tribe hit a pocket of very fertile, very lush landscape, they would spread very quickly to cover the entire territory and keep going. Plus, within a generation or two they would exceed the carrying capacity of the land and head out in search of newer pastures... literally.

(For a description of the wildlife to be found in a relatively untamed land, read Farley Mowat's "Sea of Slaughter" if you can find it - and keep in mind, this describes the St. Lawrence valley and gulf, and much of the rest North America, after centuries or more of fairly intense agricultural settlement, just no firearms. Or read about the size of the buffalo herds in the great plains - where it could take days for the entire herd to go past observers.)
  #36  
Old 05-29-2017, 02:09 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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An archeologist friend told me that relatively few hunter gatherers chose to become farmers. Instead, farmers, with their higher population density, greater organization, and growing population just took more land from the hunter gatherers with every generation, often via war, and eventually hunter gatherers only existed in odd corners of the world.
It's been the subject of debate for a long time but fairly recent research shows that in fact quite a diverse few group of HGs chose to become farmers all around the same time.
Quote:
According to three teams who used new techniques to gain glimpses of the nuclear DNA of the world’s very first farmers, farming was adopted not by one group of people, but by genetically distinct groups scattered across the region. “It was not one early population that sowed the seeds of farming in western Asia, but several adjacent populations that all had the good fortune to live in the zone where potential plant and animal domesticates were to be found and exploited,” ...

... The earliest archaeological evidence for cultivating plants and herding animals dates back 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, which arcs from the Persian Gulf to Turkey and south to Egypt (see map, above). Excavations at Jericho in Jordan, Jarmo in Iraq, and Çatalhöyük in Turkey, for example, have found evidence of early grain farming and sheep and goat domestication in different areas at roughly the same time.

Geneticists have been trying to track whether one group of people—or just their ideas—spread farming early on. ...

... The descendants of these early farmers went separate ways. Whereas the western Anatolians later migrated to Europe, Reich’s team proposes that the ancient farmers of the Levant migrated to East Africa, where living people carry some of their distinct DNA, and the Zagros Mountain farmers spread north into the Eurasian steppe and east into South Asia.

Did these early people learn farming from each other, or was it invented more than once? Here, opinion differs. Archaeologists have noted that early farmers in different regions used different tools and grains, supporting the idea of multiple origins, says archaeologist Roger Matthews of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. “The genetic and archaeological evidence suggest at least two separate pathways to agriculture, at distant ends of the Fertile Crescent, eventually merging into a unified package that then spreads outwards,” he says.

But these groups traded obsidian, suggesting to Renfrew and Harvard archaeo
logist Ofer Bar-Yosef that seeds and farming knowledge could have been shared, too. Because new kinds of food preparation tools turn up first in the Levant, Bar-Yosef thinks farming sprouted here: “Zagros foothills people adopted agriculture from the Levant.”

Burger suggests that farming was such an advantage that it spread both as an idea and by migration of people. “Initially, agri
culture was an idea that spread,” he proposes. “Then, when it reaches the borders of Europe, it becomes people spreading farming. We have an extremely complex agricultural revolution that was created by people who were extremely diverse.”
  #37  
Old 05-29-2017, 02:37 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Consider the spread through the Americas. 13,000 miles from one end to the other. To do that distance in, say, 1,000 years, groups would have to travel 13 miles a year. Hardly a break-neck speed. They probably went that far in one hunting trip.
Are you agreeing or disagreeing with me? You sound like you're disagreeing, but traveling 13 miles a year is not "sticking in one place". Sticking in one place is sticking in one place.

Quote:
I would see two factors at work - as soon as the tribe hit a pocket of very fertile, very lush landscape, they would spread very quickly to cover the entire territory and keep going. Plus, within a generation or two they would exceed the carrying capacity of the land and head out in search of newer pastures... literally.
I'm not seeing your point. Is there some research or published papers somewhere with evidence to support that hypothesis? Is this something you are quoting from an anthropology journal or textbook?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Populations expanding the boundaries of their area while establishing permanent farming communities is not how nomadism is defined.
Just FYI, I purposely didn't say they were nomads. I said they didn't stick in one place once out of Africa. We really don't know much about how humans lived pre-agriculture since the fossil record is so scarce. It's quite possible that we lived various different lifestyles depending on the environment we found ourselves in. Our species is nothing if not adaptable.

Last edited by John Mace; 05-29-2017 at 02:40 PM.
  #38  
Old 05-29-2017, 03:15 PM
Dallas Jones Dallas Jones is offline
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Why did humans start farming?

Poop and Garbage.

They discovered volunteer plants growing in their refuse piles and started to help them along. They could have the berries they picked last summer, 10 miles away, growing right at their base camp without having to go 10 miles again. They set up their base camp, or village in places that would allow them to winter over. Water, some game, maybe a fish run. And there were also technological reasons to just sit the winter out. This was the time when new baskets, leather goods, weapons like spears and arrows will be replenished for the coming spring. And of course this time allowed for the passage of information between the older and younger members of the tribal group, and for trading with nearby tribal groups, and the artwork associated with their mythology. The cedar plank long houses of the Pacific NW first nations is a good example of this.

It was covered in 'Guns, Germs and Steel' by Jared Diamond. A generally informative book that placed a little too much emphasis on his experiences in the South Pacific, but still a good read.

"Poop and Garbage" would probably not have sold as many copies.

And once some wet old grain became beer, Brew Pubs were born, and are still prolific to this very day.
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Old 05-29-2017, 03:15 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I suggested a reason in my story Putting Down Roots, which isn't entirely tongue in cheek.

http://bestsf.net/analog-october-2013/
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Old 05-29-2017, 03:38 PM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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Here in the American Southwest agriculture existed within 'hunter gatherer' societies. During the Archaic (4000 to 12000 years ago) small groups lived sedentary lives around shallow lakes. Large prey like Mammoths were abundant in the marshy shorelines. Agricultural was an integral food source using native plants and products brought north from Mexico. As the late ice age climate continued to warm, the large prey animals died off and the economy slowly shifted toward agriculture.

The process did not involve a decision.

Crane
I think you have the times out of wack - mastodons and mammoths were extinct by the Archaic (which is more like 8500-1800 years ago). And agriculture - it wasn't at the same time as mammoths, it's only from 2500 BCE onwards. There's a lot of time between those two subsistence lifeways.
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Old 05-29-2017, 04:45 PM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is offline
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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
...
the most difficult period in purely agrarian societies is... dammit, what's the English word for soudure, do you even have one ? Anyway, it's spring/early summer (late Feb to early May), when the reserves from last year start running short but the new harvest's not in yet.

But in that period, well, you *can* supplement your diet with gathering and hunting/fishing - and so even though lean years and famines around that time have been a very regular staple throughout recorded history, it hasn't become a central cultural or religious focus of doom and gloom like winter used to be - to the point that English might not even have a bloody word for it that I can find .
IANA expert, but as a native English speaker with a pretty hefty vocabulary I've never heard of a single word for that concept. So you shouldn't feel frustrated to not find it.

We certainly have aphorisms like "It's always darkest before the dawn" which connote a similar idea: there's a point of low ebb in any cycle and even the early phases of the upswing still resemble more of what was than what will be.

But I know of no word for that idea or for the time period before first harvest when supplies would be critically low.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 05-29-2017 at 04:46 PM.
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:09 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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I found "lean period" and a few similar phrases, but that's not quite as specific, yeah.
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:12 PM
Velocity Velocity is online now
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Those last few sound more like luxuries than actual reasons.
I don't think you understand the difference between a reason and a good reason. Something does not have to be a good reason to be a reason.

Farming does provide higher-quality, tastier food than scavenging or hunting. The fact that you lecture/dismiss that as "luxury" doesn't change the fact that it is an actual, real, motive and reason to farm rather than scavenge.


And I'd bet dollars to nickels that you yourself routinely eat food that can be considered "luxurious" by your own criteria - farmed food, imported food, etc.
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:19 PM
MichaelEmouse MichaelEmouse is offline
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Hungry gap (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungry_gap) Look at the lower left corner, the Français link takes you to "soudure" (which I've only ever associated with welding, sti)

It's the gap in which you're hungry so English calls it the hungry gap. There!


Darkest before dawn: We also find this in terms of temperature, both within a day and within a year. The coldest days of the year are not usually the days with the shortest days (in December) but rather in January and February. In the same way, we intuitively expect noon to be the hottest part of the day but the warmest part of the day is usually in the mid-afternoon. We expect midnight to be the coldest but the coldest to be around sunrise.

Our minds tend to confuse rates of change with stored amounts. I.e.: We expect that since noon is the time the sun transmits the most energy, it should be the hottest but we don't intuitively take into account that heat builds up through the afternoon and 3PM may be hotter than noon even if the sun transmits less energy at 3PM than at noon. The same thing happens with January and February being coldest even if their days are longer than in December. Or land fertility and stored food.

It all comes down to rates of energy transfer and stores of energy.

Last edited by MichaelEmouse; 05-29-2017 at 05:20 PM.
  #45  
Old 05-29-2017, 05:27 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
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. . . And I'd bet dollars to nickels that you yourself routinely eat food that can be considered "luxurious" by your own criteria - farmed food, imported food, etc.
How is this relevant? Who gives a wet damn what we, ourselves, do, when we're talking about primitive societies in the late stone age? I'll bet you brush your teeth, too, but did they?

(Actually, half-way serious question: what was the origin and distribution of the habit of teeth-cleaning?)
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:32 PM
DSeid DSeid is online now
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I think you have the times out of wack - mastodons and mammoths were extinct by the Archaic (which is more like 8500-1800 years ago). And agriculture - it wasn't at the same time as mammoths, it's only from 2500 BCE onwards. There's a lot of time between those two subsistence lifeways.
Just to clarify, that 2500 BCE is if anything early for maize in North America (was about 9000 years ago, 7000 B.C.E, in Mexico) but other crops, such as squash and sunflower, were domesticated in North America earlier.

And while Crane may be off about the decline of large animal prey as a potential factor accelerating towards more farming (that prey already being long gone) the basic concept is possibly true - fresh water mussel populations declined significantly around the time that maize production took off. Directionality is the question. Did agricultural practices cause the decline or did declines due to climate change increase the reliance on agricultural practices?
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Old 05-29-2017, 05:40 PM
Kobal2 Kobal2 is offline
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Well, there you go, ignorance fought, my thanks !

(and yeah, soudure in that sense is a relatively obscure, technical term - it is indeed derived from welding. Where y'all see a gap, we see a junction )
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:01 PM
Banksiaman Banksiaman is offline
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Many cultures we'd call hunter-gatherers spend a lot of their time actively husbanding [?spousing] plant and animal resources in ways that are no different to farming. The perception that unless you are putting seed down in long rows you ain't a farmer is bound up with all sorts of Darwinian notions of cultural evolution that tell us more about 19th century values than about what really took place.

From 10,000+ years ago emerging environmental stability, established sustained management of plants or animals become preconditions to further intensification. Cereals have seeds that can be readily transferred, while some resources [eels, yams] can only be enhanced but not readily replanted. They seem to be the ones that make the transition to what we'd call farming.

Intensification involves more growing and hopefully bigger surpluses, but it is social changes that allow surpluses to be distributed in a way that usually create a more hierarchical society that allows surpluses that provide greater power to some and so on.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:15 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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I don't think you understand the difference between a reason and a good reason. Something does not have to be a good reason to be a reason.
You are conflating a cause with a consequence. Those things were not what caused humans to start farming-- they are consequences that occurred long after farming had begun.

Quote:
Farming does provide higher-quality, tastier food than scavenging or hunting. The fact that you lecture/dismiss that as "luxury" doesn't change the fact that it is an actual, real, motive and reason to farm rather than scavenge.
Not necessarily. Farming usually provides higher quantities of food, but farming societies can end up with poorer nutrition due to over-emphasis on stable crops like wheat or rice. "Taste" is subjective, so let's just throw that one out on that basis alone. Farming took off because it turned out to be a more reliable means of providing food for larger populations. We don't have any evidence that it did so because mush tasted better than venison and berries.
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Old 05-29-2017, 07:00 PM
Machinaforce Machinaforce is offline
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Interesting responses, but what about Jared Diamond arguing that agriculture was the greatest mistake of mankind.
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