I saw a site the other day claiming that hunting and gathering was “more efficient” than agriculture. This caused by BS detector to ring , until I considered the different possible meanings of “efficient.”
Obviously, agriculture is more efficient than hunting and gathering as a use of land, in terms of calories per acre, by orders of magnitude. On the other hand, hunting and gathering could at least theoretically be a more efficient use of labor, in terms of calories per man-hour, than early agriculture. I mean, a farmer has to invest months and months of hard, sweaty effort to produce a harvest, while hunter-gatherers can just pick up ready-made food every day, so long as they have an unlimited amount of land to move into once they’ve exhausted the local pickings.
I would think modern agriculture has to be more efficient even as a use of labor than hunting and gathering, given that one farmer can supply something like two hundred people, and surely one hunter-gatherer couldn’t supply two hundred of her tribe. But that’s because our modern farming machinery does the work of literally dozens of people, so if we measure “efficiency” in terms of calories invested (in gasoline and oil and fertilizer production and whatnot plus the human effort) per calorie returned, it would at least be conceivable that hunting and gathering could be a more efficient use of energy, and would have been a more efficient use of labor back when almost all the energy for farming came from the labor of humans and animals.
Anyway, if it is true, or once was true, that hunting and gathering was a more efficient use of labor than farming was, is it likely that the first adoption of full-time agriculture in human history was a result of growing human population and shortage of hunting-gathering land? As hunters and gatherers started stripping the land bare and running into other lands that had been stripped bare by other hunter-gatherers, it suddenly became more important to economize on land than to economize on labor?
(Of course, this hypothetical assumes that people passed from hunting and gathering directly to agriculture, without passing through an intermediate herding/pastoral stage, which probably many of them did).