the dawn of agriculture

Humans developed agriculture shortly after the last ice age ended.

I don’t understand why the timing works out that way. The places where farming first started hadn’t been under the glaicers. The local climates of Egypt, Iraq, and Central America were probably a lot more pleasant when the weather was cooler.

Homo sapiens has roamed the earth for some 30,000 years. The glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago. So why didn’t someone in the Fertile Crescent start planting grain 18,000 years sooner?

This is a total WAG, but my guess is that the harsh conditions of the Ice Age caused Homo Sapiens to become a much more social animal. Prior to the Ice Age, hunter/gatherer groups of the size of an extended family would be sufficient for survival. Harsher Ice Age conditions may have required more cooperation among larger groups for survival. Once the social aspect was established, the conditions for the development of agriculture were present; skill specialization, the barter system and property ownership.

Thanks for responding!

You inspired me to do a little checking. The US Geological Survey makes a document about the ice age available online.

The ice age lasted over a million years and, at least in North America, reached its greatest extent 20,000 years ago.

What I wonder is, since the Nile valley was never a tundra, why should climactic conditions hundreds of miles to the north have mattered? Life in Texas doesn’t halt if the folks in Manitoba are freezing.

Here is an interesting theory:

Is the dawn of agriculture due to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide?

As I recall, the two big differences in climate between the present interglacial and an ‘Ice Age’ are, one, lower temperatures (duh), and two, much greater year-to-year variability in temperature and rainfall.

So any proto-farmers during an Ice Age would, for example, have a reasonable crop one year, but then lose the next year’s crops due to frosts, and the following year’s crops due to drought.

In short, farming would not be a safe method of food production, nor would techniques that worked one year, still work the next year.

It is interesting that we do find evidence of proto-agriculture, as well as ceramic pottery, and other Neolithic-type evidence, during the centuries-long interstadials within the last Ice Age, but this evidence vanishes as soon as the climate reverts back to Ice Age conditions.

Must be in some anthropology texts somewhere,gang, but meanwhile, WAG:

May have less to do with the OP’s thoughts about the relative difficulty of farming during the ice age, as it would with the relative difficulty of hunting outside the ice age. Compare hunting - even today - in, say Alaska vrs. Mexico. The colder clime may not support a great variety of species, but it does support large numbers of large fauna, and migratory birds.

At the end of a given ice age period, it may have been more difficult to hunt large game successfully, while migratory birds would have had less and smaller areas of water to go to - encouraging concentrations of population. This may well have occured contemporaneously with the need, and creation, of technologies to manage water, the incentive to increase edible flora within a given area…

Might be something in Jared Diamond’s book, come to think of it.

The La Brea tar pits (as redundant a name as I’ve ever heard) offer a fair glimpse of southern California late in the last ice age.

The climate was a few degrees cooler but still mild. Mammoths, mastodons, camels, horses, bison, and other large animals abounded.

That might play a factor in the beginnings of agriculture. It’s hard enough to run a garden when the local deer visit your backyard. A few mastodons would defeat the whole project.

On the other hand, most of these species disappeared within 2000 years of homo sapiens’ arrival in the western hemisphere. Some experts say that’s no coincidence. Even with stone age technology people could hunt to extinction. Which gets me to wondering why they didn’t start the project sooner in the eastern hemisphere…and why they still have camels and elephants.

That sound you hear is me scratching my head.
I like the idea of climate variation. Maybe someone who knows more about geology than I do can say whether the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers couldn’t have supported agriculture without consistent rainfall at their sources.

There is evidence from Spirit Cave in Thailand that the earliest agriculture may have been there in Southeast Asia rather than in the Middle East. It dates back to possibly as early as 13000 BP.

Thanks Jomo. I also hope no one’s bothered that I didn’t mention India.

It’s intriguing how these places are all among the warmest on earth.