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Origins of Agriculture

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2 Origins of Agriculture
Roots of civilization

3 Transition from systematic harvesting of wild plants to cultivation
Transition from systematic harvesting of wild plants to cultivation. Chapter 5 in text. See also pdf readings Evidence from multiple sources: palynology, zooarchaeology, environmental archaeology, paleobotany, farming technology, food storage practices, stable isotope analysis…


5 Hypotheses to Explain Agriculture
Big question: after 2 million years of human development, why the change in dietary habits? When and exactly where agriculture took root is still being worked out, but it appears first archaeologically in the Anatolian plateau.

6 The fertile crescent

7 Key questions for these hypotheses
Did population increases occur before or after agriculture? What brought about population increases? What conditions had to exist? Which plants were domesticated first? How can we test these conjectures? When did this occur?

8 Oasis hypothesis Natural habitat hypothesis Population pressures Edge hypothesis Social Hypothesis

9 Oasis Hypothesis Domestication begins as a symbiotic relationship between humans, plants, and animals at oases. Linked to fertile river valley hypothesis V. Gordon Childe the major proponent of the hypothesis.

10 Natural habitat Hypothesis
Earliest domesticated plants found in the areas of wild ancestors. Humans inhabit zones rich in certain easily harvested plants and learn to cultivate from observation. Robert Braidwood was a strong advocate for this concept. Also tied to the fertile river valley hypothesis.

11 Edge Hypothesis Pressure to turn to agriculture were greatest at the edges or margins of a resource area. Lewis Binford a proponent of this variant of population theory.

12 Population Pressure Hypothesis
Increased populations forced people to turn to agriculture. Large populations required greater food surplus and also provided labor. Labor needed to be managed leading to institutional control among priests or chiefs..

13 Irrigation management
Agricultural development could not lead to civilization without water management strategies Robert Mc Adams

14 Fertile Crescent Scene of earliest old world farming also the region of earliest urban centers and States. Natufian culture the first farmers? Ofer bar-Josef


16 Late neolithic technology from Natufian cultural region

17 Concept Archaeological cultures:
societies known only through archaeology and from shared traits, such as common burial practices, technologies, diets, and lifestyles.

18 Natufian burial

19 Necklace of animal teeth.
Fetal position Natufian burial

20 Remnant Natufian quern for processing grain.

21 Important early sites of agriculture
Natufian region (Bar-Josef) Jarmo (Robert Braidwood) Jericho (Kathleen Kenyon) Mehrgarh Ban-po-ts’un Dame Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho

22 Chronology Current estimates are that intermittent and seasonal harvesting of wild foods begins 11,000 years ago. Actual cultivation by settled communities can be traced to 9000 years ago. Jarmo continues to be considered the site of earliest confirmed agriculture, but new sites are being investigated which may change this view.

23 Important Cultigens from the archaeological record
Einkron wheat Emmer wheat Barley Lentils Grapes Figs In the far East: rice In Americas: potatoes, manioc, yams Plastered ancestor skull from Jericho.

24 Einkron wheat (cultivated)
Emmer wheat

25 barley

26 Technologies of agriculture
Sickles made from antler and obsidian microliths Sickle gloss evidence (micro wear analysis) Grinding stones (querns, mortars, pestles) Storage jars Storage pits Granaries in architecture.


28 Obsidian sickle blade studied for wear patters and trace chemical residues.




32 Positive Side effects Agriculture leads to sedentary populations.
Surplus can provide in lean times. Surpluses can be traded for other commodities. Surpluses mean some fraction of the population does not have to engage in food production. This gives rise to different roles within society and produces social stratification.

33 Also beer !

34 Negative Side Effects Dependencies on crop and climate stability
Must be defended. Larger populations require more work to feed. Large sedentary populations create lots of waste, sewage, pollution…

35 Control over irrigation of water, water distribution, or surplus food production are closely linked to rise of States level societies. But did one precede the other or was it a tandem process? Did struggle over water create system of power? Who was in charge? Chiefs? Priests?

36 Rise to Civilization Evidence suggests that in the ancient Near East, control over irrigation and water resources was fundamental to the rise of powerful city-states. Tower structure at Jericho 7000 years ago.

37 Elsewhere, agriculture supported complex chiefdoms.
Agricultural surplus allows war, writing, schools, the invention of history, new technologies…but also links civilizations directly to environmental dependency, degradation, and potential demise.

38 State Level Organization
States can be defined as independent kingdoms with specific self-sustaining institutions and centralized authority.

39 States States have rank divisions, institutionalized government and hierarchical power structures, (institutional monopoly of military) urban living, division of labor with craft specialization, standardized laws, control over resources, social stratification, monumental architecture, and frequently a powerful stratified religious authority.

40 Coming next Monday… Catal Hoyuk in Turkey
Civilizations in Mesopotamia. First cities: Ubaid, Uruk, Lagash, Babylon, the Sumerian civilization.

41 Tablet with recipe for beer from about 600BC
Evidence exists for brewing as far back as 3500BC. Sumerian priest drinking beer.


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