Why Early Humans Turned to Farming
Wed, April 21, 2021

Why Early Humans Turned to Farming

The agriculture industry remains to be one of the most important drivers of our economy. The World Bank reported that more than 60% of the world’s population depends on agriculture for survival / Photo by: Pramote Polyamate via 123RF

 

The agriculture industry remains to be one of the most important drivers of our economy. The World Bank reported that more than 60% of the world’s population depends on agriculture for survival. Aside from producing food across the world, the sector is also the single largest employer worldwide. Reports show that agriculture employs over 40% of the world’s population. 

Also, agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty. It is expected that it can feed about 9.7 billion people by 2050. It is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other industries. A 2016 report discovered that 65% of poor working adults made a living through agriculture. 

While farming continues to thrive in our economy even today, it’s still a fairly recent human invention. Before that, people lived by hunting wild animals and plucking fruits of wild plants where they found them. Hunter-gatherers moved from one place to another when their supplies ran out. Farming meant that they did not need to travel to find food. Instead, they started to settle down in one place and raised animals and grew crops.

The shift away from hunting and gathering toward agriculture baffled scientists. Elic Weitzel, an author of a study about farming, stated that lots of evidence showed that hunter-gatherers had better health and their diets more varied compared to those who stayed in one place. 

The Neolithic Revolution

In 1935, the Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe coined the term “Neolithic Revolution,” also known as the Agricultural Revolution or New Stone Age, which marked that transition in human history from nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers to agricultural settlements that paved the way for early civilization. According to the National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel, the transition is thought to have begun about 12,000 years ago. 

Previous studies showed that the Neolithic Revolution started in the Fertile Crescent around 10,000 B.C., which eventually spread across the world. Childe described this transition as a radical and important period of change. This is because humans began breeding animals for food, cultivating plants, and forming permanent settlements. One of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements is located in the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük in southern Turkey.

Researchers had a better understanding of the transition from a nomadic life of hunting and gathering to an agricultural lifestyle on the archaeological site. This is after they discovered more than a dozen mud-brick dwellings at the 9,500-year-old Çatalhöyük, where more than 8,000 people may have lived. The residents had to enter their homes through a hole in the roof since their houses were clustered so closely back-to-back.

Previous studies showed that the Neolithic Revolution started in the Fertile Crescent around 10,000 B.C., which eventually spread across the world / Photo by: Juan Garcia via 123RF

 

Why Did We Start Farming?

There was no single factor that led humans to begin farming thousands of years ago. The causes of the Agricultural Revolution may have varied from region to region. A 2018 study published in the Royal Society Open Science suggested that farming began for a rather more mundane reason: There were a lot of mouths to feed.

According to Pacific Standard, an American online magazine that reported on issues of social and environmental justice, the researchers focused on two theories. The first one is called niche construction, which suggests that farming was a natural extension of humans’ efforts to shape their environments. The other one says that people developed farming as a response to scarce resources. The team gathered data directly from the Eastern Agricultural Complex, a region comprising archaeological sites in modern-day Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois, and looked into how they changed over time. 

The researchers found that the results are consistent with the behavioral ecology model: Farming emerged out of a need when the population is high relative to naturally available resources. “Not only were populations at this time higher than ever before, but they had been significantly increasing for approximately 1,000 years, likely placing strong pressure on local resources,” the researchers wrote. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Political Economy, however, offered a different interpretation and that is farming increased labor productivity and that it is a much better option than hunting and gathering.

There was no single factor that led humans to begin farming thousands of years ago. The causes of the Agricultural Revolution may have varied from region to region / Photo by: Kostic Dusan via 123RF

 

However, new data paints a different story. Farming took an extreme nutritional toll on our ancestors and their livestock. So why shift to it?

Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, reported that the researchers used archaeological evidence and evolutionary game theory to propose a new interpretation of the Neolithic Revolution. The findings of the study showed that farming is the result of a system of mutually recognized private property rights. The early adopters also wanted to limit costly conflicts among members of a population. 

Farming has been their way to domesticate animals and establish the private possession of cultivated crops. "It is a lot easier to define and defend property rights in a domesticated cow than in a wild kudu. Farming initially succeeded because it facilitated a broader application of private property rights, not because it lightened the toil of making a living,” co-author Jung-Kyoo Choi, an economist at Kyungpook National University in South Korea, said. 

Other studies suggested that intellectual advances in the human brain may have caused people to shift to farming. Nonetheless, this only shows how farming has indeed changed the lives of our ancestors. It has become their way not only for surviving but also for settling down.