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THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION and The EARLY AGRARIAN ERA. Middle School Workshops Session 3 Craig Benjamin. What is agriculture?. Why is it so important in human history?. How did early farmers live?.

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the agricultural revolution and the early agrarian era


Middle School Workshops

Session 3

Craig Benjamin

What is agriculture?

Why is it so important in human history?

How did early farmers live?

W1.2 Agricultural RevolutionDescribe the Agricultural Revolution and explain why it is a turning point in history.
  • Major turning point in history resulted in people using the land in a systematic manner to grow food crops, raise animals, produce food surpluses, and the development of sedentary settlement.

6 – W1.2.1Transition from hunter gatherers to sedentary agriculture (domestication of plants and animals).

6 – W1.2.2 Describe importance of the natural environment in the development of agricultural settlements in different locations. E.g.

  • available water for irrigation
  • adequate precipitation
  • and suitable growing season

6 – W1.2.3 Explain the impact of the Agricultural Revolution

  • stable food supply
  • surplus
  • population growth
  • trade
  • division of labor
  • development of settlements
pt 1 the agricultural revolution why is it so important
Pt. 1: The Agricultural Revolution:Why is it so important?
  • From 12-10,000 years ago, new technologies appear in some regions
  • These gave humans access to more energy and resources
  • With more food and energy humans began to:
    • Multiply more rapidly
    • Live in larger and denser communities
  • Leading to A NEW LEVEL OF COMPLEXITY issues/pretty205.htm

the pace of change began to vary from region to region
The pace of change began to vary from region to region
  • Where dense populations appeared, change was generally faster
  • Where populations remained small and scattered, change was generally slower
  • So:Different parts of the world began to have very different histories



agriculture a major turning point in human history
Agriculture: A major turning point in human history
  • With larger communities and larger populations …
    • Collective learning began to accelerate
    • Human communities began to change in fundamental ways
    • A historical ‘gear shift’ to a faster pace
  • Since the appearance of agriculture, there have been fundamental changes in …
    • The nature of human societies
    • The nature of human history
    • The pace of change

pt 2 what is agriculture from extensification to intensification
Pt. 2: What is Agriculture? From ‘Extensification’ to ‘Intensification’



  • Foragers
    • found new energy sources by spreading into new niches and environments
    • This is ‘extensification’
  • Farmers
    • found ways to extract more energy from a given area
    • This is ‘intensification’
contrasting foragers and farmers
Contrasting Foragers and Farmers

Foragers ‘harvest’ a wide variety of different animals and plants that are provided by natural selection


    • ‘harvest’ a smaller number of animals and plants but
    • increase their output artificially
  • From
    • Relying on nature, to
    • Manipulating nature

agriculture is a form of symbiosis
Agriculture is a form of ‘symbiosis’
  • Many organisms come to rely on each other
    • For food
    • Or protection
  • Over time, this relation affects how they evolve
    • Some species evolve so as to become more and more dependent on each other
    • Until they cannot survive alone
  • This is ‘Symbiosis’
honey pot ants the first farmers

Honey Pot Ants


Honey pot ants: the first ‘farmers’?
  • Honey pot ants ‘domesticate’ aphids. They
  • protect them,
  • herd them,
  • help them reproduce, and
  • ‘milk’ them for honeydew.
  • Over many generations, both ants and aphids slowly ‘evolve’ to fit this particular ‘symbiotic’ niche
  • Sound familiar?
agriculture as symbiosis
Agriculture as Symbiosis
  • Like honey pot ants, farmers:
    • Protect and look after useful species such as maize and cattle
    • Learn how to increase production of their ‘domesticates’ to support more of their own species (humans)
  • ‘Domesticated’ species benefit from the deal:
    • Humans protect them
    • And help them reproduce
  • Over time, humans and their domesticates begin to depend on the relationship
    • Humans change culturally new technologies and life ways
    • Domesticates change genetically new species
human societies changed culturally

To much larger groups of farmers

From small groups of foragers

From the tomb of Nefer Sakkara

Human societies changed culturally
domesticates changed genetically

Modern varieties of maize are larger and much more nutritious; but they cannot reproduce without human help

Teosinte, the ancestor of maize, is small, weedy and not too nutritious, but it can survive in the wild

Domesticates changed genetically
compare wild and domestic sheep

The domestic sheep is a close relative. It is stupider, more docile and more helpless. But, because of its symbiotic relationship with humans, it is biologically more successful and more numerous.

‘Dall’ sheep or ‘thinhorns’ from N.W. N. America

Compare Wild and Domestic sheep
when and where early agricultural sites
When and Where?Early Agricultural Sites

Mississippi valley

S.W. Asia

N. China


S. China



& Sudan

S.E. Asia

W. Africa


Papua New Guinea


End of last ice age

Earliest evidence of farming in S.W. Asia

Farming in E. Asia

Farming in Americas

TIME-CHECK: Timeline: 12 thousand years

explaining the origins of agriculture
Explaining the Origins of Agriculture
  • The obvious (but wrong) answer:
    • Someone invented it
    • Everyone else copied it
  • There’s a problem!
    • Agriculture appeared separately in different parts of the world, within a few millennia
    • Not everyone wanted to be a farmer, because
      • Living as a farmer was often
        • Harder and
        • Less healthy
      • than living as a forager
so why did some take up farming a possible answer step by step
So why did some take up farming? A possible answer: Step by Step
  • Step 1: Precondition 1: Humans already had a lot of the necessary knowledge and skills
  • Step 2: Precondition 2: Some species were already ‘pre-adapted’ as ‘domesticates’
  • Step 3: Becoming less nomadic:
    • Because of Climatic change (Gardens of Eden)
    • Over population (Local shortages)
  • Step 4: The ‘trap of Sedentism’: Sedentism makes further intensification necessary
  • Step 5: Voilà! Agriculture!
step 1 humans already had many of the skills for farming
STEP 1: Humans already had many of the skills for farming
  • Foragers were ‘pre-adapted’ culturally
  • They knew an immense amount about
    • Plants
    • Animals
    • And how to increase their ‘production’
  • And they were already transforming their environments: Examples
    • Fire-stick farming
    • Megafaunal extinctions

step 2 some species were pre adapted for domestication
STEP 2: Some species were ‘pre-adapted’ for domestication
  • Some species were more suitable for domestication
    • E.g.wheat, which has been changed very little by humans
    • In contrast to maize, which had to be ‘trained’ for a long time first
  • There were many promising species in S.W. Asia
  • This may be one reason why agriculture began there [according to Jared Diamond]

Varieties of wheat

maize was less pre adapted for domestication than wheat
Maize was less ‘pre-adapted’ for domestication than wheat

Teosinte: small, weedy and not too nutritious

Perhaps that’s one reason why agriculture developed later in the Americas

step 3 some humans became less nomadic more sedentary
STEP 3: Some humans became less ‘nomadic’, more ‘sedentary’

Sedentism increased in some parts of the world from c. 10,000 years ago

Why? 2 main Reasons:

  • Climatic change:
    • As climates got warmer, in some areas there appeared regions of ‘abundance’ (‘Gardens of Eden’) where large groups settled
  • Population pressure:
    • By 10,000 years ago, global migrations meant that in some areas there was population pressure, which forced people to migrate in smaller areas
1 climatic change and affluent foragers
1) Climatic Change and ‘Affluent foragers’
  • ‘Affluent foragers’ are foragers who have such plentiful resources that they can settle down and become ‘sedentary’
    • In Australia, some groups
      • built fish weirs
      • settled in villages nearby
    • In Mesopotamia, people of the ‘Natufian’ culture
      • harvested wild grain
      • hunted gazelles
      • lived in villages
affluent foragers in australia

Eel Trap

‘Affluent Foragers’ in Australia

The Gunditjmara people of Victoria, Australia, are descendants of people who

  • ‘farmed’ eels for 8,000 years
  • were not nomadic
  • lived in large, permanent villages
  • had powerful chiefs

Reconstruction of a Gunditjmara dwelling made using rocks, peat and reeds.[ABC TV]

2 population pressure sedentism
2) Population Pressure  Sedentism?
  • By 12,000 years ago, foragers had migrated to most parts of the world
    • In some areas, there may have been too little room
    • So each group had to live in a smaller territory and spend less time migrating

Artists impression of Natufians

‘harvesting’ wild grains

step 4 the trap of sedentism
STEP 4: the ‘Trap of Sedentism’
  • When you migrate:
    • you have to keep populations small(How? Infanticide? Senilicide? Few births)
    • so populations of nomadic foragers grew very slowly
  • When you stay in one place and have lots of food, what changes?
    • you can support more children
    • you need more labor
    • So, populations grew amongst sedentary foragers
over population what to do
Over-population: what to do?
  • What can you do if there

are suddenly too many

people and not enough land?

    • A) Go back to a nomadic life
      • (but what if there is no longer any

room, and you can’t remember

how to hunt?)

    • B) Concentrate on increasing the

productivity of the crops and

animals in your area,by

      • Removing unwanted trees or plants

(‘weeding’ and ‘deforestation’)

      • Looking after animals you want (‘herding’)
  • Option B = Farming!
step 5 voil farming
STEP 5: Voilà: Farming!

‘Swidden Agriculture’: Yanomami farmers, Amazon basin: trees are ‘weeded’ to provide sunlight and nutrition for crops

subsistence farming in papua new guinea today
Subsistence farming in Papua New Guinea, today

Is this what an early neolithic farm may have looked like?

part 4 early agrarian societies a world of villages
Part 4: Early Agrarian Societies:A world of villages
  • We often assume that agriculture quickly led to the appearance cities, states and ‘civilization’
  • But for many thousands of years it did not
    • So what were the earliest agrarian societies like?
    • And what is their place in human history?

This second part of the lecture is about the era of human history in which early agrarian societies were the most important type of community

a distinct era of human history the early agrarian era
A distinct era of human History:The Early Agrarian Era
  • Main features? A world with increasing numbers of farmers and villages, but no cities and states
  • Historiography? Largely ignored by historians
  • Dates? Vary from region to region
    • From 11,000 years ago in some part of the world
    • To the 1st appearance of cities and states
      • c. 5,000 years ago in some parts of the world
      • Today, in some parts of the world


The Americas


A Fourth Zone: Oceania

from c. 4,000 years ago

The Three Great ‘World Zones’ of the Agrarian Era

different histories in the three world zones
Different histories in the three World Zones
  • Afro-Eurasia: Earliest evidence
    • Largest populations, greatest ecological variety
    • Crops: wheats, millets, rice, peas, lentils
    • Wide range of potential animal domesticates
  • Americas: Agriculture appears later
    • Next largest populations, great ecological variety
    • Crops: Maize, potatoes, gourds, chili, beans
    • Few potential animal domesticates (why?)
  • Australasia: Agriculture early but v. limited
    • Very small populations, limited ecological variety
    • Agriculture only in PNG taro
    • Few potential animal domesticates (why?)
technologies of the early agrarian era
Technologies of the Early Agrarian Era
  • For farmers the main limitations on production are:
  • Shortage of energy and labor
    • Shortage of fertilizer and/or nutrients
    • Shortage of water
  • In the early agrarian era:
    • Most energy and labor came from humans
    • There was no animal fertilizer
    • And very little use of irrigation
major technologies
Major Technologies
  • Early technologies reflect these limitations
    • Horticulture
    • Swidden or ‘Slash and Burn’
    • Mesoamerican ‘Chinampas’

: view research/earth/tfe.html

early agrarian technologies productivity
Early agrarian technologies:Productivity
  • Early agrarian technologies were
    • much less productive than later technologies
    • but much more productive than those of the Paleolithic Era
    • and over time they slowly


  • So populations began to

grow faster

the spread of agriculture
The spread of agriculture
  • As populations grew, families had to move on and clear new land
  • Creating new farming communities by ‘budding off’
  • So the number of farming communities increased
  • Until, by 5,000 years ago, most people on earth were probably farming for a living
how did agriculture spread
How did agriculture spread?
  • As populations grew, villages expanded and ‘budded off’ to create new villages
  • To see how this works, imagine a village by a river

Like this modern Sudanese village on the river Nile

as populations grew a new dynamism
As Populations Grew, A New Dynamism!
  • The early agrarian era introduced a new dynamism
    • Agrarian technologies spread and improved
    • Populations grew
    • The pace of collective learning accelerated Maya/maya.htm


How did people live

in the early agrarian era?

  • A sedentary world
    • Farmers lived in

permanent dwellings

    • Populations grew much faster
  • A world of villages
    • No cities, no states
    • Communities of a few tens of households to several thousands
  • The village was your world, but this experience varied greatly in the early agrarian era
an early agrarian village
An early agrarian ‘village’

Skara Brae in the Orkneys, buried for 5,000 years; Excavated by Gordon Childe

  • Neolithic village of Skara Brae on the shore of the Bay of Skaill (west coast of the Orkney's)
  • Structures contain stone furniture (dressers, beds, cupboards) dating back to 3200BCE.
a zulu village today
A Zulu village, today

Located on a broad plain of savanna grasslands, where the men still practice the hunting of their ancestors, while the women tended the crops

beehive houses from syria made from sun dried mud
‘Beehive houses’ from Syria made from sun-dried mud

Are these similar to houses in ancient Mesopotamia during the Early Agrarian Era?

even the towns were really overgrown villages
Even the ‘towns’ were really overgrown villages
  • Some villages grew especially large because: They were important ritual centers
    • They had valued resources such as reliable wells
    • They traded in valuable goods

Ancient town of Hoi in Vietnam lynn/wh-vietnam

the oldest town in the world
The oldest town in the world?

Jericho today, on the Palestinian ‘West Bank’. It was probably first settled by Natufian ‘affluent foragers’, 10,000 years ago. It is blessed with extremely reliable well in a region of desert.

the walls of ancient jericho built 9 10 000 years ago
The walls of ancient Jericho (built 9-10,000 years ago)
  • According to the Book of Joshua, the walls crumbled down without a blow after the Israelites walked round it seven times and blew the shofar
  • This would have happened around 1200 BCE, but Jericho existed long before that.
catal huyuk almost 9 000 years ago

Catal Huyuk prospered through trading in obsidian, the ancient equivalent of steel

Catal Huyuk, almost 9,000 years ago

Catal Huyuk, in modern Turkey, had 5-6,000 inhabitants; houses were entered from the roofs


The Fertile Crescent

Catal Huyuk


a relatively egalitarian world
A relatively egalitarian world?
  • No states, no jails, no police, no armies
  • Most people lived at about the same level
    • We can tell because the size of houses and the wealth in them does not vary much
  • It is possible that men and women had roughly the same amount of power
    • Women appear to have

owned as much wealth as men

  • There was no organized


    • Conflict, yes, but the lack of

fortifications suggest that

warfare was very limited

This was NOT the position of

women in the early ag. era!

conclusion living standards
Conclusion: Living Standards?

May have declined in early agrarian villages

  • Farmers relied on fewer food stuffs than foragers, so:
    • Their diets were less varied (and farmers may have been less tall than neighboring foragers)
    • Famine became a real possibility if staple crops failed
  • Farmers probably worked harder than foragers
  • Farmers probably suffered higher levels of stress (we can tell from study of bones)

Lunch Time!