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    Transitions to Agriculture Essay

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    Transitions to Agriculture Essay

    The transition in the common mode of subsistence, from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, marks an important stage in the development of mankind. During the time of this transition, humans experienced an increase in their social, political, and technological complexity. A number of varying hypotheses have been put forward to explain the causes of agricultures origin, as well as its effect upon the human population. However, due to the lack of definitive data in much of the archaeological record, it is often difficult to discern the validity of theories suggested to explain either events leading up to, or the consequences of the Agricultural Revolution.

    Agriculture is defined as the planting of multipropagators of domesticates or cultivars in relatively large plots or fields (Macneish 1992:11).

    Agriculture involves changes both in humans use of the earth as well as in the structure and organization of human society. Agriculture is often accompanied by use of ceramic containers, extensive forest clearing, cultivation of hard-shelled cereals which can be stored for long time periods, invention and adoption of technologies for farming, with an increase in sedentism and population, as well as an increased pace towards more complex social and political organization (Price and Gebauer 1995:6). The process of agricultural domestication seems to be self-perpetuating and begins an increased dependency on cultivated foods rather than on wild resources. Once a commitment to this way of life is made, the necessity of maintaining food production transforms the basis of the society, making a return to the original state improbable or impossible (Smith 1976:17). Definitive signs of plant cultivation first appeared in early Neolithic villages in the Near East around 7500-7000 B.C.

    Food production within the area was based on the domestication of approximately nine species of local grain plants (Zohary and Hopf 1988:207). These early domesticated species include emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley, lentils, peas, bitter vetch, chickpeas, broadbeans, and flax (Zohary 1986:5-6). Zohary and Hopf describe several techniques which are used to date the origin and spread of cultivated plant species. The analysis of archaeological evidence, such as carbonized plant remains; impressions left on pottery, daub, and bricks; parched plant remains; waterlogged preservation; preservation by oxides of metals; digested or partly digested remains, can help to determine the age of the species. Other methods can include analysis of living plants, such as the wild progenitors from which the cultivated plants evolved, and use of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology.

    Many of the preconditions associated with, or appearing just prior to, the development of domestication are commonly agreed upon.

    The core traits include sedentism, storage abilities, high population densities, high resource diversity, processing and harvesting technology, and good potential domesticates. Possible factors, which may or may not have had a great affect on the transition to agriculture, are competition, ownership of produce and resource localities, changes in climate or vegetation, and population pressure (Hayden 1995:277-280).

    One of the most well-known theories for the explanation of the origin of agriculture is the Oasis Theory which was first discussed by Rafael Pumpelly, and later popularized by Gordon Childe from the 1920s and afterward. Before the 1940s it was thought that the end of the Pleistocene was a period of increasing temperatures and less precipitation. It was therefore suggested that areas such as the Near East would have experienced a period of aridity at the end of the Pleistocene when vegetation only grew around limited water sources- oases (Gebauer and Price 1992:1). Childe suggested that farming began where potential animals and plants were available, particularly in Africa and Asia.

    He proposed that a Post-Pleistocene desiccation expanded the deserts and led to a concentration of men, plants, and animals at oases which might have resulted in the symbiosis implied in domestication. The humans recognized the food potential of the plants and animals, and began experimentation which would eventually lead to agriculture (MacNeish 1992:6). The hunters whose wives were cultivators had something to offer some of the beasts they hunted- stubble on grain plots and the husks of the grain. As suitable animals became increasingly hemmed in to the oases by the desert, men might study their habits instead of killing them off-hand, might tame them and make them dependent (Childe 1954:49). Unfortunately, the .

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