Strange Roots

The Unexplained Origins of Agriculture

When considering the evolution of civilization, we tend to focus on major accomplishments like writing, monumental construction, and wars—battles and conflicts that shaped history. Explaining the meteoric rise of nation-states around 6,000 years ago still confounds historians. In their search, most tend to overlook mundane things that set the stage for rapid changes to come. And some of the simplest things remain a mystery.

At least one defining achievement in the advance of civilization remains a mystery—agriculture. Other accomplishments—laws, cities, and even the written language—were built upon the foundation provided by agriculture. For thousands of years, we are told, our ancestors survived by living a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. They were omnivores with a diet that included fresh meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Then about 10,000 years ago, people from remote parts of the world (Mesopotamia, China, and Mexico), abandoned their foraging ways and began cultivating crops. In cultures where agriculture developed, civilization soon blossomed. This was an astonishing change for peoples who had survived, ostensibly, through hunting and gathering for hundreds of thousands of years.

Living such a lifestyle was difficult and time consuming, we have been told. Scholars explain that the development of agriculture, though, permitted people for the first time to live in large, sedentary communities where they had more leisure time. The sudden shift now made job specialization possible and facilitated development of the arts, writing, and other advances.

Robert Guisepi, of the International History Project, states, “There is nothing natural or inevitable about the development of agriculture. Because cultivation of plants requires more labor than hunting and gathering, we can assume that Stone Age humans gave up their former ways of life reluctantly and , 2013. All rights reserved.

By Rita Louise, Ph.D.