3.2 Theoretical Approaches for Understanding Transition
3.2.1 Climatic Stress Model – The Oasis Theory Culture Model
3.2.2 Demographic Model
3.2.3 Systems Model
3.3 Domestication of Plans and Animals
3.3.1 Domestication of Plants
3.2.2 Domestication of Animals
3.4 Early Cultural Sites
3.4.1 Beginning of Food Production in South-West Asia
3.4.2 Evidence from Anatolia, Europe, Meso-America and China
The transition to agriculture had very significant and long-term impact on early human societies. The beginning was made at the end of the Pleistocene epoch about 12,000 years before the present (henceforth BP) when the temperatures fell and the climate grew extremely cold. At this time the hunter-gatherers adapted their subsistence strategy to suit the changes in climate as well as in animal and plant life. Hunting and gathering activities now became more well regulated and specialised and demanded an intimate knowledge of plants and animals. The economy increasingly came to be based on farming and stock raising. A better understanding of the available wild plants and animals was therefore a precondition for the beginning of agriculture. The use of more efficient tools and other evidence indicates that in many parts of the world people were exploring newer ways of acquiring food. Generally speaking archaeologists have associated the beginning of agriculture with a relatively new stage of cultural evolution – the Neolithic period. By about 8000 BP substantial sections of the world’s population had given up hunting gathering and were pursuing farming and pastoral activities.
3.2 THEORETICAL APPROACHES FOR UNDERSTANDING TRANSITION
Several explanations have been offered to explain the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Certain basic questions have been at the back of researchers collecting data regarding this. Did agriculture begin at a particular place and time and get diffused elsewhere? Was agriculture the ‘invention’ of a single genius? Were plants and animals domesticated simultaneously or one after another? Innumerable scholars have raised questions of this nature and their work has contributed to the knowledge that we now have of the subject.
42 No longer is agriculture considered the brainchild of a single genius who
discovered the process of sowing the seed and reaping a harvest or a lucky accident of nature. The transition occurred in several parts of the world and not once but several times over. The time of transition could be placed between
12,000 BP to approximately 5,000 BP.
3.2.1 Climatic Stress Model – The Oasis Theory Culture Model
One of the early explanations, called the ‘Oasis Theory’, was propounded as early as 1908. It was popularised by Gordon Childe who pioneered the study of pre-history and provided the term ‘Neolithic Revolution’ to convey the overall significance of the transition. The main thrust of the theory was on the suggestion that farming began in some parts of the Fertile Crescent (Southwest Asia) due to severe climatic changes. The dramatic reversals were due to the northward movement of the rain-bearing clouds from this region. These changes caused the formation of oases – small patches of green where men, plants and animals got concentrated, separated by large tracts of deserts. Scarcity of food in the surrounding areas attracted the starving to the oases. Such close habitation encouraged the process of ‘domestication’. The ‘oasis theory’ was based on the idea that socio-economic events like the beginning of agriculture do not take place on a worldwide scale. They take place in restricted blocks of area measuring a few hundred miles. Certain caused like desiccation and formation of oases operated in such restricted zones. It is only after the completion of the experiment in such areas that the idea of cultivation spread to other regions.
Map 3: Fertile Crescent (After Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann, The
Penguin Atlas of World History Vol. I, London, 1988, p. 16)
While the fact of climatic shift cannot be denied, it has been difficult to find evidence for widespread desiccation in Southwest Asia in the period immediately after the Pleistocene epoch. One of the major challenges to the ‘oasis theory’ has come from Robert Braidwood. In the course of field investigations in Iraq in the 1950’s and subsequently he failed to get any evidence for intense
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desiccation. He has instead argued that there was a gradual evolution to the stage of food production. According to him farming began in the ‘nuclear zones’ i.e. areas that had abundant animal and plant species. He proposed various cultural levels beginning with food gathering till the food-producing stage. In his estimate the process of change had to be seen in the context of changing human culture. The change did not take place earlier because ‘culture was not ready to receive it’. Thus the transition to agriculture was mainly due to a combination of changes in human nature and environmental circumstances. However, in this cultural model, the vitality of human nature causing cultural evolution is an assumption that cannot be tested.
The idea that the early agriculturists could have been fishermen was first suggested by Carl Sauer (1952) and subsequently by Robert McC Adams (1966). In their estimate fishing rather than hunting predisposed people to agriculture. Fishing allowed greater sedentism i.e. it enabled people to stay in a particular place for a longer time. And agriculture demanded greater sedentism. Sauer suggested that fishermen living in a mild climate along fresh waters would be more innovative. The leisure time that fishing provided would have encouraged them to exploit the neighbouring regions for plants. But the difference in acquiring these two differently located staples – fish and grain (one available in water and the other on ground) at a time when populations were gradually rising would have also encouraged a more advanced fishing-gathering existence and gradually adoption of farming. The plants that provided starch foods and substance for toughening fishing nets and lines and making them water-resistant, for instance, root crops, were domesticated first. Food production, according to Sauer, was not the most important reason for bringing plants under cultivation. However it should be pointed out this kind of a ‘water-source-centered model’ ultimately remains untested except for parts of Southeast Asia. In west Asia cereal production and herding of animals had taken place with no preceding attempts at root-crop production.
From about 1968 attempts were made to put forward more elaborate theories about origin of agriculture. Geological research and archaeological excavations had revealed fresh evidence from different parts of the world. It showed that environmental changes affected different parts of the world differently. The understanding that the onset of the Holocene epoch saw sudden and sharp variation in temperature especially in Southwest Asia was no longer acceptable. At the same time environmental change as a factor was not completely abandoned. Focus, however, shifted to other factors like population growth and social consequences of a more sedentary life style.
3.2.2 Demographic Model
Some scholars have suggested that a major change like the beginning of agriculture can occur only if there is sufficient stimulus in the form of pressure or tension. Lewis Binford (1968) formulated a model incorporating such models. He has emphasised more on the demographic (population based) rather than environmental pressures. He differentiates between internal and external demographic pressures. In Binford’s view population is likely to increase in optimal areas i.e. areas that are well provided for. This kind of internal increase in population can be contained either by methods of birth control or by emigration. Generally emigration is to marginal areas that exist in the periphery of the optimal areas and are occupied by less sedentary groups. The resulting
stress may be relieved either through measures that help in the reduction of birth rate or by more intensive exploitation of available resources.
Agriculture, according to him, was one of the responses to demographic tensions. Not ruling out the importance of environmental change, he commented on the increase in oceanic levels in the post-Pleistocene times. These conditions were initially favourable to the coastal communities who were more dependent on fishing. However once the population increased beyond the carrying capacity of the region, there was a disequilibrium between the resources and the people of the coastal settlements. Demographic tension of this kind, according to Binford, pushed some sections of the population into the marginal areas. He gives the example of coastal Peru to prove his case. One of the weaknesses of the argument is that his optimal environment is limited to a few eco-systems making the argument limited in scope and nature. Besides it has been difficult to test or prove the prevalence of the phenomenon.
Apart from Binford others like David Harris (1969) have also suggested that agriculture is the result of an imbalance between population and resources. However unlike Binford, Harris has argued that population does not normally outgrow resources. The situation occurred due to environmental shifts. Environmental changes affected the mobility of advanced hunter-gatherers, encouraged sedentism and caused population stress. As a result of environmental shifts, human population in certain parts of the world tended to settle in areas which he refers to as transitional zones between forest and steppe, savanna, river or coast or on the margins of upland and lowland. The transitional zones enjoyed an eco-system where there were a large variety of plant and animal species. In these zones, people could exploit a ‘broad-spectrum’ economy. A broad-spectrum economy is an economy in which there is a possibility of exploiting a variety of plant and animal species through farming and herding. However, the hypothesis does not explain the occurrence of the same phenomenon in many parts of the world at almost the same time.
J.T. Meyers (1971) alternative demographic model is, to begin with, based on Binford’s position that population is likely to increase in an area where plant and animal resources are abundant and where there is successful adaptation to the environment. But the situation could change if the population increased beyond the carrying capacity of the area. Binford had suggested on the basis of ethnographic examples from marginal areas like coastal settlements that the means adopted to control the population and emigration were partial solutions to deal with the problem. Meyers, on the other hand, extends an argument based on a more intensive exploitation of an optimal area where the possibilities of controlling the increase in population do not exist. In his opinion, internal pressure would result in cultivation of plants and herding of animals. Siting the case of upland valleys of Mexico and the surrounding valleys, he felt that both the high mountain walls and the tropical jungles at the exit of the valley would restrict emigration as a solution to a demographic problem. The problem in his estimate had to be managed through internal adaptation.
The basic weakness in Meyer’s argument is that of evidence. Scholars have doubted whether the semi-arid valleys of central Mexico can be considered optimal environments. It has also been difficult to find evidence for some kind of population pressure or resource imbalance that forced people to take up farming. Some have argued instead that Meyers has neglected the possibility of
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population pressure contributing to more intensive exploitation even when the alternatives of cultural control or migration were available.
While the significance of demographic pressures cannot be neglected, it is also important that we acknowledge the fact that high densities of population do not necessarily lead to transition to agriculture. A scarcity of resources induced by increasing density of population must have occurred in several parts of the world during the late Pleistocene epoch. However a scarcity of this kind never resulted in cultivation of staple crops. Similarly, during the early Holocene, such densities must have occurred at numerous times and places. Yet we find that beginning of farming was not simultaneous everywhere. Thus population pressure is not the only explanation for beginning of farming. The archaeological data that can prove the inevitability of population pressure bringing about this change has also not been recovered.
3.2.3 Systems Model
Along with Binford and Harris, Kent Flannery (1968, 69) has also adopted a gradualist approach to explain the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The view could be traced back to Darwin’s description (1868) of the first steps in cultivation. It stressed the continuities rather than the contrast between hunting gathering and agriculture. Binford and Flannery did contrast
‘food production’ from ‘food procurement’ as done by the hunter-gatherers. But since they were explaining the transition in systemic terms i.e. in terms of analysing the interaction of environmental, demographic and cultural variables, they also emphasised on continuities.
Flannery does not provide caused for the beginning of food-production, but analyses the mechanism for the transition to food-production. His hypothesis is based on three assumptions:
1) That the hunting-gathering population had increased before food- production.
2) That food production began in the marginal areas, i.e. the areas that were not very well provided for by nature, of the mountain zones of Iran, Iraq and Turkey and the woodland zones of Palestine.
3) That there were many centres of food production from the beginning. The pre-agricultural people were adapted not to specific environments but to animals and plants available in different environments. Thus the mobile groups of hunter-gatherers exploited different environments. They also carried the seeds of mutant variety of plants and planted them in the new terrain.
Kent Flannery used the ‘Systems’ theory to explain the transition to agriculture both in the Zagros Mountains and the southern uplands of Mexico. According to him, the seasonal movement of hunter-gatherers enabled them to experience the flora and fauna of different zones. In the southern uplands in Mexico due to the principle of ‘negative feedback’ i.e. a principle operating in nature that different plants available in different areas ripened at different times, the hunter- gatherers scheduled their hunting-gathering strategy similarly. Availability of different plants and animals regulated the movement and size of the group. People thus became dependent on a ‘broad-spectrum’ economy, rather than one based on a few plants and animals.
At the same time hunter-gatherers could have also attempted to widen the area in which a particular plant grew. Some times such plants had a tendency to outgrow other plants. In the Zagros mountain region it was wheat and in upland Mexico it was maize. Such plants disturbed the equilibrium and provided
‘positive feedback’ i.e. they could be grown at different times of the year. With hybridisation and combined with other plants like beans and squash, maize could now be procured almost the whole year round and in places where it was not available earlier. The old pattern of existence of hunter-gatherers that demanded seasonal movement was gradually replaced by a subsistence pattern based on prolonged stay and food production. Other scholars like Colin Renfrew (1973) have also accepted the systems theory as an explanatory model for culture change. In M. Cohen’s (1977) view, human response rather than environmental change was more crucial for the beginning of agriculture. He agrees with Ester Boserup’s (1965) contention that increase in population contributes to intensive farming. This is not, according to him, due to a need for additional food, but due to the fact that intensive farming could be done only with additional input of labour. Thus even though the advantages of food production were known, it came to be practiced regularly only when the population reached a certain limit and there was scarcity of land making slash and burn farming difficult to continue. In Cohen’s opinion population growth among the hunter-gatherers was continuous rather than occasional. This caused territorial expansion and infiltration of unused areas. However a point was reached when the population increased to such an extent that the avenues for further expansion were exhausted and the hunter-gatherers had to meet their requirement for food through farming. An explanation of this kind highlights the significance of population expansion not during the post-Pleistocene epoch alone but throughout pre-history.
Scholars like Barbara Bender (1975) have argued that population growth does not take place in isolation. Several other developments like the nature of subsistence activities, the level of technology, the pattern of distribution and exchange etc., have a bearing on demographic levels. In her view it is only when social relations change that there is a change in adaptive strategies and the way in which people procure food. Similarly recent studies are questioning the idea that a broadening of the economy led to a more secure subsistence base and the emergence of settled communities of farmers. However, despite the arguments and counter arguments, the common theme running through all the theoretical approaches is that subsistence activities became more dependent on a sedentary lifestyle after 12,000 years BP. The pace and the nature of change varied in different parts of the world. There were several factors responsible for such variation. As the theories suggest, environmental change, demographic shifts, greater cultural interaction and several other factors following the Pleistocene epoch caused hunter-gatherer groups to undertake domestication of plants and animals.
3.3 DOMESTICATION OF PLANTS AND ANIMALS
The transformation of hunter-gatherers to farmers is generally heralded as a remarkable achievement, which reduced hunting to a ritual activity or sport. It resulted from a process of domestication of plants and animals. It can be detected on the basis of three primary classes of evidence: a) on the availability of animals
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and plants outside their natural range, b) Morphological changes, c) increase in numbers of animals and plants. The process required human intervention and control over these species. It should be remembered that this was neither a completely post-Pleistocene adaptation nor did it suddenly replace the life of hunter-gatherers with a relatively sedentary existence in villages.
3.3.1 Domestication of Plants
The presence of seeds and plants at Nahel Oren in Israel (c.20, 000 BP) shows that certain plants may have been selectively cultivated at a very early date when humans were primarily nomadic. The nature of vegetational changes in parts of West Asia after 20,000 BP was such that it made large seeded grasses available. These grasses had a propensity to scatter their seeds over a large area. When this happens frequently the seed-holding spike of, for instance wild wheat and barley, become brittle. The seeds disperse even before the plants ripen. The seeds of the plants of a shattering nature could be harvested by tapping the stem with a stick. If these seeds were sown, ‘selective pressure’ in favor of plants of a shattering variety or with natural means of dispersal would be at work. (Illustration showing wild and cultivated variety of wheat)
Wild and cultivated varities of wheat from Wenke, OUP, 1984, p. 163)
Wenke has described the changes takinng place in cultivated wheat. According to him “Domestication of wheat, one of the world’s most important crops, involved both human manipulation and natural hybridisation between related genera. Human intervention appears to have been aimed at producing free- threshing, non-shattering varieties. The simplest, wheats are “diploid” meaning that they have two sets of seven chromosomes. Hybridization with related species produced tetraploid wheats, with four sets of chromosomes. Hybridization eventually produced hexaploid wheats, with six sets of chromosomes, which occur only in cultivated species of wheat. By mixing genetic material from various species, early farmers produced forms of wheat that could adapt to diverse habitats”.
As different from the above-mentioned grasses few wild plants have a gene that produce tough spikes that do not become brittle. The seeds of these plants last longer, but they do not disperse well in nature. Around 20,000 BP when
the hunter-gatherers were gathering edible plants to supplement their diet, it was advantageous to harvest plants with tough spikes whose heads were intact. However, the cultivation of these plants required additional efforts. These wild cereals had grown along with other plants in the hilly regions that had well- drained loamy clay soil which was most conducive for the growth of these plants. But the seeds of the plants to be cultivated had to be sown in areas away from the wild, self-seeding plants in order to avoid competition among these plants.
The seeds had to be brought to more level ground near reliable sources of water and a fairly adequate rainfall. The piedmont of the Fertile Crescent region that came to support the Neolithic sites of Syria, the upper reaches of the river Euphrates and Jarmo on the Zagros Mountains provided the natural conditions in which these plants could thrive. The remains of cereals provide the evidence for this. These plants have tough spikes and are indistinguishable from the wild varieties. They are found in places away from the natural habitat of these species. Human intervention widened the gene pool of these plants. It also highlighted the indispensable role of human beings in the process of cultivation. Similarly the potentialities inherent in food-cultivation for the emergence of a more complex society due to prolonged stay in a particular place and the storage of the produce gradually transformed the life of people.
3.3.2 Domestication of Animals
A domesticated animal is one that is bred in captivity for the purpose of economic gain to a human community that maintains complete mastery over its breeding, territory and food supply. These animals that got incorporated into the social structure of humans ultimately became objects of ownership. In fact, what separated herding and eventually animal husbandry from hunting is the concept of ownership. The domesticated dog, sheep, cattle and pig, were thus driven along with their owners as ‘livestock’, rather than being followed and hunted like wild animals.
The initial steps in the domestication of animals must have been as halting as in the domestication of plants. The history of domestication of animals is now being reconstructed from fresh morphological and genetic data. It shows that the process must have begun among the hunter-gatherers. They must have realised that they could tame certain animals when the young ones of the animals they hunted when abandoned attached themselves to people. This was due to
‘imprinting’ i.e., the tendency of animals to follow the first living being during an impressionistic period in their infancy. The hunting-gathering communities could have sporadically reared the animals that they could use as decoys in the hunt. The traces of the first domesticated dog could be dated back to c.24.000
BP. Controversy persists regarding whether the domesticated dog was the offspring of the wild dog or wolf. Undoubtedly it was an important aid or rather an assistant in the hunts of the Upper-Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunts. Although the domesticated animals must have certainly provided ready food during times of crisis it does not seem that a scarcity of food had caused the domestication of animals. The first of the tamed and hunted animals could have been used in ritual sacrifices.
Not all the animals that people hunted could be tamed, herded and domesticated. Some scholars have therefore argued that animals that were eventually domesticated were physiologically and psychologically pre-adapted to being
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tamed without losing their ability to reproduce. The animals that bred well in captivity must have been selected for domestication. For instance, when animals were herded people would have opted for the submissive animals in the herd that comprised both aggressive, unmanageable and submissive animals. An intervention in the breeding systems of these animals by slaughter or castration of aggressive adult-male animals would have, over a period of time, produced a race of submissive creatures. It can therefore be observed that an unplanned breeding method preceded the careful artificial selection that produced different breeds of the same domesticated species.
Dogs and pigs that had been tamed more than 18,000 years ago functioned as scavengers of human debris. They did not require large quantities of vegetable fodder and ate the same food as the hunter-gatherers. Because of their dietary and living habits they soon began competing for food with human beings and this may have hindered their large-scale domestication. In the early phases of domestication, the goat, sheep and cattle could only be used for meat and hide. It has been observed that wild cattle produce little milk and wild sheep are not woolly but hairy. It is only with domestication that the milk and the wool producing strains emerge in these animals. But these traits would not have emerged/followed immediately. Recent experiments show that measurable morphological changes need about thirty generations after domestication before they appear (in small species two or three years and in large mammals four or five years’ form one generation).
3.4 EARLY AGRICULTURAL SITES
Archaeological evidence from different parts of the world has established that the transition to agriculture was not so much a result of intention or zeal to make the plants and animals more useful. Rather, social forces as density of population and changing ecological conditions compelled human communities to tap the potentiality inherent in certain plants and animals in such a manner that they became useful to them on a sustainable basis.
The life of hunter-gatherers in West Asia was affected by climatic fluctuation that occurred towards the end of the Pleistocene. Fresh research has shown that climate and changes in vegetation varied in different parts of West Asia. New evidence from deep-sea cores, surface sediments and the pollen cores recovered form the lakes of South West Asia show that the climate was cool and dry during the Upper Paleolithic period. The increase in temperature immediately after the end of the Pleistocene was followed by an increase in dryness around 12,000 BP.
3.4.1 Beginning of Food-production in South-west Asia
The increase in temperature after 15,000 BP had encouraged the expansion of forests in the Levant and in Syria about 3,000 years later. Thus at the beginning of the Holocene, the climate was cooler and humid here. These conditions were particularly favorable for human settlement. The forest zone expanded throughout the coastal mountains of Eastern Mediterranean region due to an increase in the rainfall. The mountains and lower hills of Modern Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran received adequate rainfall (over 20 inches a year) in winters. Both the forests and the steppe that lay beyond them were rich in plant and animal species. Levant, for instance, could support two kinds of wild wheat
(einkorn and emmer) and barley. The wild ancestors of sheep and goat also inhabited the hilly areas. The herding of animals had begun during the Late Kebaran period about 15,7000 years BP. By 11,000 BP the Mesolithic community of the Natufians in the Jordanian valley (especially in Wadi-en- Natuf) had managed to develop a fairly broad subsistence base. They followed the migratory movement of wild sheep and goat when these moved uphill in mid summer in search of grass. Being close to the coastal waters they could exploit the marine resources and fish in the freshly formed lakes of the region. The hunter-gatherers could also collect the wild cereals and other plants widely found here.
The food gathering skills were mastered to such an extent by the Natufians that they could gradually afford to prolong their stay in particular regions. The Natufians who occupied the rock shelters on Mount Carmel (Palestine) and the nearby open settlements reduced the extent of their foraging activities. This strengthened the trend towards a more sedentary pattern of life. This becomes evident in the cultural record of 11,000 years BP. Besides tools like harpoons, microliths and fishhooks, the Natufians made and used axes and sickles. The sheen on the sickles due to the silica deposits found in the cereal grasses confirms the fact that they had begun harvesting these plants. They would have also turned to other stable plant foods such as acorns to support a more sedentary existence. This is a hypothesis supported by availability of mortars, pestles and other grinding stones found in the Natufian sites. The temperatures began to rise and it grew increasingly warm in the southern Levant from about 10,000 years BP. The gradual decrease in forest cover and in rainfall could have forced the Natufians to follow the migration of animals towards Lebanon and Syria. Many Natufian sites were abandoned, a few, like Jericho, were reoccupied some time later.
After 10,000 BP the Natufians moved to areas that offered more favourable environment, mainly water and grazing land for the newly herded animals. The early Neolithic villages were confined to the upper and middle Euphrates, not the lower Euphrates that saw the emergence of first cities a few millenniums later. The early Neolithic villages (c.12, 000 - 11,600 BP) like Tell Mureybit (middle Euphrates site in Syria) were occupied by c.12, 250 BP. They were more dependent on more intensive collection of wild food. Food production was, therefore, not a necessary precondition for the emergence of permanent settlements. However, once the food gatherers settled in areas that had already been occupied by others, there was a possibility of an increase in population. This would have somewhat disturbed the equilibrium between the available resources and the people feeding on them. It is perhaps under these circumstances that the food procurement strategies were intensified. Animals were brought under greater control and plants came to be grown in a more systematic manner.
In Southwest Asia very rarely did domestication of plants and animals occur independently of each other. As shown earlier, the early Neolithic villages were founded in areas where there was water, arable land as also land for grazing. The settlements where these were within reasonable distance would have been highly advantageous. Both Beidha and Jericho were close to sources of supply of water - an essential requirement for a growing agricultural settlement. Archaeological excavations have shown that in the Natufian level at Beidha, Capra (related to goat) comprised 76% of the total faunal assemblage showing that it was the most hunted species. In the succeeding early Neolithic period,
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by 10,000 BP, herding of goats had begun. Vegetable sources of high quality protein like field peas; lentils and other leguminous plants are also represented in the early Neolithic levels. The evidence of knowledge of rudimentary irrigation techniques in Beidha in the subsequent phase shows that it had made advances in cultivation.
The lower levels of Jericho were occupied between c. 10,350 - 9,350 BP. This is called the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) phase. The wheat and barley grown in this phase were not native to the region. The seeds of these grasses may have been brought from the Jordan Valley. Soon after the initial attempts at cultivating these grasses here, the early farmers exploited the environment in such a way that they grew capable of producing a surplus. Gazelle, pig and wild cattle are the animals represented in the early levels of PPNA. There is no evidence of domestication of animals in this phase. The evidence that comes from Jericho establishes a very significant point that while specialised hunting could have led to the beginning of large-scale domestication of animals, not every hunting economy (in this case gazelle hunting economy) necessarily led to domestication.
The trend suggests that sheep and goat were being selected over gazelle. This could have been due to some desirable traits (like a hairy body) or feeding habits of these animals. Gazelle is supposed to have had a selective diet and restricted habitat, which made it unsuitable for domestication. Similar shifts were at work at Abu Hureyra in Syria. In about three hundred years, i.e. about
7,000 BP, we have evidence here of a Neolithic village based on cultivation of fully domesticated cereals and pulses. By 9,000 BP the early settlers who has switched over to herding sheep and goat had given up hunting of gazelle.
The Neolithic villages at Beidha and Jericho disappeared after 8,000 BP except in the north of Palestine-Damascus Basin and the Mediterranean coastline. There was a shift in settlement as the steppe was abandoned due to environmental degradation and an increase in aridity. In the opinion of some scholars domestication of plants and animals caused the beginning of the process of deforestation. How did this come about? Domestication of plants required clearing up of small patches of land for cultivation. The herding and domestication of animals increased the need for land for grazing purposes. This together with the practice of felling trees to get wood for fuel had a damaging effect on the ecology of the region. The long-term damage to the vegetation can be confirmed from the decreasing pollen core in the stratigraphical layers of the Neolithic period here.
Some of the other agricultural sites in West Asia, for instance, those in the Zagros Mountains and Anatolia (modern Turkey), also experienced a continuity of settlements. Ganj-dareh on the Zagros Mountains was occupied about
10,5000 years ago as a seasonal camp of hunter-gatherers. During the Neolithic period it emerged as a village. Ali Kosh, on the arid steppe of Western Iran, was occupied in mid tenth millennium BC. (c.9, 500 BP). At that time the hunter-gatherers hunted gazelle, wild ass, pig, fished in the Mehmeh River, collected shellfish and snared wild fowl. Excavations at the older sites in Kurdistan like Karim Shahr, Shanidar and Tepe Asiab (Iran) shows that hunter- gatherers had grown and reaped wild cereals and other plants here. Small villages like Jarmo in the Kurdish foothills had been occupied by about 8,750 BP. The settlements here lasted for a fairly long time as compared to the early periods. During diggings here archaeologists have recovered seeds of domesticated wheat
and barley, field peas and lentils. The osteological (bone) evidence shows that the early farmers had also domesticated sheep, goat and pig. Hunting-gathering activities were however not given up.
Considerable advances could be seen in the advanced cultures of Syria and Mesopotamia from c. 8,250 years ago to about 7,000 years ago. These cultures have been identified in the sites of Halaf, Hassuna, Samara and Ubaid. The advance was marked mainly by introduction of new pottery style and in the architectural pattern of houses. By about 7,500 years BP, irrigation agriculture, cattle and sheep breeding, date palm cultivation and fishing had developed in certain parts of southern Mesopotamia, particularly Akkad and Sumer.
3.4.2 Evidence from Anatolia, Europe, Meso-America and
Rainfall continued to increase in the early Holocene in Anatolia. This helped in the spread of forest cover especially in the western and central parts of the region. The conditions for human habitation improved much later than in the Levant but lasted for a longer time. The Neolithic period here could be divided into two stages - from 10,000 to 8,000 BP and a later stage that lasted till about
7,000 BP. Cayonu, one of the early agricultural sites, was occupied from 9,400 to 8,750 BP. It had a broad subsistence base dependent on the cultivation of cereals and plants and domestication of caprines, principally sheep and goat. This shows that early attempts at agriculture were preceded by a long period during which the transformation from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture had occurred.
Catal Huyuk was the largest and one of the most prominent of the late Neolithic sites in Anatolia. It was occupied in early ninth millennium BP and was abandoned in c.7, 400 BP. It was situated on rich alluvial soil besides a stream and thus presented excellent opportunities for domestication of plants and cereal hybridization. Cattle were the most prominent animal domesticated here. Similar trends were at work in Hacilar, one of the oldest known Neolithic sites on the western Anatolian plateau, and in Suberde. It is not certain whether the animals found in Suberde were being hunted or had been herded. It therefore needs to be mentioned that in all the sites in West Asia a complete and profitable animal husbandry could not develop from the isolated attempts at domestication. Large- scale domestication of animals started along with the beginning of cereal production. This provided relatively large amount of rough fodder necessary for the caprines (goat, sheep etc.,), the leading species of the earliest attempts at animal husbandry at the advent of the Neolithic.
It should be evident now that the long periods of glaciation and inter-glaciation (of the Pleistocene) and other climatic shifts had constantly caused alterations in the ways of acquiring food. The hunting-gathering strategies had never remained constant and nor did these changes occur in a similar manner in different parts of the world. The advanced hunter-gatherers of north Europe, for instance, had become fully dependent on the hunting of reindeer in the late Pleistocene. With the onset of post-glacial warm conditions and the gradual contraction of the ice-sheets, other herbivorous animals like the red deer and elk in northwestern Europe replaced reindeer. By 12, 000 BP a temperate climate had set in some parts of Europe. The contraction of ice-sheets in the extreme north revealed land areas in Scandinavia that provided additional plots of land.
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Early Human Societies
Groups of hunter-gatherers had already taken advantage of the newly formed lakes and streams as the Mesolithic sites of Hungary, Germany and France have revealed. Elsewhere, as along the Baltic and the Caspian Sea region, fishing and fowling were providing additional means of subsistence. The archaeological record of the Mesolithic period in northwestern Europe (13, 000 - 11, 000 BP) shows that the climatic changes had resulted in the abundance of small, fleet- footed animals (like dear), water birds, fish, snails and mussels. The Mesolithic communities had, therefore, taken recourse to an intensified food gathering. This method of acquiring food could be pursued in only the regions rich in natural resources. But as the available sources dwindled these methods had to be replaced by more extractive means of acquiring food.
In Europe the earliest evidence of cultivated emmer wheat and barley and domesticated cattle and pig comes from Greece in 9, 000 BP. The early experiments in farming were quite successful in the fertile floodplains of the Balkans where the farmers grew wheat and barley and domesticated sheep and goats. The Balkans is an area with as much environmental variability and ranges in temperature as West Asia and Anatolia. This has led some scholars to emphasise on cultural contacts with the neighboring Anatolia which, according to them, helped in the spread of farming in the Balkans. But the fact that the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had occupied these areas shows that the indigenous nature of early farming here. They may have definitely been in touch with their West Asian counterparts.
A complex set of population movement from the Balkans and the adaptive processes among the hunter-gatherers helped them in settling down in the fertile loess soil region of temperate or central Europe about 7,000 years ago. The conditions here were conducive for the cultivation of barley, wheat and minor crops like the flax. The early farmers resorted to crop rotation. The practice widely adopted was of cultivating some plots and to leave some fallow. The stubble of the crop that was harvested was burnt to allow the land to regain its fertility, which repeated cultivation robbed it of. The practice is called swidden cultivation or slash and burn farming. This enabled the farmers to remain in a place for a longer time.
Compared with the Balkans and temperate Europe, food production began much later in the northwestern Mediterranean regions. It is only in the eighth millennium BC. that we get evidence of land clearance, domestication of cereal grasses and sheep and some kind of an exchange taking place among the coastal communities of the Mediterranean. Since hunting continued to be practiced it is ironical that some of the last of the big game animals like the elephant and hippo were exterminated at this time in the islands of the region. Biological diversity and a rich flora and fauna enabled hunter-gatherers to thrive in Eastern Europe. Around 10,000 BP Eastern Europe was covered with pine and birch forest with a mixture of broad-leaved species of trees in the north and steppe vegetation in the south, which supported large animals. These could provide a substantial basis to the hunting-gathering economy. Some scholars even observe that subsequently there was a budding-off of surplus population from the Neolithic zones to these ecological niches where they adopted the Mesolithic way of life. So a reversal in the way of acquiring subsistence was also possible!
The discussion so far on the beginning of agriculture aims to show that the early farmers did not adapt to specific environments but to the plants and animals
available in several environments. Familiarity with the growth of certain cereal plants must have begun through the collection of the seeds of these plants. The Natufians had scheduled their hunting and collecting activities according to the movement and /or availability of plants and animals in specific places during specific times of the year. Eventually, scheduled, i.e., time-bound ways of acquiring food, rather than erratic and unplanned food-procurement strategies, made them dependent on specific plants and animals. The reference to various sites in West Asia and Europe establishes the fact that there could be yearlong and repeated settlements in the same region without the development of full- blooded agriculture.
Map 4: Early domesticated plant species (After Wenke, Patterns in Prehistory, Oxford, 1984 p. 162)
Yet, the reverse could also be true. Nomadism could persist even after the domestication of certain crops. This happened in regions like the Mesoamerica (the geographical area between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico) where the environment was not favorable. The hunter-gatherers here found it difficult to locate game. In the Tehuacan Valley region, which is 125 miles south east of the Mexico City, the climate grew increasingly arid/dry after 11,000
BP. The hunter-gatherers resorted to season-bound hunting and gathering which did not cause exhaustion of resources. In winter people lived off the hunt and in summer they gathered fruits and seeds in the better-watered regions of the valley.
As people moved from one eco-zone to another, their knowledge of the available species also increased. They domesticated maize, squash and beans in both the highland and lowland Mesoamerica and also continued to explore new terrain. By 7,000 BP small hunter-gatherer bands were occasionally settling down near the riverbanks. The initial impulse for agriculture and village life came from the coastal areas nearly 4,000 years after the attempts at domesticating maize. By
Transition to Agriculture
Early Human Societies
5,400 BP people had begun living in villages and grew maize. Squash and bean grew alongside maize as weed plants and comprised the bulk of the diet of the inhabitants of this region. The new evidence of domestication of maize from the Central and South American regions of Peru, Argentina and Chile, dating back to 5,000 BP amply demonstrates that a cereal which essentially belonged to the highland had now been domesticated in almost all the eco-zones. A mobile and nomadic life-style had not, however, been fully given up.
The beginning of agriculture in China is identified primarily on the basis of two regional cultures – the Yang- shao and the Lung-shan cultures. The Yang-shao culture of north China dates back to about 6,000BP. It originated in the Middle Huang valley – around the confluence of Fen and Wei rivers and further diffused eastward into central Shansi and eastern Kansu. The economy seemed to have been a mixed economy characterised by hunting, fishing, gathering and cultivation of millet and later wheat, domestication of dog and pigs and less frequently cattle, sheep and goat. Mulberry trees were utilised for silk worms. The Lung-shan cultures succeeded the Yang-shao culture in c. 5,200 BP. K.C. Chang (1970) has hypothesised that it developed out of the Yang-shao culture and expanded eastwards and southwards to Honan, Shantung, Hupei, Kiangsu, Chekiang, and Taiwan. The primary domesticates explored here were millet, wheat, rice, soybean, chicken, sheep and cattle.
The discussion so far establishes the fact that the transition to agriculture was a harbinger of very significant in some ways an irreversible pace of cultural change. Two features associated with agriculture both as cause and effect – demographic increase and greater sedentism – encouraged people to explore newer strategies to cope with changing needs. It will be incorrect to observe that the beginning of agriculture immediately revolutionised the life of early farmers, yet there is no doubt about the fact that the potentialities inherent in irrigation farming (with possibility of a surplus, greater exchange etc.,) encouraged formation of a more complex society.
1) What do you understand by climatic stress Model? How is it different from Demographic Model?
2) How does systems model explains the transition from hunting gathering to agriculture?
3) How in the early phase wild plants were domesticated?
4) Give a brief account of early agriculture in South-West Asia.
5) Write a short note on the beginning of agriculture in America and Mexico.