Why ancient societies decided to adopt food production despite having outstanding hunting and gathering skills is one of the challenging problems that confounds many anthropologists. According to Melinda A. Zeder, the adoption of food production by ancient people was a crucial milestone in the evolution of man. The researcher contrasts it with other evolution phases like the adoption of bipedalism as opposed to quadrupedalism and the use of symbols in communication. Ancient man was instrumental in the domestication of animals, directing their eventual reproduction, movement, distribution, sustenance, security, and many other important characteristics. Domestication was not an accident, but was motivated by intentionality actions of ancient man. According to Zeder (106), domestication emerged from an intended and deliberate insight to influence the life cycle of the specified plant or animal and improve their populations. The researcher also acknowledges the propagation of domestication process, as established in a symbiotic relationship whereby all the three constituents (man, plants and animals) benefitted. Food production especially through domestication process of ancient societies was not an instant thing. It was a continuous process which invested heavily in changing an animal’s inborn behavior such as movement, breeding program and the system of population to conform to what suits man. Melinda documented three main features that determined success of domestication process. Such factors include balance of power, intentionality and locus of change (Zeder 107). Numerous theories argue that domestication of both plants and animals was unplanned. Man was entirely in control and could contour the plants and animals to desirable qualities that he wanted them to be. Man rejected hunter-gathering models as a form of evolution and adopted convenience of food production through domestication.
Comparison of Two Case Studies on the Origins of Agriculture and Village Life
Two case studies on the origin of agriculture and village life based two theories revealing the possible genesis of agriculture, domestication and village life. The first case study of the origin of agriculture and village life is based on the Oasis Theory. The theory notes that people commenced domesticating plants and animals due to the compulsion of climate changes.
Archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe explained the theory several decades before initiation of radiocarbon dating and multiple years before multiple evidence were collected regarding significant climatic information. His explanations indicated that during the end of the Pleistocene, parts of the North Africa and the Near East region underwent a duration of desiccation. This duration was characterized by increased manifestation of drought, high temperatures, and diminished rainfall. According to the theory, increased aridity compelled people and animals to crowd within oasis regions, river valley parts. The theory also shows that propinquity allowed for the growth of the animal and plant population and further prompted enhanced familiarity of a man with plants and animals. The theory insisted that the ancient man was forced out of the fertile land zones and those who lived near water points had to adopt new survival ways that included learning how to raise crops and animals in new regions which initially was not ideal. The support of this theory emanated from the assumption amongst the many early social scientists before the 20th century that believed that early man could not adopt inventive or innovative ways of life unless circumstance compelled them to do so. The theory was also supported by other early theories that claimed climatic changes were the sole reason for the shift of from hunting and gathering to domestication (Kelly and David 142).
An archaeological evidence support some portions while equally refutes significant sections of the Oasis Theory on the origin of agriculture and village life. Since the theory emerged before the invention of carbon dating technology, new information availed by carbon dating technology has shown opposing approach on the theory. According to archaeological evidence based on the compilation of comparative data on radiocarbon dating and development of the culture especially around the Near East indicates that transformation from hunting and gathering model to agriculture and village life emanated from a list of multiple variables. The evidence also shows that the transformation from hunting and gathering to current domestication lifestyle took several thousands of years. The archaeological evidence noted the presence of encroachment of arid climatic conditions as elaborated in the oasis theory (Maher, Edward & Michael 30). The latest archeological research indicated some parts were strongly impacted while others were moderately affected. According to Maher’s archaeological evidence, climatic transformation alone could not cause the huge shift in a technological and cultural change of the ancient man (Maher, Edward & Michael 30). However, they did not exclude climatic variability as having contributed to the long shift from moveable hunter-gatherer to sedentary agricultural communities in the Near East.
A second case study on the origin of agriculture and village life is the Hilly Flanks Theory. Robert Braidwood proposed the theory in 1948 after his study work in Turkey. He believed that agriculture and village life began in a highland that experience frequent rainfall thus the crops would easily grow in the absence of the need to supply irrigational water (Braidwood & Charles 100).
Hilly flanks are locational terms applied in reference to forested lower slopes of Zagros and Tauros mountains. The area constitutes the western region believed to hold the western frontier of the Fertile Crescent situated in the southwestern Asia. The region currently constitutes the modern nations of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Several archaeological evidence has portrayed the region as the center of the genesis of agriculture. Hilly Flanks theory argued that agriculture could have only begun in a region that received sufficient rainfall and must have been on the hill. The theory receives support from archeological findings of animals believed to be the ancestors of the currently domesticated animals which were found in the region. The region is believed to be the native home of the ancestor s of the animals such as goats, pigs and sheep. Plants such as chickpea, wheat and barley are also believed to have fast domesticated there (Braidwood & Charles 80).
Both Oasis Theory and Hilly Flanks theory have close similarity on how people adopted agriculture and village due to forces of nature of such as climate. The two theories are however faulty in that it is difficult to believe that people adopted agriculture instantly. Many anthropologists believe that adoption of agriculture was not an instant thing. They believe that it was a continuous technological enhancement by people and may have happened in different places at different times (Bryce and Jessie 123).
The timing for the transformation from hunting and gathering lifestyle is hugely believed to have been a gradual process that spanned thousands of years, but the two theory claims that it might have happened instantly after shift in climatic conditions. There is little evidence to prove how the process of shifted from hunter-gathering society, however, crucial archeological evidence traces the shift from Near East region. The theories outline that the change occurred nearly 100 000 years ago. The two theories indicated that ecological shift occurred climate changed from grassland to arid climatic. The change caused reduced availability of food to ancient man, therefore compelling him to adopt a sedentary lifestyle with agriculture. Both theories indicate that increase in demographics and multiple other social variables such as security compelled ancient people to settle in camps and bands thus adopting sedentary lifestyles.
Melinda’s outline of domestication is hugely different from the two case studies of Oasis theory and Hilly Flanks theory. The Oasis and Hilly Flanks theories argued that ancient could not think of domestication without being forced by circumstance, but Melinda argued that ancient man managed the locus of control on all other domesticates and contributed immensely to the bodily and morphological change to suit what he desired. There is extensive archaeological evidence that supports the two theories. Such evidence includes Presence of carbonized seeds found in Near East. Archeological fossils of animals believed to be the ancestors of some of the current domesticated animal were also found in the region. Some of the oldest documented writings regarding human beings and agriculture appear to originate from the region. Archaeological evidence have also emanated in refuting the claimed date in which the people adopted agriculture. According to archeological evidence, most of the theories are hugely speculations which are hard to support or affirm due to the availability of the insufficient data and records. The archeological evidence also notes the gradual shift from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture. Presents of many hunter-gathering communities in Africa, Brazil’s Amazon and many other parts of the world is a clear indication that adoption of agriculture has not been an instant process.
Zeder, Melinda A. “Central Questions in the Domestication of Plants and Animals.” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, no. 15, 2006, pp. 105-117.
Bryce, Trevor, and Jessie Birkett-Rees. Atlas of the Ancient Near East: From Prehistoric Times to the Roman Imperial Period. Routledge, 2016.
Kelly, Robert L, and David H. Thomas. Archaeology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2013.
Braidwood, Robert J., and Charles A. Reed. “The Achievement and Early Consequences of Food-Production: Consideration of the Archeological and Natural-Historical Evidence.” Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, no. 22. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1957.
Maher, Lisa A., Edward Bruce Banning, and Michael Chazan. “Oasis or mirage? Assessing the Role of Abrupt Climate Change in the Prehistory of the Southern Levant.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-30.