“What is the most convincing theory for the origins of agriculture? Discuss.”
Hunter-gathering has been the predominant food procurement strategy for the human race for millions of years, until around 12,000 years ago, when archeological evidence suggests early agricultural sites first appeared, in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Western Asia, Egypt and India. Irrigation, crop rotation and the use of fertilizers were detected from this period, which is known as the Neolithic Revolution. Organizing food production to ensure supplies for the future seems a logical development, but why begin only 12,000 years ago?
Childe’s ‘Oasis’ (‘propinquity’) hypothesis that higher temperatures encouraged people to seek out areas spared desiccation, leading to competition for food and, therefore, domestication of plants, seemed viable. However, Braidwood and Howe refuted this : climate change would have been too gradual. Moreover, agriculture appeared in areas where no major climactic changes had occurred. Was farming born from necessity or opportunity? Sauer thought farming was perhaps invented by fishermen, living in regions where an abundance of resources allowed them leisure-time to undertake plant experimentation. He asserted the importance of population growth as a reason for agriculture, along with Cohen, Binford, and others. As populations become sedentary, increased competition for food made foraging difficult: farming was born.
There has been a return to considering the importance of climate: prior to the Neolithic period there were warmer, moister places to hunt and gather, but around the birth of the Neolithic period, the cold, dry conditions of the ‘Younger Dryas’ hampered our ability to do so. Decreased harvests could have prompted our ancestors to begin thinking about providing for the future. However, Mithen’s argument that the brains of early humans ‘simply lacked the imagination to domesticate plants and animals’ , along with Rindos’s ‘evolutionary’ theory, explaining agricultural origins as a selective coevolution of plants and groups of people who have benefited mutually, are convincing. It allows us to acknowledge, yet avoid the pitfalls of, environmental determinism. It is a flexible theory, accounting for differences in contrasting geographical areas. Since there is no overall consensus amongst theorists, it can incorporate the best parts of all theories, and is, in my opinion, most likely.