Monday, December 10, 2007

Roots of Agriculture

When I wrote my manuscript Paradigms Shift, the one difficulty that I had was explaining the reasons for the abrupt introduction of Global agriculture without any obvious prior development that mirrored the real antiquity of man that clearly spans 40,000 years and possibly a more likely 70,000 years. In short, the capability existed for that time span. The execution apparently commenced wherever possible throughout the globe only with the onset of the Holocene.

And this has to be appreciated. Since the Pleistocene Nonconformity, our global climate has varied by around one degree at most per century which has allowed the existence of temperate agriculture in the Northern Hemisphere. It also helped that the Ice Cap disappeared opening up vast woodland plains.

Prior to the Pleistocene nonconformity, the temperature variation was at least five times greater. This meant temperature swings of several degrees in a century. The only possible response was for human tribes to follow the herds.

With the northern hemisphere eliminated as viable cropping land, we are forced to look to the tropics in particular where this violent climate variation was moderated. There we have Africa acting as a climatic cradle and also South East Asia. The Amazon was prospective but there is as yet no convincing evidence that it was even inhabited.

That agriculture could exist is made plain in the New Guinea highlands. Taro toot cultivation is at least 10,000 years old and may actually have a far greater antiquity. I think that this is a great place to discover the earliest foundation of agriculture anywhere.

We also have little understanding of the antiquity of cattle culture. The Masai show us that a cattle culture does not need established homesteads to manage their herds. In fact, actual village life may have come late to societies relying on cattle. They would have first followed the natural migration cycle of the herds themselves.

Remember the Buffalo herds. The tribes kept themselves mobile and did nothing to hinder the movement of the herds through their grazing lands. That life way could have been maintained for thousands of years before anyone thought to actually tame a buffalo and keep it fenced.

In fact it almost begs the question of why we bothered. Certainly food security would be improved if the animal was tamed and part of the household. But is was a lot of work, and the usage of the milk needed to evolve. Maybe they started as pets and we simply got better at the husbandry. All of a sudden we had herds and they became a source of wealth and the implied need for stable land holdings. Maybe it was the milking that settled us down.

This type of culture was quite capable of handling the violent swings of the pre Holocene climate in the temperate zone. what is more, I suspect that Archeology would have difficulty recognizing the difference between herd management and pure hunting until the advent of villages.

I suspect that the idea of settled agriculture has an antiquity that is vastly more than 10,000 years and was tentatively practiced where possible. The advent of stable climatic conditions finally made it easy after the Pleistocene Nonconformity

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