Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creating Civilization

Newgrange, near Drogheda, Eire
Late Neolithic Period farming

Neolithic Revolution

A. Revolution--or Evolution?

1. Invention of farming--is something of a misnomer. People did not “invent” farming, because they did not make a conscious decision between food production and hunting/gathering. People began simply to adopt (or not adopt) food production for certain foods, while retaining the option to hunt or gather other foods.

a. Choosing what crops to domesticate undoubtedly occurred through accident and observation; as Jared Diamond points out much food production began in latrines (where humans empties their bowels,  and therefore defecated undigested seeds, which in turn produced new plants.

b. The benefits of farming--the gradual turn to farming had far-reaching implications. It allowed--and encouraged--people to become sedentary. Without having to spend at least part of the day searching for food, this permitted some people living within specific groups to begin specializing in other pursuits--metal working, leather working, making tools, and eventually writing and religious practices. This more sedentary lifestyle encouraged the growth of  population, because women could now bear children closer together in age. The practice of farming was also probably developed because of climatic changes that the earth was going through 10,000 years ago, which made it more difficult to find sufficient amounts of food while foraging.

c. Drawbacks of farming--while it seems counter-intuitive, skeletal remains suggest that early farmers were less well fed than their foraging counterparts; they were significantly smaller, which tells us that their diet was less adequate than the foragers. Farming also encouraged the development of a more more hierarchical social structure. Farms and their crops had to be protected from foragers and wild animals that might be interested in consuming the crops before their planters did. As climate change occurred, and technology like canals and reservoirs were built to provide sufficient water for the crops, a police force was created to regulate its use. In several parts of the earth, animals are domesticated and used as food sources--cattle, pigs, and chickens, in particular. All three of these species, however, transfer their diseases to humans  quite readily, resulting in the spread of diseases like influenza and smallpox, among others

2. Uneven Development--farming develops between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago in a variety of places around the globe. This uneven development is explained (again, by Jared Diamond) by the access early peoples had to plants and animals that were easily domesticated--and to interactions between early peoples that allowed them to transmit their knowledge of these plants and animals and how to grow them.
Tropical area indicated by pink band

a. Role of Geography--many of you had great difficulty with Monday's map assignment. Despite your lack of knowledge of the specifics of world geography, however, all of you got specific geographic facts right--that the Eurasia landmass is largely oriented in a horizontal fashion, while Africa and the Americas are oriented vertically. Geographically, this means that Europe and Asia, being roughly within the same latitude, can--and did--readily share the same domesticated plants for food, chiefly wheat, barley, and sorghum, among others. The other continents, being oriented north-south, cannot readily share these domesticated plants and animals, because they cannot live in the tropical zones in order to reach the places that they could grow in the more temperate zones north of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn. In addition to a large area of shared climate, Europe and Asia are in reality one large, connected land mass, with no geographic features that divide them. Southern Africa, on the other  hand, is divided from Europe not only be thousands of miles, but also by a desert and a large tropical rainforest. North and South America are connected by a narrow land mass (called Central America), most of which lies within the northern tropics and slowed the cultivation of maize from rapidly spreading south.

b. Maize--developed from a wild grass called teosinte, which produces a very small ear (smaller than the so-called “baby corn” sometimes served in some Chinese restaurants and in canned chow mein)--except no one eats teosinte because it takes more energy to harvest than it produces in grain. Early natives in the Valley of Mexico genetically modified the plant (it will not grow by itself past a couple of generations)
Teosinte to maize, left to right

i.)Once invented, maize cultivation spread mainly northward from the Valley of Mexico, although the fact that it had to also be adopted to the shorter growing seasons north of the Ohio River slowed its spread. 
ii.) Introduction of maize cultivation allowed native peoples like the Mound Builders to flourish, and eventually many native peoples became semi-sedentary; i.e., while still relying on hunting to provide a source of protein, hunting game became a secondary food source, and people chose to remain relatively close to their crops to cultivate their main source of food. 
iii.) Cultivation dilemma partially solved by the adaptation of gender-specific roles (males hunted, females cultivated and gathered additional food); native peoples also eventually developed methods that minimized the labor necessary to grow the “three sisters.”

Artist's rendition of Catal Huyuk
Butser Ancient Farm recreation
Ancient farming in China
 3. Creating the surplus--farming becomes attractive because domesticated plants prove to be a fairly reliable source of food; so much so, that farmers are actually able to produce more than they need to subsist--and therefore producing a surplus, which they can then trade for other goods.

B. Why farming wins out

1. Changes in climate--in certain areas meant that gathering food enough to survive on became more difficult, and made raising food a more attractive option (the Fertile Crescent, for example, became more arid, and people living there were forced to begin raising food--both grain and animals--in order to remain there).

2. Changes in Technology--the ability to store a harvest (whether from raising food or gathering it) led people to become more sedentary (it is, after all, difficult to transport a granary to support a nomadic lifestyle). Using domesticated animals to iron-tipped plows also made farming more bountiful as well, and freed up labor from plowing to undertake other duties.

3. Sedentary lifestyle--promoted by the rise of farming led to more children being born. Nomadic peoples tended not to have more children at one time than they were able to carry; with farming families remaining in one location, children were born closer in age in many families, which caused the population of farming groups to grow faster than their nomadic cousins.

4. Productivity of farming--even though food producers were often less well-nourished than their nomadic counterparts, the greater populations of sedentary groups meant that they often prevailed in conflicts between the two groups (that later changes as nomads develop horsey skills and become more mobile).

I. The Development of “Civilization”--the term has become somewhat controversial; here we will define it as it is used in The Earth and Its Peoples, defined by the development of specialized roles, the development of writing, sophisticated trade networks, and the development of urban settlements.

1. Production of the surplus--people were able to live in cities because with agriculture, the production of food beyong the needs of immediate subsistence--surplus food--became the norm. This allowed people to regularly engage in other activities rather than working to ensure their own subsistence. People began to specialize in various artisnal crafts at this point.

II. Control of the surplus--living in urban areas meant living in groups larger than one’s extended kin network (which was the usual bond between people in paleolithic bands). This led to less reliance upon cooperation, and greater emphasis being placed on coercion to control surplus food production.

A. Armed force--professional soldiers were developed along with urban living areas because they could be used to appropriate surplus food supplies, both from within people within their settlement as well as without

B. Accounting for the surplus--with the development of the surplus there also developed a need to account for it--to be able to tell where the surplus went, to whom--and eventually at what cost. The need for this accounting system led to the development of both a system of writing (for record keeping), and the development of mathematics (for the actual accounting).

C. Rulers and priests--with the development of agriculture, it became important to also keep track of the seasons, and to be able to read (or, even better, influence) the portents so that it could be determined the best time to plant. Among many peoples, the development of a priestly class reinforced the emergence of a ruling class, who emerged because they were able to claim the favor of a particular deity.

1. Early sedentary farming communities were established without class divisions on fertile soil, but as the communities expanded to less fertile soil, improvements to the land (irrigation, etc.) were made. Those making the improvements needed to expand agricultural production, and felt justified in controlling access to these improvements and to exercising control over the surplus produced.

2. In this way, in some areas of the world, community leadership grew to expect tribute to be offered to them (usually in goods)

3. As the means of production changed during the neolithic era, the relationship of people to the means of production changed as well. People tended to accept these changes because of the gradual nature in which they took place, and because the abundance of food during peak periods made the increasingly authoritarian nature of rulers more palatable.

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