Early Agriculture (Chapter 5, Big History) Discussion Questions:
1) Why was the agricultural revolution such a huge watershed in world history (consider the backdrops of 200,000 years and 5 million years)? 2) Why did people make the shift to an agricultural-based lifestyle considering the relative drop in food variety and increase health risks? 3) How do scientists know about climate change and changes in human diet? 4) How did the domestication of some animals proceed and contribute toward the agricultural revolution? 5) What is complex foraging? 6) Why are women usually given credit for domesticating wild plants? 7) What does the linguistic evidence say about the way that lifeways changed in the Mid-east, Europe and Southern Asia? 8) Draw a map of the plant and animal domestication in the world, including the most recent domesticated plants in North America. 9) Based on the evidence presented regarding Catal Huyuk, what type of agrarian-society did it have? 10) How did agriculture change human society? 11) Why were goddess figures associated with the earth from Europe to Asia? 12) Why did some peoples in the world not make a shift to agriculture? 13) What gave the horse nomads of the Eurasian Steppe advantages from 500 BCE? 14) What was the epic of Gilgamesh about and how does it sybolize the reservations people had changing from from hunter-gathering way of life to farming? 15) When and where does the garden of Eden story originate and how does it, like Gilgamesh reflect the reservations humans had over the transition to farming? 16) Cain and Abel?
1) The last 10,000 years, since the agricultural revolution, represents only 5% of the 200,000 years homosapiens have been in existence. From a backdrop of the last 5 million years (the history of hominids), the last 10,000 years only represents less than 1/2 of one percent. Considering the rise in population since humans began raising grains and animals exclusive of the wild foods they gathered for the large majority of human history, the agricultural revolution is huge in human history, and probably more importantly, the history of life on earth. Few other events in the earth's history, aside from impacts from meteors, have altered the life systems on the planet to the extent that the agricultural revolution.
2) People had to adapt to a changing environment in most cases, especially the regions that experienced the most revolutionary changes--the ones that led to urban centers and long-distance trade. At 100,000 years ago (the time of human migration out of Africa), the population was approximately 50,000. By 10,000 y.a., the population was between 5 and 6 million. The land dried-up as the sea levels rose from about 9,000 years ago. A square mile of cultivated land could support a 100 times greater population than a hunter-gatherer approach would support. (one hunter-gatherer needed approximately 10 sqare miles of useful wildlands to support himself). By 4000 BCE, the population was close to 10 million; by 1000BCE, 50 to 100 million.
3) Scientists take core samples in dry regions of the world to analyze deposits of plant pollen which tells the story of how regional ecologies changed over thousands of years. Bone and dung fossils, including human and animal specimins, give further clues to chaning lifeways of people and animals.
4) Domestication of animals proceeded with the human migrations into the Americas on which the dog certainly made a contribution to their hunting success circa. 11,000 BCE. The domestication of cats proceeded as grain storage required rodent control from around 1000 BCE. Sheep, goats, cows, pigs, and horses, two kinds of camels, donkeys, llamas, reindeer, water buffulo, yaks, and Bali cattle entered earlier into the agrarian order, approximately around 8000-6000 BCE. Most of these animals were herdable animals that could be easily adapted under human control. Sheep and goats are the best examples of full dometication because of their dependence on humans for survival. Oats and rye were well suited for northern European climates/soils.
5) Complex foraging is when village settlement is possible even without largescale agriculture. Enough wild plants could be collected and stored to supplement hunting and allow for a permanent settlement.
6) Women are usually given credit for domesticating wild plants because they were the ones that had to stay closer to one location, nursing the children, and gathering local foodstuffs to be processed into dried or roasted grain products and fiber for clothing.
7) The spread of the Indo-European languages from a central area in the Mid-East, or Anatolia (Turkey) to southern Asia and northern Europe show that farmers from the mideast moved into surrounding areas.
8) Judging from the evidence at Catal Huyuk, the society was mixed-agricultural with a significant amount of hunting and farming, but at a small enough scale that women still played a significant, and probably political role. The main artistic representations of humans were almost always elaborately decorated, heavy (fertile) women. Women were also given more ceremonial burials than men. The Catal Huyuk settlement propbably represents a transitional society before the rise of large urban centers and slave-base agriculture, further removed from the hunter-gatherer past.
9) Agriculture changed human society tremendously because it required a larger degree of managment. From grain storage and distribution to defense of an productive piece of land, agriculture forced societies to develop laws and beuracracies to enforce them. Manufacturing, storing and distributing salt also became more and more important as wild meat was consumed less. TB came from cows and goats; measles and small pox from cattle, a form of malaria from birds; influenza from pigs and ducks. Famon from variations in weather became a big factor.
10) Goddess figures, with big breasts and buttocks, were associated with the earth because of the productivity of women and the earth. The Greek goddess Gaia was the Earth Goddess and Dewi Sri, the rice goddess in Indonesia.
11) Many parts of the world were simply not suitable for agriculture and human societes did not, therefore, make the move to agriculture. The Smohalla in the Pacific Northwest is an example given. Suitable grasses for domestication were simply not present, nor was the ideal rainfall and temperature. In some cases, there was such abundance, farming was not necessary.
12) The stirrup gave the Eurasian nomads a huge advantage that upset the urban/agricultural political orders across Afro-Eurasia.
13) The epic of Gilgamesh represents the wrestling of the urban king with the mountain man, and related lifestyles. Enkidu, the mountain man, was lured into the city and defeated by Gilgamesh, but before he fatefully defeats him, he cuts down forests and angers the gods. People during this period in Mesopotamia also wrestled with the decisions, or impudence of cutting down vast forests for the sake of agriculture. They also lamented the loss of the older, more innocent mountain ways, represented by Enkidu.
14) The Garden of Eden, like the Gilgamesh story, shows the transition to an agricultural life while lamenting the older hunter-gatherer days; but lays blame on the woman for her "original sin" of plant domestication and the new decisions that man humans have to distinguish what is "good" (productive) and "evil" (counterproductive) in the cultivation of crops, including the apple tree, one of the first fruit trees to be domesticated. The potential loss of humility in the shift to agricutlure is the "original sin." Considering God's "punishment" for humans -- to have to work by the sweat of his brow, never returning to the Garden of Eden -- highlights the man's attempt at the time to explain the hardships of farming, compared to the "good-old-days" of hunting-and-gathering in "Garden of Eden."
15) The story of Cain and Abel similarly reflects the transition to agriculture and the feelings people had that the hunter was favored by God. Cain, like the Hebrews was forced to wander again.