Origins of Farming


Farming consists of one or both of:

  1. agriculture: the conscious planting, cultivating and harvesting of plants leading to their artificial selection.
  2. domestication: the rearing, raising and culling of animals leading to their artificial selection.

Farming originated first in the Middle East, either in the Levant or south of the Taurus mountains, around 8500BC (the Pre-pottery Neolithic B).

It is known that some form of settlement preceded farming. There was a period of increased settlement activity, initially in the southern Levant, around 1300 BC (the Natufian) and settlement activity in a second wave around 10,000BC (the Pre-pottery Neolithic A).

Current evidence from Gobekli Tepe (around 9000BC) suggests that monument building locally also preceded farming. There may be other examples of such a phenomenon, such as the Norte Chico culture of Peru (around 3000BC).

It now appears from bone evidence that farming did not improve people’s health over the health of foragers, and may well have been detrimental to their health, even shortening their lives.

General views

There are many different views on the origins of farming. These include the following:

  1. Farming was inevitable for humans as soon as global climate had stabilised sufficiently to allow it. This stabilisation only occurred in the Holocene.
  2. Farming occurred only in places where potential cultivars and domesticable animals existed.
  3. Climate change led to droughts forcing human populations to farm in order to survive.
  4. The mind of human beings reached a threshold of ‘domesticability’.
  5. Population expansion in settlements led to a necessity for farming in order to feed the growing population.
  6. Farming allowed people to show off status by the abundance of their food.

My current view

Before farming, settlement tended to occur in oases or land-corridors separating very large, generally fertile regions. These corridors acted as pathways for valuables (rare animal, mineral or plant items which might confer status) between the larger regions and the settlers benefitted from this in some, as yet unclear, way. Examples of this may be the Levant corridor and the Isthmus of Panama. Oaxaca-Veracruz region of the Central Americas.

For unknown reasons (perhaps related to local mineral sources), the most successful of these settlements occurred at one or other end of the corridors (e.g. northern Levant-Taurus mountains, Oaxaca-Veracruz region of the Central Americas). Population pressures on these settlements, probably due to population rise, led to a shortage of food.

There was, for presumably economic reasons, an incentive for people not to simply drift away at this point, so new food supplies needed to be created. To provide this food, settlements took up agricultural experiments and, through some form of luxury gift exchange, supported each other and exchanged cultivars, co-operation acting as a form of insurance against failure and bad harvest resulting from unreliable agricultural methods.

Subsequent improvements in farming and yields (e.g. due to increases in reliance on animals and manuring, improved crops strains, and food processing methods) gradually reduced the chances of failure but decreased co-operation between groups.