Humans as Farmers

Humans as Farmers

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4586-8.ch006
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The developments separating humans the most from the ecosystem were farming and civilization. Farming dates from about 11,000 years ago, and civilization dates from about 7,000 years ago. Farming separates us from the ecosystem by replacing the ecosystem with plants and animals of our own choice. However, farmers must still respect the environment, which allows those plants and animals to thrive. Once humans begin farming, there are forces that make it difficult to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, even when that lifestyle is preferable in many ways.
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The transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farmer lifestyle made a huge difference in how humans relate to the ecosystem. The later transitions to civilization and modern technology arguably had greater impact. But farming for the first time involves deliberately altering the ecosystem for human benefit. In fact, many centuries later, the pastoral farming landscape has become the paradigm of nature. Nature has become a garden. According to Christian origin myth, a garden—the Garden of Eden—was the original dwelling place for humans.

Here is a timeline for the development of farming and agriculture:

  • 20,000 years ago: Humans cultivate wild plants

  • 12,000 years ago: Humans plant domesticated crops

  • 12,000 years ago: Humans domesticate sheep

  • 11,000 years ago: Humans domesticate pigs

  • 10,000 years ago: Widespread farming in Fertile Crescent, Egypt, China

  • 10,000 years ago: Humans domesticate cats and diversify dog breeds

  • 10,000 years ago: Humans domesticate cows and goats

  • 9,500 years ago: Villages (Çatal Höyük, Turkey)

  • 8,000 years ago: Humans domesticate chickens

  • 7,000 years ago: Elements of civilization

  • 7,000 years ago: Humans domesticate donkeys

  • 6,000 years ago: Humans domesticate water buffalo, horses, camels, llamas

  • 6,000 years ago: Humans domesticate honeybee, silkworm

  • 4,000 years ago: Humans domesticate elephants

Before civilization arises about 7,000 years ago, animals are domesticated for two purposes: Either for food—animal products like milk and egg or meat; or for performing specific tasks such as helping with hunting or catching rodents. Beasts of burden are not domesticated or used until civilization arises. Although beasts of burden help tremendously in transporting goods and people, they are not essential for civilization. The classic Maya developed an elaborate civilization without the use of beasts of burden of any kind. In any case, it appears that pre-civilization human farmers did not employ beasts of burden.

Farming had become well-established by 12,000 years ago. The following crops appear at the same time in the near east: wheat, barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chick peas, and flax. By 9,000 years ago, a farm economy exists in Greece consisting of wheat, barley, sheep, pigs, and goats.


Origin Of Farming

So how did the transition between hunter/gathering and farming come about? And what are the implications of this development for the way humans relate to the ecosystem? The first step appears to have been cultivation, that is, the deliberate planting and care of wild plant varieties. This may have taken place as long ago as 20,000 years ago. As previously noted, a sedentary lifestyle is important for agriculture. Crops must usually be cared for. Sheep, the first domesticated species, can be raised by nomads. Cattle, to some extent, and pigs not so much.

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