Was climate the main driving force of early human development and the beginning of agriculture 10,000 BP? i.e 'the dawn of civilisation'

[–]firedrops Religion & Identity • African Diaspora 7 points 7 days ago  Certainly it is a compelling theory that the changing climate encouraged us to develop new ways to get food with agriculture being one such development. One piece of evidence is that agriculture seems to have been invented independently around that time in a few different places. For example, in the fertile crescent and Papua New Guinea. I don't think this really makes us slaves to climate although we're obviously beholden to it. As a species we've always found ways to adapt culturally to new or changing environments. We donned clothing and developed controlled use of fire so we could keep warm without fur and cook otherwise inedible foods. We build boats to live on the water, drain swamps to grow crops, build irrigation systems to transport water, etc. Climate constrains our options but we find workarounds all the time. No reason to think agriculture isn't one such solution. Here are a couple readings to get you started: Richerson, Peter J., Robert Boyd, and Robert L. Bettinger. "Was agriculture impossible during the Pleistocene but mandatory during the Holocene? A climate change hypothesis." American Antiquity (2001): 387-411. Gupta, Anil K. "Origin of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals linked to early Holocene climate amelioration." Current Science 87.1 (2004): 54-59. Denham, Tim P., et al. "Origins of agriculture at Kuk Swamp in the highlands of New Guinea." Science 301.5630 (2003): 189-193. permalinksavereportgive goldreply [–]gorgeousgeorge93 [S] 2 points 6 days ago  Great stuff thanks. So your saying that the beginning of agriculture was a cultural adaptation to climate, and the co-evolution of it in different areas demonstrates its convenience at the time. But how would we differentiate between natural social change, and climate induced change? And how would we look for natural change in the archaeological record? Really useful links, many thanks. permalinksaveparenteditdisable inbox repliesdeletereply [–]firedrops Religion & Identity • African Diaspora 2 points 6 days ago  Though I've taken graduate level archaeology courses, it isn't my area of expertise and I should probably hand that off to some of our users who are. But in general you really just have to build a strong argument from circumstantial evidence. Writing didn't develop until thousands of years later so you aren't going to find a smoking gun like a journal. Coincidences do happen so all you can do is argue it is highly unlikely it is just chance. Here is an example of how people have built the larger argument using what evidence we do have: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/may/china-agriculture-origins-050213.html permalinksaveparentreportgive goldreply [–]Sophious 2 points 6 days ago  Steven Mithen's book After the Ice is a few years old but about this topic. He is a wonderful writer and credible resource. Bit of a thick read for one paper but a very worthwhile one on this topic in general. 10/10 would read again. Really though, check him out. permalinksavereportgive goldreply [–]EvanRWT 2 points 3 days ago  Although there are many factors that played a role in the origin of agriculture, climate is certainly among the most important. One way to consider this is to look at climate records of the paleolithic, for example, through ice cores. You can use the Vostok Core data[1] to plot the temperature for the last half million years[2]  

or so. As the plot shows, the Earth's climate during this period has been cold and erratic, marked by 3 major glaciations. In fact, the appearance of our species 200,000 years ago may have been due to environmental pressures brought about by the Riss glaciation. This kind of climate isn't exactly helpful for the development of agriculture. For vast periods of time, huge landmasses were covered by ice sheets, and not available for farming. And even at lower ice-free latitudes, temperature variations were quite extreme. The climate was not stable. You might have a few dozen years or even a few hundred years of warm weather, followed by dramatic shifts. The domestication of plants is a lengthy business, requiring hundreds of generations of plants to select and reinforce desirable traits. With rapidly changing climate forcing on-again, off-again farming, domestication would be quite difficult. To appreciate this better, we can zoom into the more recent past, for example the GISP2 data[3] from the Greenland Ice Core, which I've plotted here[4]  

. This shows temperatures over the last 50,000 years in the northern hemisphere. This is pretty much the period in which humans left Africa to populate the rest of the world, population densities rose dramatically, and the "cultural revolution" occurred. Again, we see that the climate was pretty unstable until the beginning of the Holocene, about 10,000 years ago. It's not just that it was colder (though that would have reduced habitable areas), but rather that there were major fluctuations - rapid warming and rapid cooling, and very few stretches of stable climate. Even if the confluence of various factors that led to the origin of agriculture had come together before the Holocene, just the fact of the climate being unstable would have created problems. If you translate those dips and peaks in the plot into geographical terms, you're looking at habitable zones expanding and contracting. Forests turning to grasslands turning to deserts, years of reduced rainfall driving humans and animals out of one area into another, mass migrations and a lack of permanence. So while it's not impossible that agriculture could have developed in harsher climates, the Holocene optimum of the last 10,000 years seems to have certainly played a very important role in it. permalinksavereportgive goldreply 836/10000BoldItalicstrikesupLink>QuoteCode•Bullets1.NumbersTable Commenting as: gorgeousgeorge93 macros

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Great stuff, many thanks! I'm going to present the climatic data on the end of the Pleistocene, Younger Dryas and beginning of the Holecene, showing how climate variations could have made agriculture and full-time sedentism impossible and then almost inevitable. (As Richerson and Boyd argue). I have also been captivated by Rosen's book Civilizing Climate and Hulme, who both argue that monocausal explanations for major social changes were far too simplistic and fraught with too many unanswered questions. I argue that human perceptions of nature, environment, and climate change are very much key to how societies react to the impact of climate change. Ultimately, (and I think this is the consensus of the debate here) climate change is treated as a driving force of social change 13-10,000 BP, but not the sole determinant.

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