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Foraging, Farming, Fossil Fuels... and Failure

 
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UndercoverElephant



Joined: 10 Mar 2008
Posts: 8581
Location: south east England

PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 9:04 pm    Post subject: Foraging, Farming, Fossil Fuels... and Failure Reply with quote

New blog post, possibly of interest to some people here, although I guess most of you know all this already....

http://www.geoffdann.co.uk/?p=1864

Quote:


Foraging, Farming, Fossil Fuelsand Failure

(Or why and how our ancestors gave up on hunter-gathering, and why it was a terrible mistake)

Anthropologist Jared Diamond has claimed that the invention of agriculture (and the beginning of the end of foraging as a primary means of sustenance) was the worst mistake in the history of the human race. He says the idea of progress over the past ten thousand years is largely a myth and that in many ways or ancestors who foraged for a living were better off than we are. Certainly they were better off than the early farmers who replaced them, both in terms of physical health and the way their societies operated. Diamonds argument is that the obvious answer to the question Why did our ancestors replace foraging with agriculture? is wrong. That obvious answer is Because it delivers more food for less work, and it is wrong because the foragers had far more free time, and were healthier, than the farmers who replaced or displaced them.

[continues...]
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clv101
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Joined: 24 Nov 2005
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 9:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
So we have an answer: farming replaced foraging not because it is a more efficient way of sustaining humans, nor because it leads to better societal conditions, but because it allows for a larger population to be sustained on a particular area of land.


I think there's a bit more to it than that. The real question is why didn't farming replace foraging for a couple hundred thousands years.

You might like Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.
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UndercoverElephant



Joined: 10 Mar 2008
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Location: south east England

PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

clv101 wrote:
Quote:
So we have an answer: farming replaced foraging not because it is a more efficient way of sustaining humans, nor because it leads to better societal conditions, but because it allows for a larger population to be sustained on a particular area of land.


I think there's a bit more to it than that.


Well, obviously I can't cover everything in a 1500 word blog post...


Quote:

The real question is why didn't farming replace foraging for a couple hundred thousands years.


That's a different question, and actually quite an odd one. The transition from foraging to farming always had to happen at some point, and whatever point it happened you could ask "why didn't it happen 200,000 years earlier?" Or at least why didn't it happen 20,000 years earlier. 200,000 years ago anatomically modern humans didn't exist, and even 100,000 years ago they had only just reached south-west Asia - the place the transition started. So I think the question is why this transition did not occur before the last major glaciation instead of after it. And I am guessing the answer has something to do with climate.

Quote:

You might like Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.


I'll have a look...

Edit: Looking at the three star reviews on DODGY TAX AVOIDERS doesn't fill me with a desire to buy this book!
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cubes



Joined: 10 Jun 2008
Posts: 554
Location: Norfolk

PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Could the transition have started to happen before the glaciation but failed due to said glaciation only to have been discovered again?
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Little John



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very well written and duly shared on social media UE
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UndercoverElephant



Joined: 10 Mar 2008
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Location: south east England

PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 7:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Little John wrote:
Very well written and duly shared on social media UE


Ta.
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UndercoverElephant



Joined: 10 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 7:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

cubes wrote:
Could the transition have started to happen before the glaciation but failed due to said glaciation only to have been discovered again?


Not impossible. It is also possible that a failed version of the transition during the glaciation, in areas that were subsequently flooded by rising sea levels. But there's not much actual evidence to support these ideas.
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UndercoverElephant



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

re: why didn't the neolithic revolution happen earlier.

I think it didn't happen in Africa partly because the right species for domestication weren't available and partly because most of the humans weren't quite the finished article. But why didn't it happen elsewhere between anatomically modern humans leaving Africa about 100K years ago and 10K years ago when it did actually happen?

My best guess is that for most of that time, the primary downward pressure on human population wasn't other humans (sapiens). It was a dangerous time/environment - there were large predators, several other species of human and nomadic humans have a slow reproduction rate (considerably slower than sedentary humans). So those people kept moving and pressure from neighbouring groups of humans was the least of their worries. And in that situation, any steps towards farming would have been few and far between, and not able to build up.

But eventually conditions became better for H. sapiens - when the other species of humans and the large predators were extinct, and the climate was favourable and the right wild species were available. And at that point human population would have increased, and the presence of other groups of humans would have come into play. And at that point the pressure increases both to be less nomadic and to try to improve the productivity of your own territory. Settling down and productivity improvements lead to further population increases, which leads to further pressure to take steps towards farming.
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vtsnowedin



Joined: 07 Jan 2011
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Location: New England ,Chelsea Vermont

PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll take a shot at why not in Africa. Imagine trying to grow a crop in Africa and defend it from elephants, rhinos and baboons while avoiding being harvested yourself by the lions, leopards and hyenas. And of course the wild grains that were first domesticated and the sheep and goats all lived in the middle east and not Africa.
I've just read a book that might be of interest to those considering this question. "Changes in the Land" Indians, colonists and the ecology of New England by William Cronon.
It was written when he was a grad student so not a page turner but it has some useful information in it.
In the yearly cycle of the New England Indians the corn, beans and squash were planted by the women using clam shell hoes and then the village would be moved to fish spawning areas to harvest fish and clams before moving back to harvest the corn crop and then they moved yet again to a winter hunting ground to harvest large animals, bear moose , elk and deer.
The men spent their time hunting and fishing and spent quite a bit of time burning the underbrush over large tracts to make it passable and provide grasses to feed the game animals.
So they had a combination of agriculture and hunting gathering but with no domestic animals other then dogs.
Then we English came along and screwed it all up. Embarassed
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Lurkalot



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I did think the article had a couple of contradictions, at one point noting the difficulties Neolithic farmers had and the amount of work involved but then latter saying it's as easy to farm as forage. None the less a good article and the comment about lack of population control hits the nail on the head.
Was it our greatest mistake ? Debatable but I don't think so personally. I was reminded though of Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide and a line in there that went something along the lines of how some thought our greatest mistake was climbing down from the trees while others thought crawling out of the sea was the biggest . As you say lack of population control and I would add restraint in general is probably our mistake , just like how we build more power stations and have an energy crisis , more roads yet need more capacity , more debt yet we create even more , more homes yet a housing crisis and so on .I can see farming being an attractive proposition because it does give an element of food security , planning and storage for winters and lean periods and was more than likely inevitable. I am also reminded of the Australian Aboriginal population. I visited there in 2004 and was told how they arrived around 24,000 years ago and at least until Europeans arrived had lived the same way for nearly all that time. They were in effect still a Stone Age people , 600 odd languages and dialects but no written language , no animals domesticated and with the exception of a couple of simple stone circles no structures of any sort , almost no cooking in pots , an aboriginal delicacy being kangaroo tail chopped off and placed on the fire untill the hair burnt off. They were described as a people that had no development in their history. We were told of some of the actions of missionaries that had a negative impact on aboriginal culture but I was left with the impression that their intentions were genuinely good if perhaps misguided and was left feeling that if they were discovered tomorrow we would have a couple of Irish pop stars on the tv telling us to "give us the f ing money to save them".
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UndercoverElephant



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lurkalot wrote:
I did think the article had a couple of contradictions, at one point noting the difficulties Neolithic farmers had and the amount of work involved but then latter saying it's as easy to farm as forage.


Perhaps I could have made it clearer. It is easy to start farming. It is easy to find yourself making little steps towards farming. It eventually becomes very hard work.
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Lurkalot



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes i understand , wasn't trying to be overly critical as by and large I enjoyed the article and may very well share it too.
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emordnilap



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PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good piece, UE.

In fact, if it appeared in a mainstream publication, the comments section would be aflame with hatred, ludicrousness, vitriol and ridicule.

You can well imagine; you could make them up yourself, the standard half-illiterate responses that completely miss the point.

Carry on. Cool
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Potemkin Villager



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice blog UE well stated.

"It wasnt an overnight or single decision, but the result of thousands of little steps, each of which on its own made perfect sense."

Yes so many things on their own seem to make perfect sense like using non renewable fossil fuels to allow the world population to overshoot.....[/i]
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