The "Discovery" of
A visualization of Catal Hoyuk, the first known
agricultural village, the site today
located in southern Turkey near the modern village of Catal Hoyuk.
Produced by the Science Museum of Minnesota
to designer - is it better to have illustrations like the above - on each
page, or is it distracting? and/or does it take up too much space in a quarter
of the screen?]
The term "discovery" is certainly the wrong word to use because it has
a connotation of rather quick and abrupt action. This "discovery"
took almost 100,000 years! Click on Discovery to see this
time period in perspective. [note to designer - this link should show
up in section "b", upper right on the screen.]
The table above shows just how long it took for humanoids to evolve
into homo erectus, and then to homo sapiens and finally
to homo sapiens sapiens, all during what historians and anthropologists
call the Paleolithic Age. Indeed, the vast majority of years in
the history of humans were located in this very long era. It was
during the next Age, the Mesolithic, that plants and animals were domesticated
in certain locations on the globe, and finally in the Neolithic Age, that
agriculture was "discovered" or really "developed."
Recently historians and anthropologists have been asking important
questions and making important new discoveries about agriculture, its
discovery and development. Let's look at the map from the textbook above and see what
it tells us, and then what has been discovered since the map was drawn
just a few years ago. By moving the tab at the bottom, you can see
the development of agriculture over 6.500 years. By 5,000 BCE, agriculture
was practiced only in the Middle East, by and large in the area of the current
Iraq war, though along the Nile River, and in sections of today's southern
Turkey there were agricultural villages which have been found. Archaeologists
have also found remains of agricultural villages in South and Central
America. By 2,000 BCE, it was also practiced in much of Europe,
large sections of central Africa, south-west India and northern China.
Going to the end of this particular time-line map, 1500 CE, there
were still many parts of the globe where agriculture was not practiced -
where only hunters and gatherers lived. And there are still groups
of humans, living some of the large islands in Indonesia, and in the upper
Amazon valley, who are primarily hunters and gatherers today!
David Christian has written about what he calls the "preconditions"
[note for designer - as before, this link should appear in the
section "b", upper right] for the development of agriculture. You
see that he reminds us that for early humans to domesticate plants and
animals, there needed to be available plants and animals in the wild which
the humans could learn to "tame". This took a great deal of time,
energy, and lots of luck. And he also reminds us that not all plants
and animals were available everywhere.
Christian earlier in his book notes that the area where agriculture
really began, the Middle East, was, and remains, a not very hospitable place
for farming - with arid climate and frequent flooding. Why did it start there? [note
for designer - as before, this link should appear in the section "b",
upper right] Another very popular and well respected scholar of global
history, Jared Diamond, has offered some ideas on this, based on hard
evidence. He wrote in his best-selling book, Guns, Germs, and
Steel, begins to answer the question by summarizing the means by which
we can tell WHERE [note for designer - as
before, this link should appear in the section "b", upper right] it began.
Although it is always possible that new sites will be found in other
areas of the world which will force a revision of this chart, click on
of Plant and Animal Domestication, to see what is currently known [note
to designer - again, the same, this goes in "b", upper right]. You
can easily see that the "Fertile Crescent" , that is Mesopotamia/Iraq had
enormous advantages over the other areas up until 8,000 years BP. The
other region which began to have early domestication was the Americas.
This domestication of plants and animals is known as the beginning of
the Neolithic Period. Modern historians have concluded that the reason
for the early agriculture in the Middle East was due to the presence there
of wild plants and animals that could be domesticated - not to a wonderful
climate very suited to farming! Even so, it took thousands of years
for humans to accomplish these developments. Middle Easterners had
available wild goats, sheep, pigs and cattle that could be domesticated -
to become animals which produced all sorts of useful meat, dairy and leather
products, not to forget also animal power for farming and transportation.
What were the advantages of agriculture over hunting and gathering?
First, it permitted the transformation of the biomass, edible by
humans, of a particular area from about 0.1% to perhaps as much as 50%
- they had weeds then too! This meant that the number of humans fed
by a particular area could jump enormously, and it appearently did.
Once some humans learned how to increase their food production through
domestication, planting and harvesting, their numbers increased to a point
where they were able to establish what we might call agricultural villages.
The earliest one that has been found so far by archeologists is located
near the modern Turkish village [also an agricultural village itself!]
named Catal Hoyuk; thus we call this Neolithic village also Catal Hoyuk,
though of course we have no idea what it was called at the time it was
inhabited by early homo sapiens sapiens! It was discovered
in the 1950s, and early excavations over the next thirty years produced
a great many finds - the basic borders of this village, and many objects
or pieces of objects that its inhabitants had made and used. More
recently, a team of researchers from Cambridge University in England, and
Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley have been
able to employ new scientific methods and tools to expand this excavation,
and our knowledge of this very early village.
You should click on this link - Catal
Hoyuk - [please put this linked page on "b",
upper left] to access the ongoing reporting
by this research team of what they are finding and how it is changing what
we know about the ancient world. Click on "New Finds" and you will
see what they found this past summer season. This page is updated
and changed every year. Along the top, click on "Project" and you'll
see the history of this excavation. Now why is this important to us
today? Why would so many serious scientists and researchers from more
than one university, and why would so many donors participate in paying
for this research? There are some who do think the money and talent
should be spent on something "more important." What do you think?
For those of you who find this fascinating, as I certainly do, you
might check out some of the other links on that top line - under "Research"
you'll find reports that this research team has written over the years explaining
what they have found and why they think it is important.
The Science Museum of Minnesota has created a web page which offers
3-D images, videos and interactive projects which give a sense of what
it might have been like to live in Catal Hoyuk at the time. You can access
this 3-D site by clicking on the "Links" spot on the top line of links on
the Catal Hoyuk page. And remember the date we think this village
was in full operation, and for how long it lasted as an active village -
recheck the textbook, p. 5. You will see that the textbook authors believed
at the time they wrote the page that the dates were in the mid 7th millennium
BCE. Do the researchers today believe that date is correct?
Even today, there are many societies across the globe which are organized
as agricultural societies - still living in agricultural villages. And
until the late 19th century CE, more than half of all Europeans and Americans
were food producers, living in agricultural villages [in Europe] and on
farms [in the U.S.]. So it was a very big revolution, or transition
- from hunting and gathering to farming.
As the authors of the textbook intimate, though don't say in so many words,
the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture was not entirely
an unmixed blessing. There were a number of consequences which produced
problems, and problems which we have not entirely solved even today:
Questions to think about as you finish
- a tendency to population growth - which we will see in the next
section did produce "civilization" but also other problems
- human vulnerability to infectious disease, periodic population
declines [even catastrophic ones], and in some areas and by some people growing
- environmental degradation of the soil which brought about ecological
problems, and in some cases, complete collapse of a particular society
- growth of class distinctions between people
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of agricultural society
over hunters and gatherers? Which would be more able to dominate the
other? and why?
- Why do settled agricultural societies seem to develop social hierarchies
and regulation [i.e., law] more than hunters and gatherers do?
We'll see in the next section what the next steps were in the development
of human society. Move back to the Unit 1 Home page on the left,
and click on the next link.