2.b.9 – Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

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January 27, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

About 12 thousand years ago, the last ice age ended; today we know that, until then, deep and abrupt climate changes were the rule and that the living beings, including humans, had always been accustomed to it; the period of stability which followed the last glaciation, and which still continues, is therefore a short and exceptionally quiet parentheses in the long history as turbulent climate history. The climate became warmer, more rainy and with fewer differences of temperature between winter and summer. The distribution of vegetation and wildlife changed accordingly, the ice disappeared from temperate areas and these radically changed their appearance; this gave to all men and animals new opportunities of nourishment. Our species had long been widespread throughout the planet, but never before that time there was such a regular availability of plants and herbivore animals.
It is very likely that the new situation led to an increase in population, until it reached a new equilibrium: quantity of food per capita equal to the time of glaciation, but with smaller spaces available. Then there were two possible routes to go to improve the living conditions: either to extend the territory with the war or to use more effectively the new wealth available, taking maximum advantage from the stability of climate: both ways were followed.
Looking at modern tribal societies, especially those of rainforests, less affected by the end of the ice age, we can assume that hunters always protected the game of their territory from other predators, including hunters of other tribes who trespassed their territory, and always practicing forms of aid to edible plants against so-called weeds. From these bases developed, in various tempered places in the world, the first forms of farming and agriculture.
It is plausible that the ancient tribe of hunters, linked by bonds of kinship or derived from the same tribe of origin, had agreements of mutual aid in times of famine or war, which led to the division of the game and to formation of joint armies, just as happens among modern tribes; from these customs developed the large armies of the great agricultural civilizations.
The development of agriculture and livestock led to a radical change in human society, only comparable to the descent from the trees of the first hominids; the availability of food increased considerably, especially when cultivation of cereals like wheat, barley, rice started: these plants, in fact, produce very nutrients seeds that can be stored for years and therefore, cultivated in large-scale, allowed to accumulate large reserves of plant food. Similarly breeding cattle allowed to rely on a continuous source of animal resources and strengthen the culture of stocks; having available stocks have meant the possibility to conduct a sedentary life: this led to the formation of the first urban centers. The fields, cultivated using increasingly accurate techniques, produced much more than was necessary to maintenance of farmers who cultivated them, and the same happened with the big herds of livestock; this revolutionary situation led to the development of savings culture, which allows to utilize at a later time not consumed resources, and allowed people not only to grow but to be able to devote themselves full time to other activities, specializing in various forms of crafts; there had been then primarily carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and weavers, to whom soon traders added.
In the tribal community there was a clear separation of duties only between males and females, with men dedicated to group hunting, to war and to works connected with these activities, like the construction of weapons, while women were dedicated to gathering plant food and caring for children. In the new urban areas developed rather different tasks and knowledge, not only on the basis of sex, but also on the type of work. From small villages of hunters with 60 or 70 individuals, people passed to cities of 7,000 inhabitants.

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