Human transition from foraging to farming was a gradual co-evolution, not a rapid innovation

August 23, 2013
Human transition from foraging to farming was a gradual co-evolution, not a rapid innovation

Research by SFI Professor Sam Bowles on the co-evolution of agriculture and private property features prominently in a review in Current Biology about scientists' current understanding of the factors leading to humanity's transition from foraging to farming.

"The archaeological evidence that has accumulated so far suggests that the introduction of farming wasn't a straightforward technological revolution driven by key inventions like the introduction of or airplanes," writes Current Biology's Michael Gross. "While the efficiency per hectare improved dramatically, the efficiency per person certainly did not, as Samuel Bowles from the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico, USA) has calculated." A 2011 paper by Bowles found that the earliest farmers produced significantly fewer calories per work hour, on average, than foragers.

Gross also cites a 2013 paper by Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi that examined the interaction between farming and the emergence of private property by modeling , , different approaches to food provision, and different approaches to property sharing. The model showed that property rights among farming populations likely co-evolved with the introduction of farming methods, and only under tightly constrained conditions.

"Bowles and Choi argue that it was the co-evolution of food production and property rights—rather than technological progress based on inventions—that secured the success of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent and the small number of other regions where agriculture evolved independently at later times," Gross writes.

Gross also reviews recent , which generally support the hypothesis that "a confluence of various developments catalysed each other...Only after millennia of slow changes did the early farmers gain the advantages that enabled them to push aside populations adhering to the earlier hunter-gatherer lifestyles."

Read the article in Current Biology (August 19, 20213)

Explore further: Most modern European males descend from farmers who migrated from the Near East

Related Stories

Why the switch from foraging to farming?

March 7, 2011

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors gave up foraging for food and took up farming, one of the most important and debated decisions in history.

Crowd wisdom economics: The bad news

May 29, 2013

( —Volkswagen is simply a better car company than Fiat. Profits are higher, and so are wages. Why doesn't Fiat just be like VW? Why doesn't Italy, for that matter, emulate Germany? Is it elites that perpetuate ...

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.