Why the switch from foraging to farming?

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.

Was farming more efficient than foraging? Did the easily hunted animals die out? Did the environment change?

A new study by Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico argues that early farming was not more productive than foraging, but people took it up for social and demographic reasons.

In Monday's edition of , Bowles analyzed what it would take to under primitive conditions. He concluded farming produced only about three-fifths of the food gained from foraging.

But, Bowles notes, farming became the most common way of living between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago because of its contribution to population growth and military power.

Without the need for constant movement, child-rearing would have been easier and safer, leading to a population increase, Bowles said. And since stored grain might be looted, farmer communities could have banded together for defense and would have eventually pushed out neighboring foragers, he suggests.

Brian Fagan, a professor emeritus of at the University of California, Santa Barbara, called Bowles' ideas "provocative and fascinating."

It had been suspected that the earliest farming was not necessarily more productive, said Fagan, who was not part of the research.

"What he does is to draw attention to the social and that contributed so importantly to the spread of farming," Fagan said. "This is a useful contribution to a debate about agricultural origins that has been under way for generations."


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More information: http://www.pnas.org

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Mar 07, 2011
Sigh! Silliness and more silliness. If you want to see why, read the Bible. Not so much the parts about God, but how the people lived and worked.
Early agriculture could not produce enough food to feed the people working in the fields. But use the wood cleared from the fields and the vines both from clearing the fields and growing crops which produced them to build fishing boats and nets, and people can live on loaves of bread and fish. Killing the fatted calf, and fruit or wine from an orchard are luxuries that fishing plus agriculture allows a village to consider as a long term investment.

Mar 08, 2011
This contradicts the idea that they settled down because of the advantages of farming.

The article makes an important find that farming was less efficient than foraging. A village was therefore a luxury resulting from a rich foraging environment not a source of sustenance to make up for a week foraging environment.

They may have settled in one place for lots of reasons (permanent trading post, tribe members too week to travel deciding to stay and hope they survive a winter) , but they would have to achieve an excess of food acquired through foraging to survive in one place. Farming would have been done to decrease the cost/burden of supporting a permanent settlement or, as pointed out by eachus comment, a way of growing commodities like medicinal herbs or grapes for making wine.

Mar 08, 2011
I think I read that it could have been a gradual transition. That they started by planting stuff, maybe just having plants come up in their garbage piles, and coming back to harvest it later. Then some folks started staying with the crops while some continued to roam and then they all settled down.

Mar 08, 2011
My instinct tells me that climate change caused this shift in human diet, just like climate change has been the factor that initiated species evolution since 4B Y Ago. Climate as in the entire physical composition of the Earth that is.

Mar 08, 2011
totally agree Dunbar.

Mar 09, 2011
I think this misses the third option, animal husbandry/herding. It probably started with foragers following the herds, culling the weak and older animals. And since the herds followed the seasons, because they were following food, it only made sense in some circumstances to settle down where there was the food the animals ate and then eventually to cultivate it.

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