The beginning of agriculture by humans marks an important event in history. It is an event that signifies human development through their understanding of plants and crops, and also marks the beginning of a settled, sedentary lifestyle that has evolved over ages into life as we know it now. Apart from this, the event also marks a time in history that humans thought was appropriate to live a more settled lifestyle afforded via agriculture.
There are some theories about when humans began agriculture and why, but a study from Japan suggests that these previous ones may not have been accurate. One of the most widely known theories about the beginning of agriculture speaks about a shortage of food during a climatic cooling event between ca. 10,900 BC and ca. 9,700 BC. It suggests that agriculture was adopted during this time to boost the production of food. Another theory hypothesizes that better temperature at the end of the last ice age was what led to the development of agriculture.
However, there are a couple of unexplained aspects to both these theories. The first theory was earlier supported by radiocarbon ages of plant remains. However, when these remains were examined again, it suggests that the climatic cooling event coincided rather with a decline of agriculture and sedentary lifestyle than the start.
When examining the second theory, experts question the lack of agricultural practices in the tropical regions during the post-glacial age. The temperature here was supportive even in the coldest phases of the last ice age.
The new study examined pollen fossils from the Lake Suigetsu in Honshu, Japan as well as a detailed climate reconstruction from ca. 16,000 BC to ca. 8,000 BC. It led to the conclusion that the beginning of agriculture, domesticating plants, and settled lifestyle among humans began in conjunction with warmer and stable climate conditions.
The authors suggest that an unstable and unpredictable climate pattern would not have been suitable for humans to begin planting crops for food. Agriculture is a practice that would require planning, which is possible only with a reliable climate pattern. This is said to have occurred closer to ca. 12,000 BC.
Additionally, the study also highlights that agriculture may not be the shift in human evolution we presume it to be. Instead, hunting-gathering and agriculture were both practices that people adopted in accordance with the climatic conditions. These findings, the authors note, could “alter the self-image of modern humans.”
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