Explore the Reasons Why Agriculture Spread During the Neolithic Revolution and with the Help of Case Studies, Evaluate the Impact That Agricultural Development Had on Society as a Whole.

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Around 10,000 years ago, a dramatic transformation occurred in parts of the Near East that forever affected the human experience. These were the economic and social changes from hunting and gathering subsistence strategies, which characterised over 99 per cent of our long tenure on Earth, to ones emphasising food production and settling down in small villages. This was not an easy transition, nor was it a universal one. Once it occurred, though, it changed the course of human history. Usually known as the “Neolithic Revolution”. (Simmons 2007: 1)

There has been much speculation by academics in many disciplines as to the reasons why agriculture was developed and employed throughout the Neolithic revolution; and how the agricultural developments dispersed across the globe. However, I believe that there are unanimous definitions on both the Neolithic Revolution and agriculture. Both key to the answer of this essay. I believe the Neolithic Revolution to be the first agricultural revolution to take place globally, which led to people becoming sedentary, resorting to agriculture instead of hunter gathering and mobile communities. (Gupta 2010) Cohen (1977: 1) has a similar attitude towards the definition of the Neolithic revolution as he believes it to be, “the economic and social change [] which witnessed the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture as man’s major mode of subsistence.” Agriculture, as defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1973), is “the science and art of cultivating the soil, including the gathering n of the crops and the rearing of livestock”. However, I believe that agriculture includes other aspects, which link in with it to create a fully operating agricultural system. These include, ‘farming’ and ‘domestication’, both pivotal for agricultural success. Farming is described as, “the business of cultivating land and raising ‘stock’” whilst domestication is “described as the action of ‘farming or bringing under control’. (More specifically, domestication can be defined as ‘the evolutionary process whereby humans modify, either intentionally or unintentionally, the genetic makeup of a population of plants or animals to the extent that individuals within that population lose their ability to survive and produce offspring in the wild’: Blumler and Byrne 1991: 24).” (Barker 2006: 2) Simmons (2007) concurs that the Neolithic revolution was a transformation of the economic system at the time, but it was also a social change in how food was used and viewed in differing ways. To fully understand the impact of agriculture to Neolithic societies, I will use case studies to highlight my points. These will include the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, believed to be the first place where the use of agriculture has been found as Barker (ibid: 11) suggests ‘that the first farming would have started in the ‘Near East’. However, I will also be using case studies from Africa, specifically the Ethiopian Highlands and the Kuk Swamp in Papua New Guinea. As Cohen mentions that “the most striking fact about early agriculture, however, is precisely that it is such a universal event” (1977: 5) therefore, it will be interesting to discuss the reasons why such rapid dispersion of agricultural development occurred across the Neolithic world.

Why did the people around 10,000 years ago resort to a new way of life and with new ways of feeding? A way of life that was completely different from the people before them who had undertook hunting and gathering to feed themselves; a way of life that led to the beginning of agriculture and turning from mobile to non-mobile communities; forager societies that had been, “relatively unchanged since the depths of the Ice Age”. (Bogucki 1999: 191) There are many reasons that archaeologists have discussed about why this transition occurred in what has been coined as ‘The Neolithic Revolution’. There are many reasons why this transition occurred and I will explore...
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