First Farmer's Book Review

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Anthropology 24, Fall Quarter, 2012
Ancient Crops and People
First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies by Peter Bellwood Review by: Ann Christine Pastor

Peter Bellwood’s First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies seeks to focus on the origins and dispersals of ancient agricultural communities with respect to a variety of fields of study to establish a historical interpretation from a comparative perspective. Although Bellwood admits to having training only in the discipline of archaeology, the book also considers the areas of comparative linguistics and biological anthropology. Through this collaboration of data from different areas of study, the book is framed around a multidisciplinary hypothesis, which Bellwood refers to as the “early farming dispersal hypothesis.” This assumption states that “the spreads of early farming lifestyles were often correlated with prehistoric episodes of human population and language dispersal from agricultural homelands.” (2) Throughout First Farmers, Bellwood provides support for this hypothesis by discussing different centers of agriculture in the world with data from archaeology, linguistics, and anthropology. He also discusses theories and findings of other historians and scientists to propose either evidence for or contradictions to his ideas. Bellwood provides an abundance of information about his thesis to his audience, while considering observations made by others.

Very early in the book, Bellwood explains that the current world population cannot be supported purely by means of hunting and gathering, and as a result, agricultural systems have developed, allowing the genetic modification of crops and animals to optimize their production. With this idea, he proposes several questions; What is agriculture and what is it capable of supporting? How and why did agriculture develop? What is its relation to hunting and gathering? What is the relationship between a hunter gatherer and an...