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 many of these reasons. I will be looking at the reasons that are incorporated in Barbara Stark’s (1986) three main model types, which show the transition of foraging to the production of food in an agricultural sense. “Push”, “Pull” and “social’ models are used by Stark which create an ‘umbrella’ effect on the main underlying reasons which can be incorporated to fully explore the reasons why agriculture began and how it spread across the globe.
When there is stress on a population, it can lead to the population being pushed to protect themselves to ensure that the stress does not damage them. These stresses, in the cause of agricultural causation include population pressure and/or climate change. The stress imposed on the population could have led to the beginning of agriculture being used. (Stark 1986) Many archaeologists have discussed reasons why agriculture began under this umbrella of a ‘push’ model. Childe (1936) began much of the work on the origins of agriculture by developing the Oasis-Propinquity theory; a theory that incorporated a significant climatic change at the end of the Pleistocene, which had a major effect on how animals, plants and humans operated to feed. Childe created the Oasis-Propinquity theory because he believed that this climatic change caused the areas, beginning in the Near East, especially the Fertile Crescent, to become arid and dry, thus becoming deserts. Simmons (2007: 11-12) thought that the new desert conditions of the Near East was causing “plants and animals [to die] or [they were] becoming scarce.” Without the presence of water nearby to most of the humans, plants and animals in the Near East and North Africa, it led to the congregation of these creatures to areas where water was available, such as the desert oases in the Near East. The close proximity that the plants, animals and humans had to undertake daily, it eventually led to the domestication of plants and animals. (Simmons 2007; Bogucki 1999; Pluciennik and Zvelebil 2009) Childe (1936: 77) considers that humans, plants and animals all became “united in an effort to circumvent the dreadful power of the drought”.
The Oasis-Propinquity theory by Childe is only half of the story as to why agriculture began in the Near East. With this theory in mind, the domestication of plants would have been tending to and re-planting year after year. This would have led to the creation of some form of agricultural ideas and system that would have to be used to ensure that the domesticated crops can be utilised to their optimum. This early system of agricultural development would have had to be moulded into the systems that provided significantly greater quantities of food that would be able to sustain a population that would have been growing because of the change into a sedentary lifestyle. When Childe produced the theory in 1936, his investigations would have been one of the key reasons as to why agriculture developed. Despite still being a key argument in the origin of agriculture, other academics and evidence that has come to light since Childe’s Man makes Himself. Bogucki (1999: 186-187) mentions, “The difficulty is there is no evidence of widespread desiccation during the period in question between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago.” Paleoclimatic and geomorphological evidence of Braidwood’s Iraq-Jarmo project came to the conclusion supporting Bogucki’s (1999) claim that of no evidence of widespread desiccation. (Watson 1995) As Simmons (2007: 13) suggests that “these projects  found no support for Childe’s claim of desiccation.” This lack of evidence produces a significant amount of doubt to the Oasis-Propinquity. If there wasn’t a global change in climatic behaviour, it cannot be assumed that dry conditions occurred which resulted in the congregations at oases. Also, Childe’s work puts emphasis on the domestication of primarily animals at the oases and does not hold the beginnings of plant domestication, which inevitably lead to agriculture, in high regard and it was not accredited in his work. (Watson 1995; Bogucki 1999)
Despite Simmons (2007: 12) mentioning that “Childe’s model is frequently acted as one of the origins of agriculture”, I believe that due to the climatic evidence of the time disagreeing with the theory of major climatic change resulting in dry and arid conditions, the Oasis-Propinquity theory does not hold as much regard with the origins of agriculture. I feel that other reasons incorporated in the push model have a much greater impact than Childe’s theory. I believe that the evidence found throughout the Fertile Crescent proves a lacking of substance for the Oasis-Propinquity Theory and could provide evidence against it. Through the Fertile Crescent, establishments and the societies built up within have no been on major waterways (apart from Jericho), which diminishes the theory. This is because the domestication of all the wild resources occurred without the need for a congregation of plants, animals and humans in a small area surrounding oases’. The speed of domestication of Einkorn for example, showed that this congregation did not need to occur. Einkorn could be domesticated easily due to a number of genetic loci that it was able. Wild cereals and Einkorn had very similar ancestors, which allowed domestication to occur quite easily in the Crescents. (Zohary and Hopf 1993) This shows how significant other theories were in understanding the origins of agriculture.
The Hilly Flanks Theory was produced to directly contest Childe’s theory. Braidwood was not enthused with the Oasis-Propinquity theory and did not hold it in high regard despite it being one of the significant and key models for the origins of agriculture, and pursued answers for the agricultural origin elsewhere. (Braidwood 1960; Braidwood and Howe 1960) The Hilly Flanks Theory was created because “Braidwood thought that the best place to look for early domestication was where the habitats of the wild precursors of wheat, barley, sheep and goats overlapped.  With desiccation and other widespread climatic changes discounted as a proximal cause of agriculture, Braidwood sought an explanation in human behaviour. He suggested that food production in the Old World emerged in certain “nuclear zones” in the arc of the Taurus and Zagros mountains of the Near East known as the Fertile Crescent”. (Bogucki 1999: 187) I believe that his view on agricultural origins held a decent basis, as it feels natural for first cultivations by farmers on cereals within their natural habitat. (Miller 1992: 49) Braidwood’s theory was based, quite simply, on that the habitats of the Hilly Flank became so familiar to the people who lived there, that they started to domesticate the plants and animals that lived there in their natural habitats. Archaeological sites in Papa New Guinea, especially in the Upper Wahgi Valley, hold evidence for this theory. The importance of the sites in this region cannot be understated because the evidence that has been found as it showed agricultural developments without any significant evidence to suggest social transformations. Therefore, it can be assumed that people relocated to areas of natural wild resources to undergo “animal and plant exploitation” (Denham 2011). Without evidence for climatic change, this highlights significant headway in the Hilly Flanks theory. As Simmons (2007: 14) suggests that the people on the Hilly Flank had to become “ [settled] in by groups who came to understand and manipulate plants and animals around them.”
From Braidwood’s work on the Hilly Flank Theory, there are many assumptions to be made about the origins of the first agricultural systems and I believe that the Hilly Flank Theory holds significant worth to the argument. I believe that it would be sensible for the first farmers to begin cultivating land that they foraged on and/ or lived on as mobile communities. I think this because the ‘raw materials’ were already en situ and the farmers did not have to relocate anywhere else. However, with this idealist notion of ‘being sensible’ views can only be mentioned due to hindsight and the difference in culture that we see in our western cultures today. It must be noted that with over two millennia of the populations on earth being hunter-gatherers and foragers, the idea of becoming a sedentary farmer would have been very alien to them.
Braidwood’s work on the Hilly Flanks Theory and the subsequent dismissal of Childe’s Oasis-Propinquity theory resulted in a significant change in the way agricultural origins were looked at and discussed. However, I believe that the push model had a significant result on why the origins of agriculture were continually discussed. I also must consider population pressure as an important argument for the origins of agriculture.
In the early transitional period that occurred during the Neolithic Revolution could have been that many of the populations that existed changed from being mobile communities to becoming sedentary; non-mobile communities. The population that the mobile communities had was in relation to the “mobility and flexibility of hunter-gatherer organisation” (Green 1980; Lee 1972). Green (1980) discusses that population pressure is because of the decrease (or lack of) logistical mobility. When the population causes an effect on the mobility and flexibility, it can be assumed that the sedentary lifestyle was adopted. It could be argued that with a sedentary lifestyle, the population of the community could increase exponentially as Bellwood (2005: 23) says, “any major increase in the degree of sedentism  would have encouraged a growing population, via shorter birth intervals, and would also have placed a greater strain on food supplies and other resources in the immediate vicinity of the campsite or village”. This resulted in the development of Binford’s (1968) Population Pressure model, which;
Argued that once people (the early Vatutian in the Levant) became sedentary, populations inevitably increased, leading to an increasing use of locally available plant foods, such as cereals, that had previously been considered marginal. From this intensive use of cereals, and the technology ass65ociated with this processing, a regular cycle of plants and harvesting occurred, ultimately resulting in domestication. (Simmons 2007: 15)
This increase in the population could have been down to a number of reasons including; an improved and more regularity in diets, increased life expectancy and fertility, greater protection from diseases and “the need for more people to assist in seasonal harvests of wild plants” (Simmons 2007: 14-15; Bellwood 2005). Flannery (1969) elaborated further on Binford’s Population Pressure model, as Miller (1992: 49) mentions that Flannery “suggested that subsistence changes that took place prior to agriculture – during the “broad spectrum revolution”, could have been a response to population growth in the marginal zone”. A significant population increase can cause dramatic effects on the resources of the surrounding area. It would have come to the point that a foraging and hunter-gathering society no longer has the ability to provide resources for the whole population and leads people to try and find other sources for the resources. These resources, which provide the basis for sustaining life, could be pushed into competitions for the resources. With such competition, I believe that with the knowledge that resources would eventually run out, the population would have resorted to basic domestication of plants and animals for more reliable sources of resources. (Neilson 2006)
In times where pressures on the population seem great, the adoption of agriculture can lead to too much stress being inflicted on the availability of resources on the population. Stark (1986) emphases that this could create a pushing factor onto the population into agriculture. Without the push into agriculture, the population would have ceased to exist. Despite population pressure having a obvious impact on the ability for sufficient resources to be gained from hunter-gathering, it could have lead to the adoption of agriculture. However, some do not value the Population Pressure theory and believe it “inadequate as an explanation [because] for it necessary the increased population must be a purely local phenomenon which cannot exist without [locational] factors [or constraints]” “(Bronson 1975: 74). Sauer (1952) also believes with Bronson that a resource crisis due to pressures on the population due to a significant increase was not a highlighted reason for the genesis of agriculture. Sauer makes it known that the transition that occurred in the Neolithic was due to an altering relationship and the interaction between culture and the environment. This could lead to assumptions that Sauer did not believe that the transition developed out of a lack of food and resources to the ever-growing population. Green (1980) also argues “that population growth does not necessarily precondition either innovation or increased economic productivity”. As innovation would have to be the precondition to agricultural development, Green’s argument provides significantly altering evidence, which could lead to a different viewpoint on the origins of agriculture.
This change in the relationship with culture and environment led to Stark’s pull model. This cultural change that Sauer discussed had the ability to pull people into adopting the agricultural way of life, discarding the old hunter-gathering way of life. The pull model was based on a shift towards an unprecedented reliance on specific resources, which led to an alteration in the relationship between humans, animals and plants. This reliance ensured that the population was pulled into agriculture (Stark 1986). The pull model also put emphasis on the technological innovation that was developed pre-agriculture and such technology ‘pulled’ the population into the uses of agriculture and to benefit from such implementation of agriculture. The pull model “prevents a group from reverting to its earlier pattern of resource use” and this can be why, in the eyes of those who believe the pull model was the reason for agricultural development, that the pull model was so successful, effectively pulling those in further along in advancement.
Donald Henry (1989) proposed a “pull” model for agricultural arising in the Near East. In his view, there were two key moments in the process of agricultural origins in the Levant. The first occurred around 10,500 BC when a global temperature increase promoted long-term settlement and necessitated a shift from what Henry calls “simple” foraging to “complex” foraging. A variety of high-yield resources, including wild cereals, were exploited, and restraints on population growth were relaxed. About 2000 years later, this complex foraging system collapsed possibly as the result of a second climatic change, and the foragers had two options, depending on where they lived. In the highly productive areas of the Levant, where the highest populations were, they began to cultivate cereals. In the marginal areas, people reverted to a simple foraging system. (Bogucki 1999: 190)
Henry’s continuation on Stark’s pull model shows that he believes that environmental pull factors resulted in the origins of agriculture. This is especially clear in the Levant where location dominated the resource development, for example: either hunter gathering and foraging or cultivation and domestication – resulting in agriculture. It can be assumed that the majority of highly populated areas of the Levant went to cultivation and that led to the growth of domestic dwellings. Those in marginal areas would have shifted towards domestic dwellings instead of staying as a mobile community.
I also believe that technological advancement had a significant impact on the origins of agriculture and the further development of agricultural ways of life. Diamond (1997a) hold technological advancement as one of three linked developments which can be included within Stark’s pull model to try and develop a reason for the agricultural genesis. Technological development allowed people greater ways to “collect, process and store foods” (Simmons 2007: 21), which is crucial when harvesting and cultivating is used to process foods and store the years amount of food. Without this development ensuring significantly greater storage capabilities, it causes hunting and gathering daily obsolete. Technological advances created developments, which could be used to “kill or displace hunter/gatherers” (ibid: 21-22). With violence being a consequence of technology, it would have force those hunter-gatherers into some form of agricultural developments just to survive. Technological advances started to produce greater items for warfare that were superior to what hunter-gatherers were using, mainly for the collection of resources, not fighting. Also, the other variables within Diamonds reasons for the origins were that there was a significant drop in species that used to be wild and resulted in the “human occupation of available habitats in order to decrease the risk of unpredictability” (ibid: 21). With the decline of wild species, the only option for the population would be to occupy their habitats to ensure that food could be hunted. However, by moving into the habitats were wild species were growing and living, it would have led to significant domestication of the species to ensure that the food is always present.
However, there is some opposition to pull models, as Green (1980) says that “invention-pull models, which attributed agricultural change to technological innovation [which resulted in] considerations of agricultural change being dependent on technological innovation were considered non explanatory because they did not deal with the causes of innovation”. By being pulled into a change, populations would not be able to revert back to their earlier systems of gathering and hunting for food. However, others believe that social changes had a significant impact on the agricultural origins and were developed as one of Stark’s models for agricultural origins – the social model.
Within the social model, there are numerous theories as to the origin of agriculture, however, all the theories, as Bender (1978) emphasised and “found that social changes acted independent of technology and economy to create pressures in production” (Simmons 2007: 18). Similar to Bender, Tilley (1996) also believes that greater social and ideological beliefs and their significance played an overwhelming part in the domestication of food rather than economic reasons. The theories that are under the umbrella of the social model are based on social development and competition.
Competition feasting was a key theory set forward for the social model. It represents food as power and has been categorised as the ““food fight” model” (Simmons 2007: 18) by both proponents and critics (Hayden 1995: 282; Smith 2001: 218-221) With certain individuals accumulating surpluses of food, these could be transformed into items with value. With the accumulation of surplus food, it would allow people to create feasts for the population. The individuals creating the feast would be held in higher regard in the community because it shows people who were generating the most food for the population. Feasting is a key part of the social model “given that the Neolithic revolved around food in one way or another; it seems somehow appropriate that feasting be considered as a reasons for its origin” (Simmons 2007: 18-19). By feasting, it was the first aspect of competition within communities. Competitive feasting would have been used as a method for the development and consolidation of power. Competition is a very important aspect of human society as it leads to the best being in positions of power. Within the Neolithic, extra resources must be utilised to ensure that power, influence and status is promoted and competed for. “Feasting, gift exchange, trade, and other forms of codified, often ritualised contact” (Pluciennik and Zvelebil 2009: 469) are the main ways for people to promote their own standings.
This promotion of people’s own standards resulted in the need for extra resources beyond their dietary needs in the immediate timescale. This would result in overproduction. Overproduction by hunting and gathering would have got significantly harder with the climatic ever so slightly changing during the early Neolithic. Therefore, agriculture, a “more intensive system of exploitation” (ibid: 469) must be adopted to ensure overproduction can occur. Hayden (1995) believes that the need for competitive feasting lead to the first domestication of both plants and animals for the production of extra foodstuffs. With the use of food designated as prestige items, the accumulators could exceed their rivals in the consolidation of power (ibid). Runnels and van Andel (1988) have suggested that social customs, such as trade and competitive feasting would have led to motives for food production. Cowgill (1975) mentions that the more food an individual produces, the greater social and political power they possess. This analogy perfectly shows how important food was within a competitive environment and was used significantly to gain the upper hand. Without the implementation of agriculture, the excess food would not have been able to be produced and the ability to gain competitive edge over other individuals would have been diminished. As Miller (1992: 51) says, “[cultivation was] to ensure a reliable food supply or to increase their food supply to satisfy growing social or dietary needs”.
However, Hayden has also put an argument across that does not believe the social model to be a significant reason for agriculture to begin. Hayden (1990: 57-62, 1992: 13) mentions that the social model could not have resulted in a Neolithic revolution to occur immediately as a lot of arguments believe happened. Hayden comments include the fact that a new culture of sharing food would have taken a large amount of time to implement and the fist domesticated plants and animals would not have been appropriate for daily consumption due to his belief that they would have been delicacies. Despite this, I find this argument extremely thin and in my opinion, find it difficult to dismiss such a inquisitive social model, which, due to the change in social behaviour in the Neolithic, could have been very likely to occur, especially when the Neolithic “was an ideological phenomenon, a new way of thinking” (Simmons 2007: 20). I find that the Neolithic was an era where new ideologies and cultures were being developed and implemented globally throughout the Neolithic on an unprecedented scale.
The arguments about how and why agriculture was developed and adopted throughout the globe in the Neolithic have produced very different and sometimes contradictory reasons why the origins of agriculture occurred. However, no one can deny the importance that agriculture had on the world as a whole and the impacts that it had to society as a whole. The impact that agriculture had, in my opinion, is unprecedented and extremely important to how we live in the society today. I can assume that most academics on the topic of agriculture believe that the impact of its adoption during the Neolithic was massively important to the world. Cole (1967: ix) made this quite clear by saying, “the development of full food production was an evolution rather than a sudden revolution; yet there is no doubt that the consequences of this change were revolutionary in the fullest sense of the world” and as Pluciennik and Zvelebil (2009: 467) also put forward the idea that the adoption of agriculture was one of revolutionary proportions, a “quantum leap in human history, and the basis for the development of widespread societal characteristics, both good and bad.”
There are many main impacts that can be connected to the implementation of agriculture as the main characteristic of subsistence. By domesticating both plants and animals, it led to “increased sedentism, smaller social units, individual domiciles, investment in burial ritual and trade” (Bogucki 1999: 191), “specialisation in diet [was] also encouraged by the localisation of agricultural production” (Rindos 1984: 270) and “populations practicing agriculture come to be more successful relative to both domesticating and non-domesticatory. These populations not only will be generally larger but will also be dispersing at far greater rates [than populations that are not practicing agriculture]” (ibid: 267). Pluciennik and Zvelebil (2009: 467) mention that the impacts include “sedentism, population growth, certain endemic diseases, social and political hierarchies, literacy, cities, specialised arts and crafts, widespread environmental degradation, extensive trade, property, laws, morality, and more generally civilisation.” It could be very easy to use these and suggest the impacts that agriculture had on today’s society, without thinking about the immediate impacts that occurred to the Neolithic society when agriculture was implemented.
When agriculture was implemented in the early Neolithic, it can be assumed this would have led to a population increase due to the majority of early farmers becoming settled and becoming sedentary, resulting in a decrease in mortality rates due to better diets and better immune systems. With improved sedentary conditions, population numbers would begin to increase at a much quicker rate, putting significant pressure on food stores, resulting with the need for improved agricultural efficiency and crop numbers. This continues the cycle of population increase, greater sedentary conditions and thus, more agriculture. However, in the background of this cycle, an evolution of social, economic and religious (Bogucki 1999) norms would have occurred changing the culture of the Neolithic significantly. With the culture changing constantly to include agriculture, it would have led to the societies having a greater involvement with agriculture especially when it became the main and/or only way for food to be acquired.
The agricultural revolution led to the societies throughout the globe being hit by these impacts and resulting in a totally different world, and in the grand scheme, the beginnings of agriculture and the beginning of the Neolithic revolution could be argued to be the beginnings of civilisation, as we know it today. The impacts that agriculture had on societies throughout the last 10,000 years are unprecedented and the effects of which are still seen today – with some arguing that without agriculture, the world, as we know it in the modern time would not be the same. “Social, economic, and political complexity  would not have emerged without the existence of agriculture” (ibid: 203)
To conclude, “in the last 30 years, archaeologists have made considerable progress towards understanding the origins of agriculture, but the question of why prehistoric people made the transition from foraging to farming is still elusive” (ibid: 191) pinpointing one reason for why agriculture was adopted would be impossible. However, in my opinion, I believe that understanding why agriculture was developed, a number of reasons must be acknowledged and inter-link to fully determine the true reasons why agriculture was developed during the Neolithic revolution. The “push”, “pull” and social models that were established by Stark (1986) provided the most efficient way of trying to understand why agriculture was developed and it led to a significant advance in the way of thinking for its origins. However, “in the 1990s, social factors [had] begun to assume prominence in attempts to explain the origins of agriculture, although “push” and “pull” models still have considerable importance” (Bogucki 1999: 190). I believe that the social model provides more all-round reasons for agricultural origins, especially competitive feasting which provided an activity for the whole society to undertake together, thus, producing the beginnings of a society, and trade. This would increase in importance with the development and the increase of more sedentary populations. Despite this, I also feel that the push and pull models are very important. Without population pressures and some climatic change, agriculture would never have been produced.
In my opinion, agriculture created the easiest and most efficient way for agriculture to spread and disperse across the globe through trade. Socially, trade was very important within a society, but in the greater picture, it played a much more important role in its dispersal. With the increase in trade, societies would have improved in prosperity and developed. Without agriculture, this would not have been possible. This leads to how much of an impact agricultural development and its adoption had on societies across the globe. Without food production from agriculture, cultural advancements leading to the growth of urban areas, including technological, economic and political developments, which eventually led to the modern societies, we know today (Simmons 2007; Diamond 1997a). The impact that agriculture had on societies cannot be measured electronically, scientifically or any other way because the impacts are on an unprecedented scale; impacts spanning from one corner of the globe to the other and affecting everything. With the beginning of agriculture came the beginning of the New World, a world of new culture, beliefs and ways of life, economic, political and technological change and developments, resulting in the way we are today.
Food production triggered the emergence of kings, bureaucrats, scribes, professional soldiers, and metal workers and other full time craftsmen. Literacy, metallurgy, stratified societies, advanced weapons, and empires rested on food production. (Diamond 1997b)
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