Hunter Gatherers' Agrarian Shift

Topics: Agriculture / Pages: 14 (3271 words) / Published: Sep 9th, 2008
The most important task in human history has been to find a way of extracting from the ecosystems in which people have lived, enough resources for maintaining life … the problem has been to balance their various demands against the ability of the ecosystems to withstand the resulting pressures. [Ponting 1991, p17]

The period that has come to be known as the Neolithic Revolution (somewhat erroneously so [see Ponting 1991, p37]) marked the most fundamental shift in human development seen since the first bipedal human-like species walked the earth. During this time and the brief era [see Ponting 1991, p18] that has followed it to the present, humans have made a multiplicity of social, cultural and technological advancements (inclusive of the political and religious realms), all of which began with an agrarian shift by an array of hunter-gatherer societies – a shift that marked the transition from ‘savage’ Palaeolithic man to ‘economic man’.
It is a frequently stated detail that the hunter-gatherer way of life was much less energy intensive than its successor and offered a relaxed, care-free lifestyle. Indeed, Marshall Sahlins contends that hunter-gatherer communities were “the original affluent societies” [Sahlins 1972, p1] who enjoyed a bountiful way of life “free from market obsessions” [Sahlins 1972, p2]. Why, then after ninety-nine percent of current human history had elapsed, were hunter-gatherers suddenly restricted to a smattering of groups across the globe? This essay will address this question and will then proceed to examine the multitude of effects (cultural, social, political; positive, negative) that this shift of modes of production had on world societies.

There exist several theories as to why the Neolithic Revolution took hold of hunter-gatherer societies, the least compelling of which is the extremely base notion that it was simply an inevitable, natural human progression into the agricultural mode of production. This ‘theory’ is tantamount to



Bibliography: 1. Bettinger, RL, Hunter-Gatherers: archaeological and evolutionary theory (Kluwer Academic/Plenum : New York : 1991) 2 5. Gowdy, J (ed.), Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment (Island Press : US : 1997) 6 7. Hamilton, C, Growth Fetish (Allen & Unwin : 2003) 8 9. Hawken, P & Lovins, A & L, Natural Capitalism (Earthscan : UK : 2000) 10 11. Landes, D, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (Abacus Books : 1998) 12 13. Mazoyer, M & Roudart,L, History of World Agriculture (Earthscan : UK : 2006) 14 15. Pirages, D & Cousins, K, From Resource Scarcity to Ecological Security (MIT Press Mass : US : 2005) 16 17. Sahlins, M, Stone Age Economics (Tavistock : London : 1972) 18 (Spring, 1993), pp. 39-71 19

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