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Neolithic Revolution

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“Pre-agricultural man operated in tune with nature […] while after the massive social and economic transformation […] the agricultural man was at war, bound to a futile effort to dominate natures processes. Where man the hunter had been free; man the farmer was now in chains” (Shard 1974:165). The Neolithic revolution was characterized by a shift among humans from a hunter-gather lifestyle to an agrarian culture allowing humans to exercise control over their environment and develop the complex societies and cultures we have today. Changes in gender roles, the domestication of plants and animals and the development of tools and technologies led to many problems for human societies. These problems included the emergence of human, crop and animal diseases, a fall in overall nutrition and famine. The Neolithic revolution impacted the relationship between humans and their environment as humans were able to choose where to live, had more free time to develop technologies and were able to build permanent houses. This changed relationship between humans and their environment caused by the Neolithic revolution can be seen through mass pollution, over population, and inequality in food distribution in our society more than 9 millennia later.
The switch from a hunting, gathering, and foraging lifestyle began on many continents at different times eventually spreading throughout the rest of the world (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 295 and 301). The Neolithic revolution was distinguished by a transition from foraging for to agriculture and eventually a more sedentary lifestyle, which lasted centuries and was a direct outgrowth of the previous Eipaleolithic era beginning approximately at the end of Plieistcene era. This time of great transition, “ [….] fundamentally changed the social organizations of human beings and their psychological paradigm” (Banning 2003: 5). One colossal change for society during the Neolithic revolution was the domestication of plants and animals. Domestication is an evolutionary process where the genetic makeup of plant or animal populations is modified (Haviland and Crawford 2009: ???? ). This process can take place both unintentionally and intentionally and had both downfalls and benefits for humans in the Neolithic revolution. Benefits were that wild animals and plants through domestication and control of breeding altered and then became more useful products. After domestication members of a population often cannot reproduce or survive on their own. A site in the Zargo Mountains of Iran is over 10,000 old and shows through a rise in the number of slaughtered young goats that humans were saving females goats for breeding and killing the young males for food (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 305). This process changed the nature of the gene pool and demonstrates a first step in the process of domestication. Domestication later lead to other evolutionary alterations. For example in sheep it allowed for the evolutionary growth of more wool (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 310). These domestications lead to humans having more control over food production and therefore lead to increased developments in agriculture (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 302). While often-early farmers were unaware of the changes taking place in their crops and herds methodical selection shows breeders were often looking to create and maintain new, desirable variations (Leach 2003: 356). As agriculture progressed during the Neolithic transition gender roles and social relationships were another change that began to take place. Through the use of ethnographic data it can be determined that previous to agriculture woman had the role of gathering where as men took on roles of hunting (Haviland and Crawford: 328). It is believed by Brumbach and Jarvenpa: that woman and men at one point worked interdependently at the pursuit, transport, processing, and storage of plant and animal foods (Cited in Bolger 2010:507). However, as the transition to agriculture took place women made the transition from hunting and gathering plants to working with plants in a new light. Women began to take on the role of harvesting, tending to, and planting crops as well as the closely related food production (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 328). It is thought by anthropologist Childe that as agriculture continued to advance the adoption of the plow brought upon the dwindling of female status as men were better suited for this intensive agriculture and hence took over as primary farmers (Cited in Bolger 2010: 508). The exploitation of domestic animals for products during the secondary products revolution is similarly, “widely considered to have lowered female status by further separating male and female labor and restricting women’s work to the domestic sphere” (Bolger 2010:508). The commonly occurring evidence of injury to the first metatarsal of the foot in adult women during this period backs this notion up (Bolger 2010: 509). According to Molleson, such an injury is the result of the strenuous activity of, grinding grain on querns in a kneeling position for many hours each day (Bolger 2010: 510-12). Males of this period show decreased levels of musculoskeletal stress that correspond with lower activity levels compared to females in the late Neolithic period. This suggests that there was a great division of labour between genders at this time (Bolger 2010, 511-512). Peterson explains that with the development of agricultural technologies such as the use of traction animals and herding techniques men did not have to exert as much energy (Cited in Bolger 2010, 511-512). The agricultural technology of the Neolithic times is another important factor that was constantly advancing. Before this period harvesting tools were simple and made of wood or bone inserted with serrated flints. As time continued tools began to be made by the flaking and chipping of stone. In early Neolithic times, humans began grounding and polishing stone tools that were too hard to chip. Next, came the development of hoes, scythes, forks and plows, which superseded plain digging sticks. Pestles and mortars were designed for grain preparation and finally after 8000 years plows were designed for the traction of animals such as cattle (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 322). These new tools allowed farmers to produce their crops more efficiently.
Despite increased food productions and advances in technology, there is clear evidence of the deterioration of health and a distinct decline in the life expectancy of humans living in the Neolithic era. With a food production lifestyle humans consumed less nutrients as they were forced to rely on the crops that were easiest to grow and store. This differs from the previous hunter-gather lifestyle where an abundance of wild foods and nutrients were consumed. Evidence shows that after an increase in sedentary lifestyles there was an increase in physiological stress. As people began to live close sedentary lifestyles in established communities and homes factors that affected health such as waste, sanitation, disease and famine came into play (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 326). Evidence from 4500BC shows signs of Tuberculosis DNA, a disease of cattle, in Neolithic skeletons (Bryd and Turco 2001: 328). Smallpox and chicken pox also emerged during this period (Haviland and Crawford 2009: ???). High-mortality rates, famine, malnutrition, and disease became a huge problem for humans at this time for the trend was that, “ […] we just kept getting hungrier […]”(Russell 2005:66), as our relationship to the environment changed.
The Neolithic Evolution led to changes in which humans related the environment, which still effect present day society. One major change was that people were able to choose where they wanted to live and were often able to stay in one place as they pursed the craft of sustaining and making a life (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 320). People were not following the food but instead growing and domesticating resources. This ability lead to the construction of permanent houses and villages. Early Neolithic houses were small, often mud brick buildings with small rooms for storage, bins, hearths and ovens. However, by 7500 cal BCE (Mid-Neolithic) there is evidence of villages in Levant which held hundreds of well built, intricate houses arranged on streets and terraces along with public buildings (Banning 2003: 6). Houses presented new opportunities for the, “accumulation, concealment and display of food, wealth and status” (Blanton 1994, Cited in Banning 2003:5). As well, large families were necessary to complete agricultural tasks so although child mortality was high (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 321), fully active agricultural settlements grew up to 20 times in size (van den Burghe, Cited in Banning 2003:15). This was a huge growth in overall population and this continuous growth can still be seen today as the world is overpopulated with an estimated population of 7 billion people. Trade, the basis of our modern day economy is also something that began in Neolithic times. People of this time participated in long-distance trade systems. An example being that in Jarmo, Iraq: Obsidian is known to be imported from 480 kilometers away (Haviland and Crawford 2009: 320). As the rise of cities and settlements persisted in the Neolithic era, larger populations created increasing competition for pasture and land (Banning 1998: 215). These larger sedentary populations led to specialization and the development of new technologies. This in turn put a demand on resources that were needed to make furniture, houses, pottery, clothing and textiles, corals, etc (Haviland and Crawford 2009 322-323), in this increasing “material culture” (Banning 1998:215). This negative changed relationship is seen in the world today in many ways for society today is still an agrarian culture that exploits its natural resources to feed it’s economy. Our society eats food mass-produced on large corporate farms and natural resources are in high-demand because of the material wants and needs of an overpopulated planet. The social inequality that arose from the adoption of agrarian society in Neolithic times now leaves many parts of the world hungry as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and status. Society today has every sense adopted a material culture that emerged during the Neolithic revolution and as a result: the world is now facing huge problems such as mass pollution and global warming. It is likely that the transitions made in the Neolithic culture were a result of cultural development combined with independent natural events (CLASS NOTE?) although it is known that these progressed changes and their effects on today’s society would be almost impossible to reverse today.
The Neolithic revolution marked the beginning of an agrarian lifestyle for humans. The changes made during this time period are integrated into the very basis of today’s society directly and negatively affecting all present day populations living on earth. As illustrated, this period brought significant changes to society through domestication, changing social roles and technologies. I believe that the Neolithic transition to food production was an immense mistake on societies behalf, which occurred in many locations at various times. The problems that came about as a result of the transition were immense and human nutrition and health faced previously unknown hazards. Sanitation issues compounded the emergence of diseases in humans and animals. These problems continue today but take on new forms as society is now facing over population and mass pollution. The transition to a sedentary lifestyle gave humans the ability to build permanent settlements and the time to specialize labour and technology. This lead to the complex societies seen around the world today that are based on social stratification and large populations, with occupational specialization and a large division of labour. (CLASS NOTE?) I think that the Neolithic revolution and all its inter-related changes and components that lead humans today to live the life we do, was an extremely negative transition that had an abundance of progressive negative effects. Therefore I agree with the statement, “Some researchers[…} have gone so far as to assert that the switch from foraging to food production was the worst mistake that humans ever made” (Haviland and Crawford 324)!

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