Why did humans start to use agriculture?


Unfortunately, I think that is one of the legacies of fundamentalist Christianity. I read something posted recently by a close acquaintance (and Baptist) that every single human is inherently wicked and evil. What a horrifying view of mankind!!! I know they were simply trying to find some sense in/perspective regarding some of the horrible things happening in the world, but I could not bear to live with such a belief in my heart. No matter what people are doing to each other and to the world and other-than-humans, I must believe that all such harm is simply a mistake and/or a sickness, and if only the sickness can be addressed, that beneath that, humans–like all life–are actually inherently beautiful and good.


What an interesting thread!! 8)

I’d like to formalise a little bit on a thought experiment i’m having sometime when i have a few minutes.

1/ we all know agriculture was “invented” in middle-east, and then spread across the globe over a number of millenia. Therefore agriculture is not necessarily a logical consequence of a climatic catastrophe, it’s more the spread of a paradigm from a small seed (pun :P)

2/ very quickly, an agricultural group/society would have gotten a sense of property/land ownership. It is near impossible to cultivate any parcel of land with the knowledge that somebody will come and reap the fruit of your labour.

3/ this would have put agriculturalist in stark opposition to nomadic hunter-gatherer, whose hunting ground would have been reduced by societies ready to fight for “their” land. The nomads will choose the simplest solution, which is to nomad somewhere else.

4/ In ecological terms, hunter-gatherers would have had their “habitat” reduced by competition from agriculturalists.

5/ to compound the process, agriculturalist societies would need to invent laws (property rights?), therefore some sort of hierarchy (those in charge of the law being de facto above the peasants). The one on top of the society will very quickly realise that conquest war and larger fields will give him a hedge on the chieftain of the agriculturalist city/nation next to him.

6/ then come the imperial wars of the antiquity as a consequence of the above, and spread of the agricultural model through land grabs and conquests.

7/ no hunter-gatherer clan could possibly assemble enough men and “industry” to face the imperials in a straight battle. Therefore their territory was doomed to shrink into nothingness…

Hello Mona Rose! Peace to you :slight_smile:
My heart bleeds when i hear something like this. I am Christian (Catholic). In our christian denomination, we have diametrically opposed view to that of your acquaintance. We believe each and every human, however wounded, is child of God, and therefore son and daughter of love, and called to love eternally.

Hi Peter. Yes i’ve heard that one before. It is very interesting to put the curse of eating that fruit in perspective with the civilisation change that happened
=> “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life”
here i’m reading men became farmers
=> “It will produce thorns and thistles for you”
Constant battle against the weeds. Another consequence of being a farmer.
=> “with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
archeological records apparently show a shrinking of the pelvis in agriculturalist societies. Pain when giving birth would another consequence of eating the forbidden fruit?
=> " Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked"
all primitive hunter-gatherers were a lot less covered than we presently are :stuck_out_tongue:


the paleo diet has changed a lot since the mainstream-influenced original work of Lorain Cordain. “Low fat” is actually harmful, and i’m not surprise you’d get brain fog. FYI, cholesterol is a very important hormonal precursor for sex hormones and is highly concentrated in brains, which is mostly made of fat. :o

Nowadays, most people who are seriously into palo would understand that it would be wrong to feed oneself only from steak. In fact, if you wanted to emulate our ancestor’s diet, you would need to eat raw liver, bone marrow, bone broth, collagen-rich meat, eggs, brain, offal, etc. That diet would be high in saturated fat, and low in lean protein (i’ve heard of some primitive tribes feeding steak to their dogs and keeping the fat-rich meat).

And animal-only diet would only be relevants for people of innuit ancestry, which is not the majority of us. Our ancestors would have had a fair amount of root starch in the summer/fall, leaves, wild fruits (which are low in sugars), nuts, etc.

This is the sort of approach i’m having now. Like you i did try the lean meat only approach and that wrecked me a bit. But with a high animal fat diet i’m having more clarity than i ever had. ;D ;D


With regards to this idea, as well as the main question, I have an idea that agriculture may have arisen as a need for a more readily available starch source. This could also have something to do with the fact that the area where agriculture arose was once more fertile and had more water than it does today. In the Northwest, for example, animal fats and proteins, and even greens and berries, seem to be more readily available than starches. Acorns must be gathered, but instead of just being dried like berries, they must be shelled, ground and leached to produce something edible. Other starch sources include roots, generally more prevalent in areas of the Interior Northwest as well as areas up north like Northern Vancouver Island where springbank clover and other roots were essentially cultivated. Roots, while perhaps more readily edible than acorns, still require pit cooking and aren’t as easy to pick as berries. They also aren’t as plentiful as the acorns of the oak prairies farther south. Is it possible that oaks, which I believe grew and do grow in the Middle East, and maybe even roots provided a food source until climatic changes forced new adaptations? This may explain the sudden rise of wild grains being cultivated, a more readily available food source that didn’t need to be dug (but did still need processing). Starches are also very important to the human diet and there may be a genetic predisposition to crave them. Once some people discovered that they could amass grain and control other people, well, the rest is kinda history.


This is an amazing question! I don’t know the answer but according to the archeological data, the human brain has gradually shrunk in size ever since the Neolithic Revolution 10000 years ago.

Now a days it is smaller than it has ever been in history, despite what our teachers tell us about stupid cavemen having small brains. Our nomadic ancestors, like the ancient Lakota natives, had some concept of what would happen if you farm the land and were wise knowing it would be destructive. That’s why I’ve heard the wild native Americans say things like ‘when men start farming the land they grow old fast and die young’ and why some of the last elders of the ancient way like Sitting Bull refused to farm the land. All the violent and corrupt tribes I know of like the maya, Aztec and Iroquois were territorial farmers. I was watching a documentary on Ayurveda and they said thousands of years ago, before civilization in India began, there were holy men in the Himalayan mountains who oversaw the first towns being built and were concerned for humanity’s future. I don’t think they could have predicted everything. In fact the Vedas say the Earth cannot ever be destroyed by people. Not to be pessimistic but the effects are now clear like mass overpopulation, pollution, deforestation, desertification, extinctions and ultimately the earth quickly becoming too destroyed to sustain us or any life. To brush the surface of what’s happening, before Europeans came here 1/4 trees used to be chestnut. 50% of the lakes in the us are extremely polluted and 50% of the life in the ocean has gone extinct in the past 55 years. More people die everyday now from polluted water than starvation and violence combined. It’s been estimated that around 40% of ALL deaths world wide are caused by pollution. Water is more important than food. The native Americans predicted food running out too. Looks like the native Americans had the most high, divine wisdom, that the world will be destroyed if humanity keeps going down whitemans road of technology. Peace and God bless!


Ran Prieur just linked to this paper, ‘Pharmacological Influences on the Neolithic Transition’:


which updates thinking on the opioid addiction theory of why ag got started. Ran comments:

I used to think large complex society was simply a mistake, and now I think it’s a really interesting transition that still has a long way to go, and to do it right we need more and better ways to alter consciousness. (Aug 15 post)

Haven’t read it yet so can’t comment.

Looking at the rest of this thread though (finally!) I thought I’d mention a few things. On the assertion that Inuit and other northern tribes lived almost exclusively on animal fats & proteins, a friend sent me this article:

which begins:

to dismantle the myth of the Inuit and the Masai who supposedly ate no starch, no fibers and no prebiotics.In fact, those cultures did eat animal starches and animal fibers. Unfortunately, unless one does their own hunting and eats part of their kills raw, those animal starches and fibers are all but missing from a modern low carb diet.

From: Principles and issues in nutrition: Yiu H. Hui, Ph. D., p.91 (1985)Eskimos actually consume more carbohydrates than most nutritionists have assumed. Because Eskimos frequently eat their meat raw and frozen, they take in more glycogen than a person purchasing meat with a lower glycogen content in a grocery store. The Eskimo practice of preserving a whole seal or bird carcass under an intact whole skin with a thick layer of blubber also permits some proteins to ferment into carbohydrates.

Dr. Hui is being kind when he uses the term “fermented” to describe the ancestral preservation techniques for Igunaq and Kiviaq, which are typically enjoyed during the Winter months when food is scarce. A more accurate description would probably be “rotting” by anaerobic digestion in an environment too cold to facilitate full decomposition. […]

The carb-yielding processes used sound absolutely disgusting, but are apparently considered a delicacy and essential for building the right body tissues, strength and stamina for living in such a cold climate. Don’t know how prevalent these techniques would have been in lower latitudes

Otherwise forestrunner asked:

You might be interested to read this paper from oak expert David Bainbridge which feeds into the topic discussion quite nicely: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4313131 (I can email a pdf of the whole thing if you don’t have access to jstor)

In the abstract he writes:

Interest in and research into the origin and development of agriculture has increased sharply in the last twenty years, yet all of these studies have missed the common link between the areas where agriculture may have begun-the acorn. All three areas considered of significance to date-the Middle East, middle China, and Mexico-are, or were once, characterized by oak woodlands. The experience in California, where ethnographers and anthropologists have been able to study a fully developed balanoculture (from the Greek balanos-acorn) reveals the primacy of acorn use and the complex interaction between people and oak woodlands. The California balanoculture was in fact a very successful agroforestry system that prospered for thousands of years. Balanoculture provided the stable communities necessary for agriculture to develop. The lower time and work cost associated with acorn use suggests agriculture may have evolved as acorns became more scarce from the decline in the oak woodlands brought about by the adverse human impacts resulting from overgrazing, fuel cutting and cutting for timber, and field burning, exacerbated by climatic fluctuation. A reevaluation of the record is in order: agriculture may perhaps be better considered a regressive rather than a progressive evolutionary event.

I think oaks would probably provide a more reliable source of starch than grains, even competing for overall yields per acre. The only problem is the tendency to have ‘off’ years, which can be circumvented by storage or possibly pruning techniques. You note the energy cost in processing, but this has to be measured against the costs of annual ploughing, weeding, watering, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding etc. which the grains require to make them a viable foodstuff (further processing like sprouting or fermenting are also needed for nutritional reasons). And they also have years of failure which routinely lead to famines in the absence of any back-up plan or leftover stored grain, and of course you have the problems of soil erosion, nutrient exhaustion and the diseases which monocultures are prone to - none of which are problems to remotely the same degree with oak or other tree-based systems.

I’m still not seeing any benefits to the rise of ag, indicating a social/religious coup of some kind or the pharmacological reasons discussed above which got the infernal ball rolling. Bring on the roll-back!