New Theory of the Agricultural Revolution

This is more or less a speech I gave the other day. It’s really long, but quite interesting, I believe. Big thumbs up to anyone that actually reads it. Enjoy.

The agricultural revolution happened approximately 10,000 years ago, and it has been widely believed that once people figured out how to farm the land, that the innovation swept through the world with little to no opposition. This is clearly false, as scientists are piecing together a much more interesting story surrounding the birth of agriculture, and subsequently, our culture, as well as on the origins of many stories contained in the Book of Genesis. And the implications it has on our notion of control of the environment and population expansion, and where it is leading our species.

First, a very basic picture we can sketch, set in what was for thousands of years called Mesopotamia and what is now Iraq, dubbed by scholars as the Fertile Crescent, is that between 10 and 12 thousand years ago the most recent Ice Age officially came to a close. At 18,000 years ago, it had peaked to the point that the world’s water supply had greatly decreased, and it is estimated the average sea level was about 500 ft. lower than it is now. Considering the edges of most continents have very gradual declines, this accounts for there being 40% more land above water than there is now. At this time, the communities had adequately spread through the available land. When the climate shifted, it sent sweltering floods and dramatic changes in temperature throughout the world, causing, in the Fertile Crescent at least, first a time of warm and wet weather, much like a tropic, in which food was varied and plentiful, to huge rainstorms that brought the sea-level to more or less its current height, thus covering almost half the former land mass. Hence we had twice the populations living on half the land. In order to compensate, farming was created/ discovered and the people were allowed to feed their growing populations.

Because of the excessive population, it didn’t take every person to toil the fields, even if there had been room, spatially, for them to do so. This created, for the first time, a division of labor, in which some people worked and others, more priveledged, didn’t. This creates a class system and thus a heirarchy amongst individuals. Within a class system, a leisure class can formulate, and this leisured class contributed in areas of science, star-gazing, map-making, philosophies, religions. Villages to towns to cities to countries to nations. In short, everything you now take for granted as your culture was derived from this important turning point in the history of man. So important, with such an impact, in fact, it is being billed as the second most important shift in our species’ history, just short of standing erect.

To get an idea of the immediacy and rapid changes we have evolved since this time, consider that the first analytical machine (a computer) was created in 1834, and 160 years later we have the internet. Both come no later than 90,000 years after the first piece of bone was carved. It took only 4,000 years to get from the first ceramic pots to the Egyptian pyramids. 10,000 years from the domestication of plants and animals to the complete mapping of the human genome, and possibly to successfull cloning. 20,000 years from the first bow and arrow to the atomic bomb. And 6,000 years from the first wheeled vehicles, such as a simple wagon, to the spacecraft, and landing on both the Moon and Mars.

But as pretty a picture as this paints, there are startling ramifications for the decisions our ancestors have made, which must be looked into. But first, let’s consider what 5th Grade History class will not tell you. First, since the Ice Ages had oscillated for thousands of years, how did the people react to similar changes in the environment then, without resorting to full-time farming? Probably, the increased population led to war, even closing in on Genocide, and much of the populations were killed, or eventually starved to death from limited resources. And as the previous question implies, the cultivation of plants and animals was easily understood for upwards of 40,000 years ago, but was only used full-time, as the main and sometimes only, supplier of resources for a community around 10,000 years ago.

Comparing the bones of those original famers with the bones of hunter gatherers at the time shows a significant decline in health for the farmers as well. In it’s original stages, farming came a distant second to the lifestyle of hunting and gathering. It was more difficult work: more calories were expended per calorie obtained than through hunting and gathering, and still occurrs today through 40 hour work weeks. It was more time consuming, and led the farmers through a committed, routine life, which is unnatural and inconsistent with any other animal on Earth; modern interpretations of Stonehenge even classify it as a monument worshipping the moon, and placing the night above the rigid, forced hours of the day. This would only occurr if people were forced into farming and longed for the return of a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The act of living in the same spot is unhealthy as well, not only with increased social tensions but from living amongst ones own, and an entire communities, filth. There was a marked increase in infectious diseases. Bones reveal toes bent firmly backwards, and strains all down the back, revealing the horrid conditions and general lack in quality of life they sustained. Not only that, but the average life span decreased markedly as well.

So why would anyone succumb to such situations? The answer, as many answers turn out to be … the quest for power. As cultivation had been around for thousands of years, this was the first time that both: a.) farming was implemented full time; and b.) that the food produced was put under lock and key by those in the higher classes. When the food is placed under arrest and only rationed out, the peoples must toil an unnatural life to receive their nutrients. Scholars believe, thus, that the pivotal point of 10,000 years ago is not the onset or discovery of farming, but the first time the notion of placing food under lock and key, forcing people to work for what was once free, and creating social heirachies, which thus led to slavery. But what does all this have to do with the Bible, I hear you asking? (Quit thinking so loud …) Well, you must first understand our ability to read into ancient stories and know they were used as tools to help explain the world. Just as the fictive Cyclops’ of Greek Mythology represents the Neandertal, which survived to as much as 50,000 years ago, living right alongside rather modern incarnations of our ancestors. The ‘one eye’ of the Cyclops represents one perspective, or, their overall lack of critical thinking, when compared with our ancestors and our two eyes. Their intelligence level was lower, their actions more animalistic, brutal even - all true of both the Cyclops and Neandertals. Their use of language was elementary compared to ours. In Homer’s stories, Odysseus fools one Cyclops by revealing his name as “Noh Boddy”, and when the Cyclops screams for help, claiming “Nobody attacked me”, naturally, none of the other Cyclops came to the rescue of a fellow Cyclops that wasn’t being attacked. Finally, in Greek mythology, humans kill off most of the remaining Cyclops, through wit and manipulation, and in history, a dominant theory is that human ancestors killed off the remaining Neandertal peoples. (Though some believe lingering tribes of Neandertals actually mated in and ultimately merged with Humans.)

But to get to the stories in the Bible, we must take into account the nature of evolution, the nature of hunting and gathering, and the nature of farming. The nature of evolution has shown that for billions of years organisms have adapted to their environment. They change themselves to the whims of Nature. It is also important to know that many (what are now called) “prehistoric” peoples, including modern hunter gatherer tribes such as can be found in Australia or Africa, saw no difference between God and Nature. Their concept of God lived through Nature; nature revealed God’s intent through its actions. There was no separation, as is found in abstract notions of God found in the dominant religions of the past 10,000 years. The nature of Hunter Gatherer peoples, then, was that they took only what they needed, only what the Gods provided, and left resources for other animals. Their limited food supply and their need for mobility (a woman can only carry up to two children at a time) kept their population rates at a managable level. In this fashion, for better or worse, our species survived for millions of years, or at least the 60 million since it’s hypothesized we first stood erect in the aftermath of the dinosaur extinction.

The nature of farming, on the other hand, is radically, and fundamentally, different. The nature of farming shows a will to control and manipulate the land. It is claiming authority and exerting its power over which plants and animals should live, and which plants and animals should die. When farmers take over land, they not only plant specific crops, thus destroying or restricting other, natural crops, they also restrict other animals their food. A snowball effect reveals a world where most living things on the planet are coerced by the hand of man. From the survival and abundance of sheep and cows (both easily herded) to the extinction of the mastadon or Neandertal. In essence, the world is now shaping itself to the whims of a particular species. Humans no longer adapt themselves to Nature. We are adapting Nature to fit ourselves. We are steering the course of evolution. Evolution, which once was God’s hand in action, now controlled and manipulated by the peoples of Agriculture. To the Hunters and Gatherers, this was seen as a fundamental sin against Nature’s control, and thus, a fundamental sin against God.

The nature of farming also needs unrestricted expansion. With the growth of population, eventually, more crops are needed, and the need to take over more land. When that land was already occupied the world through by hunter gatherers, or by pastoralists, or peoples who dabbled in both, there was conflict. The Hunter Gatherers were passive in their approach to Farmers, but the farmers, needing their land, soon wiped them out. The limited population and inferior warfare-oriented technological innovations led to an easy slaughter or retreat of hunter gatherer peoples.

But they didn’t kill them all. And some of them even lived to tell stories about it.

The setting is a garden, plush with a multitude of fruits and vegetables, ripe for the picking at the whim of man. This time is known today as the Fertile Crescent; in the story it is referred to as the Garden of Eden. The act of living off the fruit provided serves the man, Adam, for a long while. Millions of years, even. And it is clear that he has the Gift of Life, as provided by the Gods. Then one day, he decides for himself that he should not live off the Gods’ whim, but decide for himself how the world should be cultivated. He decides what should live and what should die. He believes he has the knowledge, ultimately, of Good and Evil. Because of this he is cast from the Garden, and his previous, leisurely life of hunting and gathering under Nature’s bounty.

Genesis 3:7 says “… Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”

And as the population of these cursed peoples expanded, they needed more land. Two brothers, one a farmer and one a pastoralist, Cain and Abel, both send their offerings up to the Lord. God is more pleased with Abel’s offering, as it is more in line with
nature, and disapointed with Cain’s. Cain murders Abel, just as the Farmers, due to growing populations, swept down and slaughtered the hunter gatherers in their wake.

Genesis 4:10,11 says “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground, which opened it’s mouth to recieve his blood.”

Thus, the stories told by the remaining hunter gatherers of the original Farmers, and their ridiculous, unnatural, and ultimately, anti-Nature and anti-God ways of life, thousands of years later, were implemented into the stories of the Farmers’ themselves. And while the Agricultural Revolution is praised in the history books, it is shown in most major religions as, quite blatantly, a punishment put upon us by God.

But wait … there’s more!

Farming, by its Nature, needs to maintain an endless expansion rate. Farming and communities that receive their food from farming now cover approximately 90% of the habitable world. Population continues to increase. It is estimated that we are at about 6 billion right now, and were only 1 billion in 1850. The last billion happened in the last 17 years. The estimated carrying capacity for the world is 10-12 billion, while the world is adding the population equivalent of Las Angeles every two weeks, New York every month, Germany every year, and the USA every three years. It is projected that by 2050 there will be 50 billion people. Even expansion onto other planets is futile, as, assuming each planet were habitable, at our present rate, it would only take to the year 5000 that the planets of a trillion galaxies would be full. In other words, every planet in the Universe.

It is clear we do not have the ultimate knowledge of good and evil, for while we speak, we are destorying the environment and have created a culture so unlike anything natural that mental reactions accumulate in the forms of depression, schizophrenia, stress and ulcers, anxiety disorders … etc. And we also do not have the gift of life, for in our expansion we may ultimately destroy ourselves. It is a challenge, then, to take what we know of Good and Evil and manipulate it for life, and not just for expansion. But this will take quite the overhaul of current systems, including and especially the short-sighted, day-to-day grind of the American political system.

Genesis 3:22 says “Behold, man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

Is that a challenge?

Have you ever Read Any of colin tudge’s work?

I’m slowly making my way through The Time Before History right now. Some of the information from above was taken directly from that book. In fact, I think it was you that first mentioned his book in another thread, which got me further interested in the subject.