Neolithic Demographic Transition,
Agricultural Revolution, or First Agricultural Revolution, was the
wide-scale transition of many human cultures from a lifestyle of
hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an
increasingly larger population possible. These settled communities
permitted humans to observe and experiment with plants to learn how
they grew and developed. This new knowledge led to the
domestication of plants.
Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types
of plants and animals happened in separate locations worldwide,
starting in the geological epoch of the Holocene around 12,500
years ago. It was the world's first historically verifiable
revolution in agriculture. The
Neolithic Revolution greatly narrowed
the diversity of foods available, resulting in a downturn in human
Neolithic Revolution involved far more than the adoption of a
limited set of food-producing techniques. During the next millennia it
would transform the small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers that
had hitherto dominated human pre-history into sedentary (non-nomadic)
societies based in built-up villages and towns. These societies
radically modified their natural environment by means of specialized
food-crop cultivation, with activities such as irrigation and
deforestation which allowed the production of surplus food.
These developments provided the basis for densely populated
settlements, specialization and division of labour, more trade, the
development of non-portable art and architecture, centralized
administrations and political structures, hierarchical ideologies,
depersonalized systems of knowledge (e.g. writing), and property
ownership. The earliest known civilization developed in
Mesopotamia (c. 5,500 BP); its emergence also heralded the
beginning of the Bronze Age.
The relationship of the above-mentioned
Neolithic characteristics to
the onset of agriculture, their sequence of emergence, and empirical
relation to each other at various
Neolithic sites remains the subject
of academic debate, and varies from place to place, rather than being
the outcome of universal laws of social evolution. The Levant
saw the earliest developments of the
Neolithic Revolution from around
10,000 BC, followed by sites in the wider Fertile Crescent. The
Neolithic Revolution "inspired some of the most important developments
in human history including the invention of the wheel, the planting of
the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script,
mathematics, astronomy and agriculture."
1 Agricultural transition
Domestication of plants
2.1 In the Fertile Crescent
2.2 In China
2.3 In Europe
2.4 In Africa
2.5 In the Americas
2.6 In New Guinea
Domestication of animals
Domestication of animals in the Middle East
4.1 Social change
4.2 Subsequent revolutions
6 See also
9 External links
See also: Ancient grains
Map of the world showing approximate centers of origin of agriculture
and its spread in prehistory: the
Fertile Crescent (11,000 BP), the
Yangtze and Yellow River basins (9,000 BP) and the New Guinea
Highlands (9,000–6,000 BP), Central Mexico (5,000–4,000 BP),
South America (5,000–4,000 BP), sub-Saharan Africa
(5,000–4,000 BP, exact location unknown), eastern North America
Knap of Howar
Knap of Howar farmstead on a site occupied from 3,700 BC to 2,800 BC
Neolithic Revolution was coined in 1923 by V. Gordon Childe
to describe the first in a series of agricultural revolutions in
Middle Eastern history. The period is described as a "revolution" to
denote its importance, and the great significance and degree of change
affecting the communities in which new agricultural practices were
gradually adopted and refined.
The beginning of this process in different regions has been dated from
10,000 to 8,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent and perhaps 8000 BC
in the Kuk Early Agricultural Site of Melanesia. This
transition everywhere seems associated with a change from a largely
nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a more settled, agrarian-based
one, with the inception of the domestication of various plant and
animal species—depending on the species locally available, and
probably also influenced by local culture. Recent archaeological
research suggests that in some regions such as the Southeast Asian
peninsula, the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist was
not linear, but region-specific.
There are several competing (but not mutually exclusive) theories as
to the factors that drove populations to take up agriculture. The most
prominent of these are:
The Oasis Theory, originally proposed by
Raphael Pumpelly in 1908,
V. Gordon Childe
V. Gordon Childe in 1928 and summarised in Childe's
book Man Makes Himself. This theory maintains that as the climate
got drier due to the Atlantic depressions shifting northward,
communities contracted to oases where they were forced into close
association with animals, which were then domesticated together with
planting of seeds. However, today this theory has little support
amongst archaeologists because subsequent climate data suggests that
the region was getting wetter rather than drier.
Hilly Flanks hypothesis, proposed by
Robert Braidwood in 1948,
suggests that agriculture began in the hilly flanks of the Taurus and
Zagros mountains, where the climate was not drier as Childe had
believed, and fertile land supported a variety of plants and animals
amenable to domestication.
The Feasting model by Brian Hayden suggests that agriculture was
driven by ostentatious displays of power, such as giving feasts, to
exert dominance. This required assembling large quantities of food,
which drove agricultural technology.
The Demographic theories proposed by Carl Sauer and adapted by
Lewis Binford and
Kent Flannery posit an increasingly sedentary
population that expanded up to the carrying capacity of the local
environment and required more food than could be gathered. Various
social and economic factors helped drive the need for food.
The evolutionary/intentionality theory, developed by David Rindos
and others, views agriculture as an evolutionary adaptation of plants
and humans. Starting with domestication by protection of wild plants,
it led to specialization of location and then full-fledged
Peter Richerson, Robert Boyd, and Robert Bettinger make a case for
the development of agriculture coinciding with an increasingly stable
climate at the beginning of the Holocene. Ronald Wright's book and
Massey Lecture Series A Short History of Progress popularized this
The postulated Younger Dryas impact event, claimed to be in part
responsible for megafauna extinction and ending the last glacial
period, could have provided circumstances that required the evolution
of agricultural societies for humanity to survive. The agrarian
revolution itself is a reflection of typical overpopulation by certain
species following initial events during extinction eras; this
overpopulation itself ultimately propagates the extinction event.
Leonid Grinin argues that whatever plants were cultivated, the
independent invention of agriculture always took place in special
natural environments (e.g., South-East Asia). It is supposed that the
cultivation of cereals started somewhere in the Near East: in the
hills of Palestine or Egypt. So Grinin dates the beginning of the
agricultural revolution within the interval 12,000 to 9,000 BP, though
in some cases the first cultivated plants or domesticated animals'
bones are even of a more ancient age of 14–15 thousand years
Andrew Moore suggested that the
Neolithic Revolution originated over
long periods of development in the Levant, possibly beginning during
the Epipaleolithic. In "A Reassessment of the
Frank Hole further expanded the relationship between plant and animal
domestication. He suggested the events could have occurred
independently over different periods of time, in as yet unexplored
locations. He noted that no transition site had been found documenting
the shift from what he termed immediate and delayed return social
systems. He noted that the full range of domesticated animals (goats,
sheep, cattle and pigs) were not found until the sixth millennium at
Tell Ramad. Hole concluded that "close attention should be paid in
future investigations to the western margins of the
perhaps as far south as the Arabian Peninsula, especially where wadis
carrying Pleistocene rainfall runoff flowed."
Domestication of plants
Neolithic grindstone or quern for processing grain
Further information: History of agriculture
Once agriculture started gaining momentum, around 9000 BC, human
activity resulted in the selective breeding of cereal grasses
(beginning with emmer, einkorn and barley), and not simply of those
that would favour greater caloric returns through larger seeds. Plants
with traits such as small seeds or bitter taste would have been seen
as undesirable. Plants that rapidly shed their seeds on maturity
tended not to be gathered at harvest, therefore not stored and not
seeded the following season; years of harvesting selected for strains
that retained their edible seeds longer.
Several plant species, the "pioneer crops" or
Neolithic founder crops,
were identified by Daniel Zohary, who highlighted the importance of
the three cereals, and suggested that domestication of flax, peas,
chickpeas, bitter vetch and lentils came a little later. Based on
analysis of the genes of domesticated plants, he preferred theories of
a single, or at most a very small number of domestication events for
each taxon that spread in an arc from the
Levantine corridor around
Fertile Crescent and later into Europe.
Gordon Hillman and
Stuart Davies carried out experiments with wild wheat varieties to
show that the process of domestication would have occurred over a
relatively short period of between 20 and 200 years. Some of these
pioneering attempts failed at first and crops were abandoned,
sometimes to be taken up again and successfully domesticated thousands
of years later: rye, tried and abandoned in
Neolithic Anatolia, made
its way to Europe as weed seeds and was successfully domesticated in
Europe, thousands of years after the earliest agriculture. Wild
lentils presented a different problem: most of the wild seeds do not
germinate in the first year; the first evidence of lentil
domestication, breaking dormancy in their first year, was found in the
Jerf el Ahmar
Jerf el Ahmar (in modern Syria), and quickly spread
south to the
Netiv HaGdud site in the
Jordan Valley. This process
of domestication allowed the founder crops to adapt and eventually
become larger, more easily harvested, more dependable[clarification
needed] in storage and more useful to the human population.
An "Orange slice" sickle blade element with inverse, discontinuous
retouch on each side, not denticulated. Found in large quantities at
Qaraoun II and often with
Heavy Neolithic tools in the flint workshops
of the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Suggested by James Mellaart to be
older than the
Neolithic of Byblos (around 8,400 cal. BP).
Selectively propagated figs, wild barley and wild oats were cultivated
at the early
Neolithic site of Gilgal I, where in 2006
archaeologists found caches of seeds of each in quantities too large
to be accounted for even by intensive gathering, at strata datable to
c. 11,000 years ago. Some of the plants tried and then abandoned
Neolithic period in the Ancient Near East, at sites like
Gilgal, were later successfully domesticated in other parts of the
Once early farmers perfected their agricultural techniques like
irrigation, their crops would yield surpluses that needed storage.
Most hunter gatherers could not easily store food for long due to
their migratory lifestyle, whereas those with a sedentary dwelling
could store their surplus grain. Eventually granaries were developed
that allowed villages to store their seeds longer. So with more food,
the population expanded and communities developed specialized workers
and more advanced tools.
The process was not as linear as was once thought, but a more
complicated effort, which was undertaken by different human
populations in different regions in many different ways.
In the Fertile Crescent
Clay human figurine (Fertility goddess) Tappeh Sarab, Kermanshah ca.
Early agriculture is believed to have originated and become widespread
Asia around 10,000–9,000 BP, though earlier individual
sites have been identified. The
Fertile Crescent region of Southwest
Asia is the centre of domestication for three cereals (einkorn wheat,
emmer wheat and barley), four legumes (lentil, pea, bitter vetch and
chickpea) and flax. The Mediterranean climate consists of a long
dry season with a short period of rain, which may have favored small
plants with large seeds, like wheat and barley. The
Fertile Crescent also had a large area of varied geographical settings
and altitudes and this variety may have made agriculture more
profitable for former hunter-gatherers in this region in comparison
with other areas with a similar climate .
Finds of large quantities of seeds and a grinding stone at the
paleolithic site of
Ohalo II in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee,
dated to around 19,400 BP has shown some of the earliest evidence for
advanced planning of plant food consumption and suggests that humans
Ohalo II processed the grain before consumption. Tell Aswad
is oldest site of agriculture with domesticated emmer wheat dated to
8800 BC. Soon after came hulled, two-row barley found
domesticated earliest at
Jericho in the
Jordan valley and Iraq ed-Dubb
in Jordan. Other sites in the
Levantine corridor that show the
first evidence of agriculture include
Wadi Faynan 16 and Netiv
Jacques Cauvin noted that the settlers of Aswad did not
domesticate on site, but "arrived, perhaps from the neighbouring
Anti-Lebanon, already equipped with the seed for planting". The
Qaraoun culture has been identified at around fifty
Lebanon around the source springs of the River Jordan,
however the dating of the culture has never been reliably
Northern China appears to have been the domestication center for
foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and broomcorn millet (Panicum
miliaceum) with evidence of domestication of these species
approximately 8,000 years ago. These species were subsequently
widely cultivated in the Yellow River basin (7,500 years ago).
Rice was domesticated in southern China later on.
domesticated in northern China 4,500 years ago. Orange and peach
also originated in China. They were cultivated around 2500 BC.
Szentgyörgyvölgy cow – 4500 BC
Tilling with Hungarian Grey cattle
Carpathian Basin was the place where Europeans survived
the Ice Age. The territory between the
Danube and the
Tisza rivers was
a powerhouse of agricultural knowledge.
Nile River Valley, Egypt
On the African continent, three areas have been identified as
independently developing agriculture: the Ethiopian highlands, the
Sahel and West Africa. By contrast,
Agriculture in the Nile River
Valley is thought to have developed from the original Neolithic
Revolution in the Fertile Crescent. Many grinding stones are found
with the early Egyptian
Sebilian and Mechian cultures and evidence has
been found of a neolithic domesticated crop-based economy dating
around 7,000 BP. Unlike the Middle East, this evidence appears
as a "false dawn" to agriculture, as the sites were later abandoned,
and permanent farming then was delayed until 6,500 BP with the Tasian
Badarian cultures and the arrival of crops and animals from the
Bananas and plantains, which were first domesticated in Southeast
Asia, most likely Papua New Guinea, were re-domesticated in Africa
possibly as early as 5,000 years ago. Asian yams and taro were also
cultivated in Africa.
The most famous crop domesticated in the Ethiopian highlands is
coffee. In addition, khat, ensete, noog, teff and finger millet were
also domesticated in the Ethiopian highlands. Crops domesticated in
Sahel region include sorghum and pearl millet. The kola nut was
first domesticated in West Africa. Other crops domesticated in West
Africa include African rice, yams and the oil palm.
Agriculture spread to Central and Southern
Africa in the Bantu
expansion during the 1st millennium BC to 1st millennium AD.
In the Americas
Further information: New World Crops, Ancient
Oasisamerica, and Proto-Uto-Aztecan
Maize (corn), beans and squash were among the earliest crops
domesticated in Mesoamerica, with maize beginning about 4000 BC,
squash as early as 6000 BC, and beans by no later than 4000 BC.
Potatoes and manioc were domesticated in South America. In what is now
the eastern United States, Native Americans domesticated sunflower,
sumpweed and goosefoot around 2500 BC. Sedentary village life based on
farming did not develop until the second millennium BC, referred to as
the formative period.
In New Guinea
Evidence of drainage ditches at
Kuk Swamp on the borders of the
Western and Southern Highlands of
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea shows evidence of
the cultivation of taro and a variety of other crops, dating back to
11,000 BP. Two potentially significant economic species, taro
(Colocasia esculenta) and yam (
Dioscorea sp.), have been identified
dating at least to 10,200 calibrated years before present (cal BP).
Further evidence of bananas and sugarcane dates to 6,950 to 6,440 BP.
This was at the altitudinal limits of these crops, and it has been
suggested that cultivation in more favourable ranges in the lowlands
may have been even earlier. CSIRO has found evidence that taro was
introduced into the Solomon Islands for human use, from 28,000 years
ago, making taro cultivation the earliest crop in the world.
It seems to have resulted in the spread of the Trans–New Guinea
languages from New Guinea east into the Solomon Islands and west into
Timor and adjacent areas of Indonesia. This seems to confirm the
Carl Sauer who, in "Agricultural Origins and Dispersals",
suggested as early as 1952 that this region was a centre of early
Domestication of animals
Further information: Domestication
When hunter-gathering began to be replaced by sedentary food
production it became more profitable to keep animals close at
hand. Therefore, it became necessary to bring animals
permanently to their settlements, although in many cases there was a
distinction between relatively sedentary farmers and nomadic
herders.[original research?] The animals' size, temperament, diet,
mating patterns, and life span were factors in the desire and success
in domesticating animals. Animals that provided milk, such as cows and
goats, offered a source of protein that was renewable and therefore
quite valuable. The animal’s ability as a worker (for example
ploughing or towing), as well as a food source, also had to be taken
into account. Besides being a direct source of food, certain animals
could provide leather, wool, hides, and fertilizer. Some of the
earliest domesticated animals included dogs (East Asia, about 15,000
years ago), sheep, goats, cows, and pigs.
Domestication of animals in the Middle East
Dromedary caravan in Algeria
Middle East served as the source for many animals that could be
domesticated, such as sheep, goats and pigs. This area was also the
first region to domesticate the dromedary.
Henri Fleisch discovered
and termed the
Shepherd Neolithic flint industry from the Bekaa Valley
Lebanon and suggested that it could have been used by the earliest
nomadic shepherds. He dated this industry to the
Pre-Pottery Neolithic as it is evidently not Paleolithic, Mesolithic
Pottery Neolithic. The presence of these animals gave
the region a large advantage in cultural and economic development. As
the climate in the
Middle East changed and became drier, many of the
farmers were forced to leave, taking their domesticated animals with
them. It was this massive emigration from the
Middle East that would
later help distribute these animals to the rest of Afroeurasia. This
emigration was mainly on an east-west axis of similar climates, as
crops usually have a narrow optimal climatic range outside of which
they cannot grow for reasons of light or rain changes. For instance,
wheat does not normally grow in tropical climates, just like tropical
crops such as bananas do not grow in colder climates. Some authors,
like Jared Diamond, have postulated that this East-West axis is the
main reason why plant and animal domestication spread so quickly from
Fertile Crescent to the rest of
Eurasia and North Africa, while it
did not reach through the North-South axis of
Africa to reach the
Mediterranean climates of South Africa, where temperate crops were
successfully imported by ships in the last 500 years. Similarly,
Zebu of central
Africa and the domesticated bovines of the
fertile-crescent — separated by the dry sahara desert — were not
introduced into each other's region.
World population (estimated) did not rise for a few millennia after
Despite the significant technological advance, the Neolithic
revolution did not lead immediately to a rapid growth of population.
Its benefits appear to have been offset by various adverse effects,
mostly diseases and warfare.
The introduction of agriculture has not necessarily led to unequivocal
progress. The nutritional standards of the growing Neolithic
populations were generally inferior to that of hunter-gatherers, and
that their life expectancy may well have been shorter too, in part due
to diseases and harder work. Hunter-gatherers must have covered their
food needs with about 20 hours work a week, while agriculture required
much more and was at least as uncertain. The hunter-gatherers' diet
was more varied and balanced than what agriculture later allowed.
Average height went down from 5'10" (178 cm) for men and 5'6"
(168 cm) for women to 5'5" (165 cm) and 5'1" (155 cm),
respectively, and it took until the twentieth century for average
human height to come back to the pre-
Neolithic Revolution levels.
Agriculturalists had more anaemias and vitamin deficiencies, more
spinal deformations and more dental pathologies.
The traditional view is that agricultural food production supported a
denser population, which in turn supported larger sedentary
communities, the accumulation of goods and tools, and specialization
in diverse forms of new labor. The development of larger societies led
to the development of different means of decision making and to
governmental organization. Food surpluses made possible the
development of a social elite who were not otherwise engaged in
agriculture, industry or commerce, but dominated their communities by
other means and monopolized decision-making.
Jared Diamond (in The
World Until Yesterday) identifies the availability of milk and cereal
grains as permitting mothers to raise both an older (e.g. 3 or 4 year
old) and a younger child concurrently. The result is that a population
can increase more rapidly. Diamond points out that agriculture brought
about deep social divisions and encouraged inequality between the
Domesticated cow being milked in Ancient Egypt
Andrew Sherratt has argued that following upon the Neolithic
Revolution was a second phase of discovery that he refers to as the
secondary products revolution. Animals, it appears, were first
domesticated purely as a source of meat. The Secondary Products
Revolution occurred when it was recognised that animals also provided
a number of other useful products. These included:
hides and skins (from undomesticated animals)
manure for soil conditioning (from all domesticated animals)
wool (from sheep, llamas, alpacas, and Angora goats)
milk (from goats, cattle, yaks, sheep, horses and camels)
traction (from oxen, onagers, donkeys, horses, camels and dogs)
guarding and herding assistance (dogs)
Sherratt argued that this phase in agricultural development enabled
humans to make use of the energy possibilities of their animals in new
ways, and permitted permanent intensive subsistence farming and crop
production, and the opening up of heavier soils for farming. It also
made possible nomadic pastoralism in semi arid areas, along the
margins of deserts, and eventually led to the domestication of both
the dromedary and Bactrian camel. Overgrazing of these areas,
particularly by herds of goats, greatly extended the areal extent of
Living in one spot would have more easily permitted the accrual of
personal possessions and an attachment to certain areas of land. From
such a position, it is argued[by whom?], prehistoric people were able
to stockpile food to survive lean times and trade unwanted surpluses
with others. Once trade and a secure food supply were established,
populations could grow, and society would have diversified into food
producers and artisans, who could afford to develop their trade by
virtue of the free time they enjoyed because of a surplus of food. The
artisans, in turn, were able to develop technology such as metal
weapons. Such relative complexity would have required some form of
social organisation to work efficiently, so it is likely that
populations that had such organisation, perhaps such as that provided
by religion, were better prepared and more successful. In addition,
the denser populations could form and support legions of professional
soldiers. Also, during this time property ownership became
increasingly important to all people. Ultimately, Childe argued that
this growing social complexity, all rooted in the original decision to
settle, led to a second
Urban Revolution in which the first cities
were built.
Throughout the development of sedentary societies, disease spread more
rapidly than it had during the time in which hunter-gatherer societies
existed. Inadequate sanitary practices and the domestication of
animals may explain the rise in deaths and sickness following the
Neolithic Revolution, as diseases jumped from the animal to the human
population. Some examples of infectious diseases spread from animals
to humans are influenza, smallpox, and measles. In concordance
with a process of natural selection, the humans who first domesticated
the big mammals quickly built up immunities to the diseases as within
each generation the individuals with better immunities had better
chances of survival. In their approximately 10,000 years of shared
proximity with animals, such as cows, Eurasians and Africans became
more resistant to those diseases compared with the indigenous
populations encountered outside
Eurasia and Africa. For instance,
the population of most
Caribbean and several
Pacific Islands have been
completely wiped out by diseases. 90% or more of many populations of
the Americas were wiped out by European and African diseases before
recorded contact with European explorers or colonists. Some cultures
Inca Empire did have a large domestic mammal, the llama, but
llama milk was not drunk, nor did llamas live in a closed space with
humans, so the risk of contagion was limited. According to
bioarchaeological research, the effects of agriculture on physical and
dental health in Southeast Asian rice farming societies from 4000 to
1500 B.P. was not detrimental to the same extent as in other world
In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel,
Jared Diamond argues that
Europeans and East Asians benefited from an advantageous geographical
location that afforded them a head start in the
Both shared the temperate climate ideal for the first agricultural
settings, both were near a number of easily domesticable plant and
animal species, and both were safer from attacks of other people than
civilizations in the middle part of the Eurasian continent. Being
among the first to adopt agriculture and sedentary lifestyles, and
neighboring other early agricultural societies with whom they could
compete and trade, both Europeans and East Asians were also among the
first to benefit from technologies such as firearms and steel
The dispersal of
Neolithic culture from the
Middle East has recently
been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers. In
Europe, the spread of the
Neolithic culture has been associated with
distribution of the
E1b1b lineages and Haplogroup J that are thought
to have arrived in Europe from North
Africa and the Near East
respectively. In Africa, the spread of farming, and notably
the Bantu expansion, is associated with the dispersal of Y-chromosome
E1b1a from West Africa.
Aşıklı Höyük, in Anatolia
Natufians, a settled culture preceding agriculture
Original affluent society
Haplogroup G (Y-DNA)
Haplogroup J2 (Y-DNA)
Haplogroup K (mtDNA)
Neolithic site in Balochistan
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