The Origins of Agriculture (Farming)

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The Origins of Agriculture

The origins of agriculture (farming) have over the years elicited never-ending debate among several archeologists alongside numerous laboratory researches. Originally it was the archeologist/scholars within the Europe region who were the first to pry on the issues regarding the spread of farming, and the gradual fading of the foraging practices in the society commonly termed as the Neolithic Revolution. Henceforth, several archeologists based worldwide have voiced their own opinions and perceptions regarding what might have caused prehistoric foragers to abandon foraging (hunting and gathering) for farming, and apparently, there is a distinct difference as well as similarities in their research findings.

The Transition from the Mesolithic Period to the Neolithic Period

The transition from the Mesolithic period to the Neolithic period was necessitated by the commencement of modern civilizations. However, the social changes and structures that were previously thought to be dominant in the Neolithic period, have also been explained through several studies as being present in the last stages of the Mesolithic period majorly during the transition phase. The subsequent events were critically significant as they established a foundation for the rise of industrialization as well as a sustainable economic growth majorly due to agricultural (farming) activities. As such, this paper seeks to highlight causes and reasons has to why the prehistoric foragers (hunters and gatherers) choose to abandon foraging for farming and the subsequent benefits that have been experienced ever since.

Transitioning from Foraging to Farming

The transition from foraging to agriculture (farming) is certainly one of the most significant and fundamental cultural and societal changes in the history of mankind. The Mesolithic period denotes several changes that were major contributions to the Neolithic revolution. For instance, some of the notable changes that were occurring to the environment included alteration in the distribution of vegetation and animals and the increasing warmth that altered the extent of land and sea (Steven, 2001). While in some regions there was an increase in the land mass, thus offering more land for hunters and gatherers, there were significant changes on other ends that were marked by a considerable decrease in the land masses. This, therefore, resulted in a decrease of the available area for the foragers. In reference to the vegetation changes, some of the areas experienced favorable conditions such as warm climate, and soils which fostered drastic changes in growth of trees and other vegetation such as herbs. These changes fostered the transition as they laid a favorable ground.

Differing Theories and Chronology of Events

The differing theories over the years are further enhanced by the diverse chronology of events exhibited in different regions. The ancient Greeks, for instance, demonstrates that agriculture (farming) was the last of the three activities, which are hunting and gathering came first, then followed by the domestication of animals which also marked a pastoral nomadic stage and lastly the emergence of agricultural practices. While in some regions such as Europe agriculture represented the onset of a new and improved phase going forth, the Greek believed that this was a cyclical development where humans would go back and forth within the three activities (Weisdorf, 2005).

The Role of Prehistoric Korea

Another significant area that offers useful insights into the issue of transitioning to agriculture from foraging is prehistoric Korea. Korea is featured as a region that domesticated both the indigenous plants as well as the crops that were introduced to the area as a result of interaction with other regions especially the Northeastern China at the onset of the Neolithic period. Millet was among the first crops that were introduced and domesticated in Korea. While studies reveal that millet in the Southern part of Korea was present during the Middle Chulmun period, ideally the close proximity of the northern side Korea to communities in China that had already adapted to farming suggests that this area may have engaged in farming activities earlier (Lee, 2011). As such, the definition of the term agriculture is often seen to override the Chulmun way of life and the economy, which evidently had aspects of farming, especially, when the focus is tilted only towards hunting and gathering versus rice farming.

Factors Contributing to the Transition

Ideally, farming is considered much more difficult and less thrilling in comparison to foraging. Some even wondered why and what is it that was so fundamental that necessitated this shift. As earlier mentioned the changing environmental factors were a great contributory feature in the transition. Other aspects that have been identified over the years by different archeologists and through researches include increased population growth, sedentism, changing ideologies and the increasingly competitive social relations (Graeme, 2006). Although human diet also contributed to the transition, the extent has not been clearly signified more so Korea due to the limited dietary reconstruction of the human remains (Lee, 2011).

The Shift in Research Perspective

Most of the studies into the transition have greatly focused on the archeological aspects. However, in the last phase of the nineteenth century, there was a shift in the angle at which the studies into these issues were being made. The then scholars began to pay less attention to archeological features are focused more on the ethnology. This was aimed at studying the present human behaviors, social organization, and changes so as to inform and bring forth an understanding of prehistoric events (Cummings, 2014). Mostly they relied on the technological aspect which exhibited much similarity between the two groups. Their studies predominantly indicated that the hunters and gatherers had much inferior technology in comparison to the farming community. This then drew a clear distinction between them with the foragers belonging mostly to the Mesolithic age and the farming community to the Neolithic age.

Consequences of the Transition

The transition to farming consequently brought forth considerable changes such as industrialization, changes in the social structure and organization as well as presented a phase of change in the identity of people. This including considerable influence on religion, age, ethnicity, gender, and status (Diaz-Andreu et al., 2005). Several archeologists have taken upon themselves to establish ways in which farming and the consequential events shaped the ideologies surrounding these five key areas. Similarly, they explore the roles that each of these played and continues to play even in the present world.


Cummings Vicki, 2014. Hunting and Gathering in a Farmers’ World. Oxford Handbooks Online: The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunters and Gatherers. Doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199551224.013.013

Diaz-Andreu Margarita, Sam Lucy, Stasa Babic, and David N. Edwards, 2005. The Archeology of Identity. Approaches to gender, age, status, ethnicity, and religion. Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon

Graeme Barker, 2006. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? Oxford.

Lee Gyoung-Ah, 2011. The Transitioning from Foraging to Farming in Prehistoric Korea. Current Anthropology. The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas, Vol 52(No. S4); pp S307-S329.

Steven J. Milthen, 2001. The Mesolithic Age. The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 79-135.

Weisdorf L. Jacob, 2005. From Foraging to Farming: Explaining the Neolithic Revolution. Journal of Economic Surveys, Vol 19 (No. 4); pp 561-586.

November 13, 2023
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