Multiple origins of agriculture debated

The point is that agriculture, like modern human behaviour, was not a one time great invention, but the product of social and environmental circumstances to which human groups with the same cognitive potential responded in parallel ways. The question in both cases is: what were the common denominators of those circumstances?

That’s from a post over at The Archaeobotanist which starts by talking about “modern human behaviour” rather than agriculture, but sees parallel processes at play in the origin of both. So, in the same way that “the cognitive architecture for modern behaviour was around but the innovations that we regard as ‘modern’ emerged when social and environmental circumstances demanded,” and this happened in different places at different times, so likewise the “cognitive architecture” for agriculture was widespread and there were therefore many “centres in which societies converged on agriculture,” with the concomitant “behavioural changes towards manipulation of the environment in favour of the reproduction of a few food species,” triggered by particular “social and environmental circumstances.”

Fair enough, but how is this new? There’s a comment on the post in which Paul Gepts makes this very point

…I am somewhat surprised that the issue of parallel inventions of agriculture is still an issue. The concept of centers of origin/domestication has been around for a century, thanks to Vavilov, Harlan, et al. … I must be missing something here, because for some time agriculture has been considered an example of multiple, independent inventions.

I’m looking forward to following this heavyweight exchange.

6 Replies to “Multiple origins of agriculture debated”

  1. I don’t see where Dorian suggests that the shift in domestication thinking is “new”. The news is about the Indian lithic technology.

  2. Ok, fair enough, probably just me mis-reading the following phrases.

    “There has long been an orthodoxy that agriculture was a great and rare invention…”

    “But the evidence of archaeobotany…”

  3. I think you mix up independent origin of agriculture with independent (centers of) domestication. Agriculture could have spread out of a few places, leading to domestication in many more places. I think the idea of many areas of crop domestication is old and solid, but I don’t know that about the origin of agriculture.

  4. All of this is new if you’re old enough, and old if you’re young enough :-)

    Agricultural origins and domestications bear some relation to each other, of course.

    We know very little about whether, how and why different plant species spread together as Neolithic innovation “packages”. Archaeobotanists and geneticists now look at each crop separately (although archaeologists less so). Once that work has progressed sufficiently, we would need to put the individual crop stories back again, to look at packaging and unpackaging.

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