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CHAPTER 7: THE FIRST FARMERS

CHAPTER OVERVIEW
This chapter discusses the emergence of food production. It focuses on the domestication of plants and
animals in the Old World (particularly in the Middle East) and in the New World (particularly in Mexico)
and examines how changes in social organization accompanied the shift from broad-spectrum foraging to
food production.
CHAPTER OBJECTIVES
1.

Be able to define the term Neolithic and consider how changes in human subsistence techniques
first arose at different times in different world regions.

2.

Know the significance for plant domestication of the distinct environmental zones in the Fertile
Crescent area of the Middle East.

3.

Know the genetic changes that took place in the plants and animals that were first domesticated.

4.

Know the seven world regions where domestication independently occurred. Identify the main
differences in the emergence of farming in New World and Old World regions. Be able to identify
the species involved, as well as when and where they were first domesticated.

5.

Be familiar with the explanations Kottak presents for why the Neolithic economy was fully
established in some regions more rapidly than others.

6.

Consider how food production contributed to the emergence of the social-political organization of
the state.

CHAPTER OUTLINE
I. Introduction
A. The broad-spectrum revolution refers to the period, beginning around 15,000 B.P. in the
Middle East and 12,000 B.P. in Europe, during which humans began to exploit a wider range
of plant and animal resources.
B. In the Middle East, the broad-spectrum revolution ultimately led to food productionhuman
control over the reproduction of plants and animalsby 10,000 B.P.
C. The transition to farming and herding in the Middle East took place during a series of eras.
1. The era of seminomadic hunting and gathering (12,000-10,000 B.P.) included the last
stages of broad-spectrum foraging, just before the first plants and animals were
domesticated.
2. The next era (10,000-7500 B.P.) witnessed the advent of dry farming (of wheat and
barley) and caprine domestication (of goats and sheep).
3. New crops were domesticated, more productive varieties of wheat and barley arose,
and cattle and pigs were domesticated during the era of increasing specialization in
food production (7500-5500 B.P.).
4. By 5500 B.P., cities emerged, and metallurgy and the wheel were invented.
D. "Neolithic" refers to the cultural period in a given region in which the first signs of
domestication are present.

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II. The First Farmers and Herders in the Middle East


A. Environmental Zones and Food Production
1. In the Middle East, the four environmental zones involved in the origin of food
production were the high plateau, Hilly Flanks, piedmont steppe, and alluvial desert.
a. In the Hilly Flanks (a subtropical woodland zone), an abundance of wild
grains that could be harvested during much of the year allowed foragers (e.g.,
the Natufians) to adopt sedentismsedentary life in villages.
b. Around 11,000 B.P., the climate became drier and the zone of abundant wild
grains shrank.
c. Food production probably emerged when people living in marginal areas
(such as the piedmont steppe) attempted to duplicate artificially the dense
stands of wheat and barley that grew in the Hilly Flanks by transferring wild
cereals to well-watered areas, where they started cultivating.
2. Sedentary village life developed before farming and herding in the Middle East.
3. In the Middle East (as in Peru and Mesoamerica), the close juxtaposition of varied
environmental zones allowed broad-spectrum foragers to use different resources in
different seasons (vertical economy).
4. Contrasting environments were linked by foragers seasonal migrations as well as by
trade.
5. The movement of people, animals, and products between environmental zones was a
precondition for the emergence of food production.
6. As people transported seeds between environmental zones, mutations, genetic
recombinations, and human selection led to new kinds of wheat and barley.
B. Genetic Changes and Domestication
1. Compared to wild plants, domesticated crops have larger seeds, produce a higher
yield per unit of area, no longer have natural seed dispersal mechanisms, and have
tougher connective tissue holding the seedpods to the stem.
2. In wild cereals, the axis (the point where the grains are attached to the stalk) is brittle,
which allows the cereal to spread its seeds and propagate itself easily.
3. First accidentally and then intentionally, humans selected stalks with tougher axes (so
less grain fell to the ground or blew away) and saved their seeds to plant the
following year.
4. Humans also chose the seeds of plants with more brittle husks because they could be
more effectively prepared for eating.
5. Humans also selected certain features in animals, such as woolly coats in sheep,
which eventually produced livestock that were better suited to hot, dry alluvial
lowlands and from which wool could be obtained for clothing.
6. Domesticated animals became smaller than wild ones, probably because smaller
animals are easier to control.
C. Food Production and the State
1. The early stages of food production in the Middle East involved a gradual transition
from foraging to producing economies.
2. Changes caused by food production, such as population increase and resulting
migrations, forced people living in other areas to respond (e.g., in the Hilly Flanks,
people had to begin cultivating in order to intensify production).
3. By 6000 B.P., complex irrigation systems made agriculture possible in the arid
lowlands of southern Mesopotamia.
4. Around 5500 B.P., a state society with an economy based on irrigation and trade
developed in the alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

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III. Other Old World Farmers


A. Domestication of plants and animals was invented independently in at least seven areas of the
world (the Middle East, northern China, southern China, sub-Saharan Africa, central Mexico,
the south central Andes, and the eastern United States).
B. Through trade, diffusion (of plants, animals, products, and information), and the migration of
farmers, food production spread out from the Middle East and other areas where
domestication was invented.
C. Crops and animals originally domesticated in the Middle East spread into northern Africa
(including Egypt) and Europe, and trade extended eastward to India and Pakistan (the Indus
River Valley).
D. China was one of the first areas of the world where food production was invented.
1. Along the Yellow River in northern China, two varieties of millet were being
cultivated by 7500 B.P., and dogs, pigs, and possibly cattle, goats, and sheep were
domesticated by 7000 B.P.
2. In the Yangtze River corridor of southern China, rice was cultivated perhaps as early
as 8400 B.P., and water buffalo, dogs, and pigs were domesticated by 7000 B.P.
IV. The First American Farmers
A. America was colonized by anatomically modern humans (AMHs).
B. Food production was invented independently in three regions of the New World (the eastern
United States, Mesoamerica, and the south central Andes) 3,000 to 4,000 years later than in
the Middle East.
C. Animal domestication was much less important in the New World than in the Old World.
1. The large game animals hunted by early Americans either became extinct before they
could be domesticated or were not domesticable.
2. Animals domesticated in the New World include llamas (the largest domesticate),
alpacas, guinea pigs, ducks, turkeys, and dogs.
D. Three main staples (maize, potatoes, and manioc) were domesticated in the New World, along
with other crops (e.g., beans, squash, quinoa, goosefoot, marsh elder, and sunflower) that
added variety and nutrition to the diet.
E. Early Farming in the Mexican Highlands
1. Between 10,000 and 4000 B.P, foragers in the Valley of Oaxaca had a broadspectrum economy, exploiting a wide range of animals and plants.
2. These foragers gathered a wild grass known as teocentli (or teosinte), the wild
ancestor of maize.
3. Between 7000 and 4000 B.P., harvesting and eventually cultivation brought about
genetic changes in teocentli-maize (more kernels per cob, increased cob size, more
cobs per stalk, tougher axes, softer husks).
F. From Early Farming to the State
1. In Mesoamerica, food production eventually led to early village farming
communities.
2. The earliest village farming communities developed around 3500 B.P. in the humid
lowlands (the Gulf Coast of Mexico and the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Guatemala)
and in the Mexican highlands (the Valley of Oaxaca).
3. The earliest year-round farming in Mesoamerica depended on reliable rainfall, pot
irrigation, or access to humid river bottomlands.
4. The gradual transformation of broad-spectrum foraging into intensive cultivation laid
the foundation for the emergence of the state in Mesoamerica, about 3,000 years later
than in the Middle East.

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V. Explaining the Neolithic


A. A number of factors (e.g., a Mediterranean climate with closely packed environmental zones,
a diversity of domesticable plants and animals, and early sedentism) favored the development
of food production in the Middle East.
B. In Mesoamerica, the emergence of food production, sedentism, and a full-fledged Neolithic
economy took longer because the shift from teocentli to maize involved considerable genetic
change, and because large domesticable animals were lacking.
C. Although some plants were domesticated independently in the eastern United States, the set
of plants and animals found there was insufficient to maintain a full-fledged Neolithic
economy, which did not develop in this region (or in the southeastern and southwestern
United States) until maize diffused from Mesoamerica.
D. Geography and the Spread of Food Production
1. Most crops in Eurasia were domesticated just once and spread rapidly in an east-west
direction.
2. By contrast, there was much less diffusion of American domesticates. Some
important crops (e.g., beans and chili peppers) were domesticated twice, once in
Mesoamerica and again in South America. Environmental barriers kept the Neolithic
societies more separate and independent in the Americas than they were in Eurasia.
3. In Eurasia, plants and animals could spread more easily east-west than north-south
because of common day lengths and similar seasonal variations (see Diamond 1997).
VI. Anthropology Today: On the Icemans Trail
A. The remains of a Neolithic man, nicknamed tzi, were discovered in a glacier in the Italian
Alps in 1991.
B. This 5,200-year-old mummy was remarkable for its state of preservation, as well as the
artifacts (including stone and copper tools) and clothing found with it.
C. Chemical analyses of tzis teeth, bones, and intestinal contents suggest that he spent his
entire life within a 37 mile area near where his remains were discovered.
D. New evidence suggests that tzi may have died from wounds he sustained in an attack, rather
than from hypothermia as was originally proposed.
LECTURE TOPICS
1.

Discuss domestication as a process of unintended selection that resulted from humans trying to
reduce risks associated with ecological conditions and increase their subsistence yields.

2. Discuss the development of food production as a process of growing mutual interdependence


between humans and the plants and animals they domesticated. How did food production broadly
affect the diet of humans, in comparison with prehistoric foraging?
3. Discuss the growth of nucleated settlements during the process of the development of food
production. Discuss the reasons for such settlements, the consequences, and how such settlements
became the base for the later development of states in particular regions.
4. Discuss how the emergence of food production gradually transformed social relations. What social
institutions have been linked to food production in particular regions (in the archaeological record)?
What evidence exists to reinforce the idea that the social transformation to food production was
gradual and uneven?

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SUGGESTED FILMS
Messages from the Past: Reassessing Ancient Civilizations
2000 4-part series
59 minutes each
This four-part series explores the origins of civilization in four different areas of the world: Egypt,
Mesopotamia, South Asia, and China. Titles in the series: Egypt: Journey to the Global Civilization;
Mesopotamia: I Have Conquered the River; Indus: The Unvoiced Civilization; and China: Heritage of the
Wild Dragon. From Films for the Humanities and Sciences.
A History of the Mayans
45 minutes
This film explores the history of the Mayan civilization from its beginnings to the arrival of the Spanish.
From Films for the Humanities and Sciences.
The Earliest Immigrants
1999 24 minutes
In this film, the University of Tennessees Richard Jantz examines what life was like for the first humans
to reach the New World. A Discovery Channel Production.
The Iceman
1998 97 minutes
This film presents the work of scientists and archaeologists as they analyze the body and belongings of a
5,300-year-old corpse found frozen in ice in the Alps. From Films for the Humanities and Sciences.
Patterns of Subsistence: The Food Producers
1983 29 minutes
This film analyzes food production and its impact upon the organization of society. With contemporary
ethnography among Mexican Yucatan Maya, Melanesian agriculturalists and an Afghanistan village, the
film examines concepts of land ownership, specialization of labor, social stratification, and the advent of
formal government. Part of the series Faces of Culture. From Insight Media.

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