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The Agricultural Revolution
During the course of human existence Homo sapiens have evolved from hunter-gather societies to agricultural societies and eventually onto post industrial societies. This evolution has created a new existence for humans, one that according to Jared Diamond was one of the worst mistakes that has ever taken place within the course of human history. Alan Turley counters this thesis with his own thesis claiming that the progression to agricultural societies was a necessary step in human development. Both theses have merit as well as pros and cons. The benefits and disadvantages of humanity progressing to an agricultural society differ between anthropologists, yet there is no possibility of regressing back to hunter-gather societies without a great change happening to the course of human history that would make mankind revert.
Jared Diamond’s main thesis in regard to progressing to an agricultural society mainly focuses upon the changes in diet and nutrition that occurred in human. Diamond’s reasoning is threefold and he claims in his article that, “First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early fanners obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy crops.” (Diamond, 1987, Paragraph 16) Due to the dependence upon the crops this also added to the three reasons that Diamond believes agriculture to be harmful to human existence. “Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease.” (Diamond, 1987, Paragraph 16) Diamond’s thesis is comprehendible when studying the history of communicable diseases such as the bubonic plague.
The progression from nomadic living to stabilizing into villages and later cities gives credence to Diamond’s thesis that larger populations create more havoc amongst the humans populating these cities. “With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism that curse our existence.” (Diamond, 1987, Paragraph 1) These ‘curses’ that Diamond writes of are easily seen today. The Occupy movements across the country reminded the American public that there are still large amounts of social inequality amongst the denizens.
Diamond makes the assumption in his article that hunter-gathers and farmers went to war with one another over land. Much like Homo sapiens’s predecessor, Homo erectus battled and eventually caused the extinction of Homo habilis. “Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter.” (Diamond, 1987, Paragraph 23) Diamond shows a distinct bias against farming and agriculture while Turley regards agriculture as a natural and necessary progression of humans.
In his text, Turley claims that without the adaptation of agriculture there would have been hardly any culture in human hunter-gather societies. “This is not to insinuate that culture wasn’t a product of this preliterate period, the cave art and tools of these societies are present for us to study today; it is only that this culture took longer to diffuse to the whole population of humans and was less dynamic because of the separated and isolated way these humans lived.” (Turley, 2005, Page 43) As anthropologists we know that culture is a large part of humanity and human civilizations, without culture there would be no reason for anthropology, thus is the advantage of progressing to an agricultural society.
With the progression of agriculture and the development of cities changes in human society occurred, bringing new advancements and technologies. “A group staying in one area will alter the space to fit the group’s needs, including creating new social meanings to the area, for example, living areas, agricultural areas, waste areas, sacred spaces, and profane spaces.” (Turley, 2005, Page 43) With more numbers to feed and house, more land is needed bringing more advancements and technologies to the group that banded together. With Diamond’s thesis that agriculture created health issues amongst the farmers, Turley’s thesis is stronger because humans needed the advancements that came with agriculture. Even as hunter-gathers, humans banded together and, even as Diamond stated, there is strength in numbers.
Turley believes that the progression to agriculture was a natural choice, and I agree. Humans, by nature, have always sought a more advanced technology with regard to day to day living. This is seen through our ancestors Homo erectus who utilized the technological advances of tools to expand their hunting grounds as well as their way of procuring game. And though, with the technological advances that we have today with regard to studying the way that ancient hunter-gathers lived, we will never truly know if humans made the right choice in progressing to agriculture.
Diamond, J. (1987, May) The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race, Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html April 21, 2012
Turley, A.C. (2005).Urban cultures: exploring cities and subcultures. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.