The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution: Plant and Animal Domestication

agricultural revolution
Figure 1.--There are cave paintings rock petroglyphs providing us beautiful images from man's hunter-gather stage when manhunted wild animals. There are no images we know of from the early stage of plant and animal domestication leading to the neolithic Agricultural Revolution. But we have many images showing the results of the Agricultural Revoluton, like the Egyptian image here. Here we see the results of the Agricultural Revolution, farmers with wheat and cattle. This wall painting comes from the tomb of Menna (Thebbes). It has been dated to 1,422-1,411 BC.

Humans developed as a hunter gathering people. They hunted game and gathered naturally occuring plants and other resources. This went on for milennia as several humaoid species evolved. Gradully humans began to develop tools to better use the resources in their enviroment. Than in the late neolithic era, humans began manipulating the enironment. This process is poorly understood as it involved mnatural processes like fire and hs left no obvious traces that anthropologists can clearly identify. Finally cam domestication of plants and animals. Domestication is efined as a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms, primarily humans assumes control over the reproduction and care of another group to secure benefits from the target species. Humans were after a more predictable supply of resources than could be obtained in nature. Domestication occured essentially at the same time beginning at the wn of civilization (10,000-8,000 BP). Therr were precursors such as honey bees and silk worms. The only verterbrate domesticated by hunter gathers was the dog. Domestication meant that man could become more productive and generate the wealth required to creare civilization. Agriculture was the primary generator of wealth. Domesticating plants provided strains that increed yields. Animals assisted people in planting, harvesting and tranportation as well as having value of their own.

Plant Domestication

Plant domestication was the key to the development of civilization. Native Americans were still in the stone age when the Europeans arrived, but they had developed two crops that would profoundly reshape World, especiallu European society--corn and potatos. Cereals were crucial. Other crops such as peas, beans, and squash were domesticated, but cereals are the key crop. Only cereals can be produced on a vast scale as well as stored and transported. Thus the development of civilization is strongly associated with the development of agriculture, specifically domesticated cereal crops. Cereals permitted the production of a surplus and development of cities abd advanced civilization including writing, technology and the arts. Only the intensive cultivation of cereals could bring this about. The first major domesticated cereal crops were wheat and barley developed in Mesopotamia and subsequently adopted by Egypt and Harapan (Indus Valley) peoples. All three of these civilizations were in contact with each other. The other was rice developed by China. The two major Ameicam food crop was was the potato and corn. Corn was thus one of the crops developed by man to found the first civilizations, in this case Meso-Americn civilizations. Corn was the last, but proved to be the most important. The potato was the basis for Andean civilizations, but by itself was not sufficent to support the development of major civilizations beyound the reach of local commnities. This changed when the corn developd in Meso-America reached what is now Peru and the Andean civilizations that had developed there.

Animal Domestication

About the same time people began domesticating plants, they began to domesticate animals (10,000 BP). There was one exception--the dog. The dog is the oldest domesticated animal. It was domesticated before the neolithic agricultural revolution by hunter gathering people. This is because it had value in hunting as well as security. All the other domesticated animals, including cats were domesticated as part of the agricultural revolution. This process began in Mesopotamia (and connected cvilizations Egypt and the Indus Valley), but occurred independently in China a few milennia later. Ancient people began to tame animals for meat, milk, hides and subsequently for labor and transport. Hides, or the skins of animals, were used for clothing, storage, and to build tent shelters. The utility was understood by hunter-gathering people, but it is only with agriculture and settled civiization that domstication began. Goats are believed to be the first animal to be domesticated by settled or people in the process of settling (9,000 BC). This was followed closely by sheep. Cows somewhat later (about 8,000 BC). Agriculture and civilization developed, people began domesticating larger animals, such as oxen for plowing and transportation and cattle for meat, milk and hides. The donkey was the first animal used for transport and thus played a key role intrade and economic development. They became known as beasts of burden. Domesticating animals can be difficult. Some animals are not amenable to domestication such as the African zebra and wilderbest. The easiest animals to domesticate were herbivores that graze on vegetation. This is because agriculture gave people the ability to feed them. Carnovoires require people to provide other animals to feed them. The exception here was cats. But cats wee usedul as mousers to protect crops and as a result could feed themselves. Cows, for instance, were easily domesticated. Herbivores that eat grains are more difficult to domesticate than herbivores that graze because grains are valuable and thus donestication required domesticated plants and the neolithic revolution. Chickens and other poultry species are herbivores that eat seeds and grain. Horses were one of the last last animals to be domesticated probably because of their speed. This occurred by pastoral people on the Eurasian Steppe (anout 3,500 BC). It was a very important development, largely because of the military potential. The available animals significantly impacted the development of society. The same animals were used throughout Eurasia. Africa was different. Species there proved difficult to domesticate. And the teeze-fly impeeded the developmnt of civilization. There were no large aminals to domesticate in the Americas which affected both trade and military potential.


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Created: 3:54 AM 1/30/2018
Last updated: 7:51 AM 1/30/2018