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The Cambridge World History
  • Volume 2: A World with Agriculture, 12,000 BCE–500 CE
  • Edited by Graeme Barker, University of Cambridge , Candice Goucher, Washington State University
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    The Cambridge World History
    • Online ISBN: 9780511978807
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The development of agriculture has often been described as the most important change in all of human history. Volume 2 of the Cambridge World History series explores the origins and impact of agriculture and agricultural communities, and also discusses issues associated with pastoralism and hunter-fisher-gatherer economies. To capture the patterns of this key change across the globe, the volume uses an expanded timeframe from 12,000 BCE–500 CE, beginning with the Neolithic and continuing into later periods. Scholars from a range of disciplines, including archaeology, historical linguistics, biology, anthropology, and history, trace common developments in the more complex social structures and cultural forms that agriculture enabled, such as sedentary villages and more elaborate foodways, and then present a series of regional overviews accompanied by detailed case studies from many different parts of the world, including Southwest Asia, South Asia, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

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Page 1 of 2

  • 10 - Early agriculture in South Asia
    pp 261-288
  • View abstract


    This introduction traces the origins of agriculture and the character of early agricultural communities across the world and surveys the development of the more complex social structures and cultural forms that agriculture enabled. Like modern scientists, however, some experimenters either unwittingly or intentionally manipulated the genetic make-up of plant and animal populations, selecting for traits and characteristics that were more productive or more pleasing and thus preferred. Food production has been linked to significant changes in landscapes and populations that eventually supported the rise of urbanism and enabled human populations to expand from 6 million to over 7 billion today. Alan Outram describes how, whether keeping a few livestock within a mixed farming system or maintaining large herds and flocks in systems of specialized pastoralism, the key limiting factors that have to be solved are access to grazing land and, for times of the year when the natural grazing is insufficient, adequate supplies of fodder.
  • 11 - Mehrgarh, Pakistan
    pp 289-309
  • View abstract


    Archaeogenetics was developing its own approaches to data handling, hybridizing techniques borrowed from a variety of disparate disciplines. The mtDNA and the male-specific part of the Y chromosome are the two uniparental, non-recombining genetic marker systems, which led the way for genealogical and phylogeographic studies. Phylogeography utilizes three variables, the reconstructed phylogenetic tree of descent, or genealogy, the geographic distribution of the lineages and the time depth of various clusters. Founder analysis is an attempt to formalize a phylogeographic approach to identifying colonization events, but it exemplifies the approach more broadly. The analysis of ancient DNA has the potential to test models built on the basis of modern variation and archaeology. Ancient DNA is starting to contribute to the study of other aspects of the spread of farming.
  • 12 - Early agriculture in China
    pp 310-334
  • View abstract


    The reach of the currently available linguistic evidence on early agriculture also extends back to the middle or the later middle Holocene for the Middle East, India and Mesoamerica. The essential foundation for the linguistic recovery of history is a systematic reconstruction of the relationships and phonological histories of the families of languages spoken in the regions whose human histories one wishes to investigate. Two major originating centres of food production lay in Africa, one in the far eastern Sahara and the other far to the west, in West Africa, along with a probable third centre in the southwestern Ethiopian highlands. The lexicons of subsistence in the first several periods in the history of the Nilo-Saharan language family reveal an extended, stage-by-stage history of shift from food collection to food production. A new stage in the evolution of West African agricultural practices began by no later than the fifth millennium BCE.
  • 13 - Xinglonggou, China
    pp 335-352
  • View abstract


    This chapter focuses on what kind of evidence can be productively used from human remains to tell us something about a population's diet and health. It addresses the questions of how agriculture contributes to our health and diet and how bioarchaeology can help people understand this relationship better. Essentially, bioarchaeological studies of health and well-being provide a deep-time perspective on understanding the origin, evolution, and history of disease, which is very relevant to the emerging discipline of evolutionary medicine. It is much easier to consider the health of contemporary people who hunt and forage, and ecological factors specific to living hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists can be used effectively to understand the diet they eat and challenges to health they experience. Advances in understanding the nature of the agricultural transition and its impact on humans have particularly been seen recently in genetic studies, for example how plants and animals have evolved.
  • 14 - Early agriculture in Japan
    pp 353-386
  • View abstract


    This chapter surveys the nature of early agricultural communities, focusing on archaeological evidence for the social life of early farmers in different parts of the world. In many ways early agricultural societies are extremely diverse, but underlying this range of cultural forms are striking similarities, suggesting that agriculture tended to constrain and direct social behaviour along certain lines. The chapter focuses on archaeological evidence for, first, the nature of agricultural practice, and second, forms and scales of collective social action, from residential families to work parties, ritual congregations and broader networks. It also presents three pairs of case studies, each comprising a major centre of agricultural origin involving domestication of key cereal crops and an adjacent region of agricultural spread, West Asia and Europe, China and Korea and Mesoamerica and the Southwest. Archaeobotanical evidence indicates that cultivation took place in a range of lowland and upland contexts, using high-water-table, floodwater, mesa top run-off, or rain-fed techniques.
  • 15 - The Nara basin paddies, Japan
    pp 387-410
  • View abstract


    This chapter focuses on cultures that rely on the herding of animals for the majority of their subsistence, though some discussion of mixed farming regimes, in order to identify the origins of some herding practices and to help make comparisons with purely pastoralist economies. It explores the key issues affecting the origins of pastoral societies, such as the circumstances of animal domestication, the supply of fodder and the origins of dairying and wool exploitation. From the agriculturalists' point of view, the feeding of stock allows the conversion of inedible by-products into protein and fat. In order to understand the development of prehistoric pastoralism, it is necessary to ask when practices such as milking first developed and whether the timing of Sherratt's secondary products revolution holds true for all regions and environments within Eurasia. It is archaeologically very difficult to reconstruct patterns of mobility among ancient pastoralists. Fully nomadic groups will leave extremely ephemeral settlement evidence.
  • 16 - Early agriculture in Southeast Asia and the Pacific
    pp 411-444
  • View abstract


    This chapter explores the complex relationship between agriculture and urbanism, from its central role enabling the development of larger and denser settlements over time, to varying strategies and choices in agricultural practice. New technologies are increasingly aiding archaeologists in documenting the spatial networks of these urban centres. While classic, low-tech methods like pedestrian survey are still among the most thorough methods of locating archaeological sites within an urban catchment, this form of research is inherently limited in scale. These expanded archaeological data sets on urban-hinterland relationships have both increased our ability to challenge the standard narrative and illustrated its persistence. The modern understandings of the relationship between urbanism and agriculture continue to erode long-held beliefs, the standard narrative, that urban zones were highly centralized systems abstracted from their hinterland, which provided agricultural products for the city under despotic control.
  • 17 - Swamp cultivators at Kuk, New Guinea
    pp 445-471
  • View abstract


    The oldest documented Neolithic cultures occur in the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia, more commonly known as the Near East. While future research may ultimately yield an even older Neolithic, it has been best and most thoroughly studied in this region. This chapter provides an overview of the Near Eastern Neolithic in the several terms like environment and climate, Near East-specific theories on the Neolithic, issues of sedentism and the nature of the first villages and contemporary and future research trends. The Near Eastern Neolithic was first documented during archaeology's formative development and some of the considerable diversity in terminology is result of the academic and national backgrounds of the variety of scholars involved in these early studies. Refinements in precise environmental reconstruction methods have greatly assisted in addressing this issue. The emerging research on Cyprus has reoriented how archaeologists view island colonization, domestication processes and accompanying social changes, and the spread of the Neolithic from its mainland cores.
  • 18 - Early agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa to c. 500 ce
    pp 472-498
  • View abstract


    The oldest layers occur atop sterile red clay, and it appears that 'Ain Ghazal began as a small village about 2 ha in area. The end of the MPPNB in the southern Levant was a tumultuous one, and there were severe disturbances in the settlement pattern of the region. Wholesale abandonment of farming villages in Israel and the Jordan valley began around this time, and many of the dislocated populations sought refuge elsewhere, probably often in highland Jordan. If the plastering of skulls of some family members might have had some relationship with ancestral veneration in the MPPNB, it is highly likely that the stunning plaster statuary from 'Ain Ghazal is an extension of the ancestral cult that characterized the central Levant. In view of larger cultic buildings, people prefer to call the smaller apsidal and circular buildings shrines to indicate a lower rank in a hierarchy of ritual buildings.
  • 19 - The Tichitt tradition in the West African Sahel
    pp 499-513
  • View abstract


    This chapter summarizes the archaeological evidence for the Neolithic and early food production across South Asia, with a focus on four major macro-regions with distinct chronological sequences, crop ecologies and cultural traditions. The four macro-regions are given by the northwest, including the greater Indus valley, the Gangetic plains, eastern India and savanna India. The earliest agriculture in South Asia can be found along the western tributaries of the Indus River, at aceramic settlements like Mehrgarh. Towards the middle Ganges plains there is clear evidence of a strongly indigenous Neolithic tradition, which included the development of rice cultivation and eventual sedentism. The nature of early Neolithic societies in eastern India has been less well studied than other parts of the subcontinent. However, there is a growing corpus of information from various streams of evidence available in the archaeological literature. The case for a truly independent origin of agriculture in South Asia is strongest in the southern peninsula of India.
  • 20 - Early agriculture in the Americas
    pp 514-538
  • View abstract


    Mehrgarh is the best-known early village site in South Asia, and presents the earliest evidence for sedentary occupation, agriculture and pastoralism thus far discovered. Sedentary occupation was displaced episodically, such that the use of individual areas appears to have been largely sequential. Mehrgarh period I appears to have been at least partly contemporaneous with the earliest aceramic levels at the site of Kili Gul Muhammad, at the other end of the Bolan Pass. Mehrgarh is located well outside the distribution of the wild progenitors of both domesticated einkorn and emmer wheat, which are limited to the Near Eastern arc or the Fertile Crescent. New aceramic sites have, however, now been found in southwest and southeast Iran, which have added significantly to our understanding of the distribution of aceramic Neolithic settlements. Excavations in the uppermost levels at MR 4 and MR 2 revealed evidence for increasing sophistication of the ceramic decoration repertoire during Mehrgarh period III.

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