Chapter 1: From the Origins of Agriculture
I0. African Genesis
A0. Interpreting the Evidence
10. In 1859 Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, in which he
suggested that species evolve over long periods of time through the process of
natural selection. With regard to human beings, Darwin speculated that humans
must be “descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped,” and that the process of
human evolution must have started in Africa.
20. Discoveries of hominid skeletal remains in Java (1891) and Beijing (1929)
indicated Asian origins for human beings. However, the African origins of
human beings were suggested by the discovery of Australopithecus africanus in
1924 and confirmed by the work of the Leakeys in eastern Africa beginning in
30. Archaeological evidence and understanding of the evolution of other species has
helped scientists to trace the evolution of human beings over a period of 4
B0. Human Evolution
10. The australopithecines and modern humans are hominids, which are members of
the primate family. Hominids such as australopithecines were distinguished from
other primates by three characteristics: bipedalism, a very large brain, and a
larynx located low in the neck.
20. Scientists theorize that these characteristics gave hominids advantages in the
struggle for survival during the climatic changes of the Great Ice Age
(Pleistocene period). Further climate changes 2 to 3 million years ago are
thought to be the cause of the evolution of Homo habilis, whose brain was 50%
larger than that of the australopithecines.
30. By 1 million years ago Homo habilis and all of the australopithecines were
extinct. They were replaced first by Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) and
then by Homo sapiens (400,000 to 100,000 years ago).
C0. Migrations from Africa
10. Both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens migrated from Africa to various parts of
Europe and Asia, their migration facilitated by the low sea levels associated with
the Ice Age. Homo sapiens migrated from Africa during a wet period (40,000
years ago) and crossed the land bridge to the Americas during the last glacial
period (32,000–13,000 years ago). The low sea levels associated with this period
also allowed Homo sapiens to reach Japan and New Guinea/Australia.
20. These migrations were accompanied by very minor physical evolutionary
changes such as changes in skin pigmentation. For the most part, however,
humans adapted to their new environments not through biological evolution, but
through a process of cultural adaptation.
II0. History and Culture in the Ice Age
A0. Food Gathering and Stone Tools
10. The period known as the Stone Age lasted from 2 million years ago to 4
thousand years ago. It is subdivided into the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age—to
10,000 years ago) and the Neolithic (New Stone Age).
20. The Paleolithic age is characterized by the production of stone tools that were
used in scavenging meat from dead animals and later in hunting. Homo sapiens
proved to be particularly good hunters and may have caused or helped to cause
the extinction of mastodons and mammoths about 11,000 years ago. 30. The diet of Stone Age people probably consisted more of foraged vegetable
foods than of meat. Human use of fire can be traced back to 1 to 1.5 million
years ago, but conclusive evidence of cooking (in the form of clay pots) can only
be found as far back as 12,500 years ago.
B0. Gender Roles and Social Life
10. The slow maturation rate of human infants and the ability of adult humans to
mate at any time of the year are thought to be causes of the development of the
two-parent family that is one of the characteristics of the hominids.
20. Researchers believe that in Ice Age society women would have been responsible
for gathering, cooking, and child-care, while men would have been responsible
for hunting. The hunter-gatherers probably lived in fairly small groups and
migrated regularly in order to follow game animals and to take advantage of
seasonal variations in the ripening of foraged foods.
C0. Hearths and Cultural Expressions
10. Migrating hunter-gatherer groups lived in camps, using natural shelter when
available and building temporary shelters when the climate required it;
permanently established fishing communities made more solid structures.
Clothing was made of animal skins sewn together with vegetable fiber and
20. Hunter-gatherers probably had to spend no more than three to five hours a day
on getting food, clothing, and shelter. This left them a certain amount of time for
cultural activities: gathering, organizing and passing on information, art, and
30. Cave art suggests that Ice Age people had a complex religion. Their burial sites
indicate that they may have believed in an afterlife.
III0. The Agricultural Revolutions
A0. The Transition to Plant Cultivation
10. Agricultural revolutions—the domestication of plants and animals—were a
series of changes in food production that occurred independently in various parts
of the world. Changes in global climate were probably the cause of these