Researcher May Have Answered Why Humans Turned to Farming

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Researcher May Have Answered Why Humans Turned to Farming

Farms can provide products that satisfy the human appetite/ Photo By Evgeniy Zakharov via 123RF


When the earliest human civilizations started to get established on Earth, they satisfied their hunger through hunting and foraging. But why did they eventually choose to farm if hunting and foraging worked? A researcher who explored this mystery may have found some answers about why farming became a thing.

The study about human adaptation to farming was conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut. Their investigation revealed that early humans realized the imbalance in their growing population and available resources. They published the results in the journal American Antiquity.


The Adaptation of Farming in the Ancient Era Explored

Setting aside the environmental impacts of farming, people adapted this practice since the ancient days for its major advantages. First, farms can provide products that sate the human appetite. Second, farms can grow foods that can support proper nutrition. And third, farms help sustain communities and families. But in modern times, farms are also useful in boosting the economy and industries.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, farming is not just always about crop production. The practice is now a science on its own after the introduction of aquaculture, livestock, and biotechnology. Farmers use lands to plant, grow, and practice what they are passionate about. So, farmers deserve the same respect as other workers.

Why did humans opt to adopt the practice if we could hunt and forage for natural resources? What are the reasons that pushed people to turn to farms? A UConn researcher and colleagues may have the answers to those questions based on the evidence they gathered in a recent study.

They investigated two popular theories on why humans moved away from hunting and foraging, and then chose the more labor-intensive farming practice. While the change happened independently across the globe, the researcher looked into the specifics in the Eastern United States.

"A lot of evidence suggests domestication and agriculture don't make much sense. Hunter-gatherers are sometimes working fewer hours a day, their health is better, and their diets are more varied, so why would anyone switch over and start farming?" asked Elic Weitzel, the author of the study and a Ph.D. student from the Department of Anthropology, as quoted by Science Daily.

The Two Theories of Farming Practice

One of the theories assumes that during the times of plenty, ancient people would like to dabble in gardening, particularly the domestication of plants, such as squash and sunflowers. If compared to US historical records, native communities of Tennessee domesticated sunflowers about 4,500 years ago.

The other theory argues that early civilizations discovered the need to supplement their diets, especially when harvests were unfavorable. They realized that as they grow in numbers, they are likely to consume more resources and domestication of plants may help their needs.

To confirm which of the theories is more likely, Weitzel tested them both via analyses of samples from archeological sites in northern Alabama and in the Tennessee River valley. He analyzed several animal bones from the past 13,000 years at six sites. The sites were chosen due to correlation to early human settlements, which could provide clues about what they ate and how they lived.

Next, he obtained records of pollen taken from sediment cores collected in nearby lakes and wetlands. The cores would help determine the types of plants present at different points in time. After that, he linked the results from animal bones to the records of pollen. The correlation led to mixed findings.


Mixed Results Show Possible Explanation

On the side of the first theory, the researcher noted that oak and hickory tree species were likely the most dominant at the time, based on the pollen data. However, the abundance of the tree species indicated the warming of the climate, which probably led to decreased water levels in nearby lakes and wetlands.

Farms can grow foods that can support proper nutrition/ Photo By nikkiphoto via 123RF


Furthermore, the decreased water levels in bodies of water would indicate diminished fish populations. Thus, the native communities had to shift from fish and waterfowl diet to shellfish to survive. This might be interpreted that farming plants saved them from starvation due to out-of-season times of certain foods.

When Weitzel dug deeper, the data showed evidence related to the second theory. Results expressed signs of imbalance between resource availability and human population, possibly influenced by climate change and human exploitation. Yet, the data linked back to the first theory as the abundance of the tree species increased some species of animals. Hence, the game for those species helped mitigate problems with resources.

One example from the evidence was the increase in deer as oak and hickory dominated the land. Native people preferred deer than squirrels because of their bigger size and more meat. Plus, deer could be captured quite easily than smaller animals.

In the end, Weitzel concluded that the results showed evidence encircling around the two theories. It means that farming or domestication of plants occurred whenever there was an issue with the food supply. It also suggests that early humans have been able to recognize the shift in the balance between supply and demand, which allowed them to cope with situations.

Despite the coverage of the study, the findings feature a broader context on how domestication of plants evolved into the farming practice we have today. Even if civilizations across the globe lived a little different from one another, their coping mechanism to supplement diet may be the same.



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