Brett Williams's Reviews > The Emergence of Agriculture

The Emergence of Agriculture by Bruce D. Smith
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An informative text that often reads like a list.

This book provides a number of revelations most of us are unaware of, from the fact domesticated plants are the way the are due to humans (not nature) imposing selective pressures on their evolution, to finding the walls of Jericho were not defensive structures, but rather irrigation dikes (in addition to their location on an active fault line). This kind of knowledge, commonly known among scholars, rarely sprinkles on the rest of us. For these gifts, and a few others noted, this book deserves reading, but writing, as an art, generally escapes this author more concerned with completeness of data. His most absorbing sections are those relating his own experience in the field where he not only writes with some emotion but with a flair of adventure.

We find the current evolutionary state of domesticated seed plants leaves them altogether dependent upon human actions. Not only have humans selected for those with ever more closely bundled seeds (hence dense, productive and easy to pick) but the shells of these seeds have thinned. They cannot survive in the wild for more than a few years without humans as their surfaces erode too early, sprouting in time to be destroyed by winter. Adjustments are also seen in the bodies of domesticated animals.

Most know the agriculture revolution - enabling everything we take for granted from cities, nations, wealth and war to ethanol and t-shirts - began about 10,000 years ago in the Levant. The author teaches that agriculture may have been triggered by climate change called the Younger Dryas episode placing selective forces on humans to invent news means of survival. Later, agriculture emerged in six other locations independently, including the eastern US. But we find the revolution is not over. Of all arable land, 80% of Asia and 97% of the Near East and North Africa are already farmed. Satellite data shows we are cultivating about 50 million new acres of tropical rainforest each year alone. We find that archeologists have unearthed villages at the hunter/gatherer-agriculture boundary noting a change in occupation including permanence, population increases and intensified social complexity, so we know when agriculture began but not when/if it ends. As Cicero inherited from Plato the notion that all things in the extreme become their opposite, do we have another example in agriculture? It’s an invention we cannot live in such numbers or comfort without and constitutes the planets strongest selective pressure.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
September 14, 2003 – Finished Reading
September 16, 2015 – Shelved

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