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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:33 AM   #1
Fudbucker
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Why is Agriculture so Recent?

It seems like a trivial matter to conclude, from the casual observation of various seeds in various stages of development just from walking around, that seeds slowly turn into plants, and it should be possible to physically place a bunch of seeds in one central place and reap the bounty. Or at least the attempt to do so would have been made (and succeeded). Once you notice that acorns have a tendency to turn into tiny trees, wouldn't the whole idea of farming just naturally fall into place? I assume they would have stayed in one spot long enough to see, if not acorns turn into trees, then other fast-growing seeds like sunflower seeds turn into sunflowers. Why did it take so long for everything to click?

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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:49 AM   #2
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It didn't. Almost as soon as our brains were capable of understanding the process, we were doing it.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:52 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by arthwollipot View Post
It didn't. Almost as soon as our brains were capable of understanding the process, we were doing it.
I know it's Wikipedia, but Wikipedia suggests that the planting of crops by humans started around 15,000 years ago, when the Chinese domesticated rice. Before that, it was harvesting wild plants.

If that's correct, then that really is a very short time in comparison to the length of time that modern humans have existed, let alone other species of homo.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:57 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
It seems like a trivial matter to conclude, from the casual observation of various seeds in various stages of development just from walking around, that seeds slowly turn into plants, and it should be possible to physically place a bunch of seeds in one central place and reap the bounty. Or at least the attempt to do so would have been made (and succeeded). Once you notice that acorns have a tendency to turn into tiny trees, wouldn't the whole idea of farming just naturally fall into place? I assume they would have stayed in one spot long enough to see, if not acorns turn into trees, then other fast-growing seeds like sunflower seeds turn into sunflowers. Why did it take so long for everything to click?
Because not only could acorns turn into trees, acorns did turn into useful trees, over a very long period, and barley seeds would multiply over a much shorter period, without human intervention. In the same way, it was known that sheep gave birth to lambs long before the species was domesticated.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 01:06 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Craig B View Post
Because not only could acorns turn into trees, acorns did turn into useful trees, over a very long period, and barley seeds would multiply over a much shorter period, without human intervention. In the same way, it was known that sheep gave birth to lambs long before the species was domesticated.
Maybe they figured out that farming was actually really hard work and just didn't bother changing life-styles until population pressures started to make farming more attractive.

ETA: domesticating grazing animals would have been considerably harder. You would have to pen them up somehow and figure out a way to get them to grazing land and back. Why bother when you can just walk into a forest and kill game. Agriculture seems like more of a thing you might do to supplement a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, if you weren't going to be moving around very much.

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Old 2nd September 2017, 01:29 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
It seems like a trivial matter to conclude, from the casual observation of various seeds in various stages of development just from walking around, that seeds slowly turn into plants, and it should be possible to physically place a bunch of seeds in one central place and reap the bounty. Or at least the attempt to do so would have been made (and succeeded). Once you notice that acorns have a tendency to turn into tiny trees, wouldn't the whole idea of farming just naturally fall into place? I assume they would have stayed in one spot long enough to see, if not acorns turn into trees, then other fast-growing seeds like sunflower seeds turn into sunflowers. Why did it take so long for everything to click?
It was a trivial matter to conclude that diseases were caused by dyscrasia, it was a trivial matter to conclude that maggots are created by the process of meat rotting.

"trivial matters to conclude" are truly trivial - with hindsight.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 01:44 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
It was a trivial matter to conclude that diseases were caused by dyscrasia, it was a trivial matter to conclude that maggots are created by the process of meat rotting.

"trivial matters to conclude" are truly trivial - with hindsight.
Your analogy would fit if they observed maggots growing in rotten meat and still ate it anyway. They knew that certain foods made you sick, and eating rotten meat was a bad idea. The reasoning behind eating food->getting sick might be all out of whack, but the connection that rotten food should be avoided is still there. That kind of reasoning is all you need to get something like farming off the ground. You don't need to know why a seed turns into a plant for farming, you just need to know that it does.

And agriculture is fundamentally different than figuring out disease causes. There is no faulty cause-and-effect with observing seeds. What you see is what you get: they turn into plants. If you manually dig a little hole and put a seed in, you would rightly conclude you're going to get the kind of plant it came from. The reasoning for the process might be all screwed up (maybe you invent some god that makes the seed grow), but the logical leap from noticing seeds growing to collecting seeds and putting them in a bunch of little holes for easier gathering is so ridiculously short, it couldn't not have occurred to them. They weren't unintelligent people.

ETA: why was this thread moved? This is an anthropology question.

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Old 2nd September 2017, 02:00 AM   #8
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See, there was this black monolith with relative dimensions of 1x4x9 ...
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Old 2nd September 2017, 02:09 AM   #9
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Much of what we think is "simple" and "obvious" was anything but to our ancestors.

You are looking back with the hindsight of an educated person of the 20/21st century. It is incredibly hard for us to understand the huge conceptual leaps that our ancestors had to make - remember everything was based pretty much only on their own lifetime experiences - that any ever got to anything we would consider broadly right is astonishing.

Our ancestors (within our species) were not less intelligent than we are but they were at the beginning of progress and did not have our advantage of standing on the shoulders of giants.

Humanity's increase in knowledge and understanding appears to be slow given the last 3 hundred years but it wasn't, it was simply because it was starting from scratch.

When I look back over human knowledge I am astonished at the advances we made right at the beginning of civilisation, we had some very smart ancestors.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 02:26 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
Maybe they figured out that farming was actually really hard work and just didn't bother changing life-styles until population pressures started to make farming more attractive.

ETA: domesticating grazing animals would have been considerably harder. You would have to pen them up somehow and figure out a way to get them to grazing land and back. Why bother when you can just walk into a forest and kill game. Agriculture seems like more of a thing you might do to supplement a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, if you weren't going to be moving around very much.
Yes, because it could finally develop out of other supplements like seasonal collection of plant foods. Happens automatically when the need to change lifestyles, induced perhaps by population pressure or climate change, is there.

Some plant seeds pass undigested right through the consumer and end on the dungheap, where they grow beautifully, so agriculture can start to happen accidentally.

But the infrastructure may already be there. Grindstones fifty thousand years old have been found in Australia, where agriculture never developed, but wild seeds abound.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 02:41 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Squeegee Beckenheim View Post
I know it's Wikipedia, but Wikipedia suggests that the planting of crops by humans started around 15,000 years ago, when the Chinese domesticated rice. Before that, it was harvesting wild plants.

If that's correct, then that really is a very short time in comparison to the length of time that modern humans have existed, let alone other species of homo.
Maybe something changed in the human brain around that time. Who knows?




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Old 2nd September 2017, 03:25 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Argumemnon View Post
Maybe something changed in the human brain around that time. Who knows?

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There is evidence contradicting that hypothesis. Many quite recent peoples abstained from, or knew nothing about, agriculture. It spread rather slowly. But we don't see significant differences between the brains of more recent non agriculturalists, compared with those, say in Iraq or in China, whose ancestors practiced agriculture in much earlier times.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 03:59 AM   #13
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What we think of a s the history of human agriculture is really the recorded history and fossil record of human agriculture.'

There may be a perception and definition issue explaining the apparent age of human agriculture.

Wikipedia was mentioned in the OP. Their definition of "AgricultureWP" includes;
Quote:
it is also observed in certain species of ant, termite and ambrosia beetle.
With that as a baseline it might be safe to hypothesize something fitting into the definition being practiced at least to some degree by humans earlier than the 15,000 year old inception being used here.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 04:09 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Craig B View Post
There is evidence contradicting that hypothesis. Many quite recent peoples abstained from, or knew nothing about, agriculture. It spread rather slowly. But we don't see significant differences between the brains of more recent non agriculturalists, compared with those, say in Iraq or in China, whose ancestors practiced agriculture in much earlier times.
Maybe a happy accident, then.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 04:13 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Argumemnon View Post
Maybe a happy accident, then.
Its unambiguous appearance in the archaeological records coincides with the end of the last glaciation and with a mass extinction of megafauna, so perhaps a climactic accident.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 05:38 AM   #16
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It's generally conceded that agriculture allowed the creation of fixed settlements, rather than remaining rather nomadic hunter-gatherers.
But I wonder if a particularly good campsite, with shelter and water and all, might have contributed the other way around.
When seeds from partly-consumed plants began to sprout in the trash-dump area (even if that campsite was only visited a couple of times a year...) the light might have dawned.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 05:57 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Craig B View Post
Its unambiguous appearance in the archaeological records coincides with the end of the last glaciation and with a mass extinction of megafauna, so perhaps a climactic accident.
I would imagine such an accident to be climatic first, climactic second. (sorry, someone had to....)

As for the original question, I would guess that the requirement of agriculture that one stay in one place, and allocate a fair amount of one's social resources to the job, would also involve many social issues, and would also follow on the domestication of animals, since agriculture would be very difficult for nomadic people following wild migrations.

If you're nomadic hunters already, perhaps it's easier to find and remember places where wild vegetation is abundant, and settle there without bothering to cultivate.

In addition, though I don't know what criteria are used, I would guess that the occasional small scale gardening of wild plants could have occurred without leaving an archaeological record.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:06 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
It's generally conceded that agriculture allowed the creation of fixed settlements, rather than remaining rather nomadic hunter-gatherers.
But I wonder if a particularly good campsite, with shelter and water and all, might have contributed the other way around.
When seeds from partly-consumed plants began to sprout in the trash-dump area (even if that campsite was only visited a couple of times a year...) the light might have dawned.

It might be a mistake to view nomadic hunter-gatherers and agriculture as mutually exclusive anyway.

Just because they didn't make permanent settlements doesn't mean that they didn't spend extended periods of time in the same place. Long enough even to raise crops. And then move with the seasons.

Certainly the domestication of foodstuffs helped enable permanent settlements, but it wasn't necessary to have permanent settlements merely to domesticate foodstuffs.

Some cultures may have simply not had the need or desire to stay in one place and raised what they wanted when and where it suited them best.

Archeological records of such a lifestyle would not easily fit in with the common conception of an agrarian existence.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:13 AM   #19
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Presumably because prior to that was the Ice Age (Pleistocene) and after that was the Holocene. The warming of the Earth presumably made agriculture more viable.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:24 AM   #20
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Grasshoppers ate my entire crop.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:53 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Grasshoppers ate my entire crop.

Grasshoppers are good eatin'.
Quote:
You should absolutely eat the Mariners' new ballpark food: Toasted grasshoppers


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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:58 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by William Parcher View Post
Grasshoppers ate my entire crop.
My crops have the added benefit of attracting delicious grasshoppers.

ETA: oops, beaten to it.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 10:49 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
It seems like a trivial matter to conclude, from the casual observation of various seeds in various stages of development just from walking around, that seeds slowly turn into plants, and it should be possible to physically place a bunch of seeds in one central place and reap the bounty. Or at least the attempt to do so would have been made (and succeeded). Once you notice that acorns have a tendency to turn into tiny trees, wouldn't the whole idea of farming just naturally fall into place? I assume they would have stayed in one spot long enough to see, if not acorns turn into trees, then other fast-growing seeds like sunflower seeds turn into sunflowers. Why did it take so long for everything to click?
Because life was tough for early humans. 75,000 years ago the world population fell to ca. 10,000. Humankind really was on the brink of extinction. As were our ape cousins. Why this population bottleneck happened is up for debate, but there is no doubt that it did happen, whatever the cause. Under those circumstances survival would be the priority, not agriculture.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 06:03 PM   #24
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My take:

The hunter/gatherer lifesyle is happier and healthier than the toil of agriculture, as long as it is sustainable (i.e. with human population not outgrowing game and edible wild plant populations). It is known that hunters/gatherers spend much less time per day on securing food than stone age agriculturalists do, their diet is more pletiful, less associated with desease and simply richer in calories.

Agriculture had to become a necessity to gain a foothold. This happened when regions became overpopulated, with no underpopulated nearby regions around, for the first time.

Don't think too much of the ice ages - they were a big deal (and an obstacle to agriculture with today's crops) in today's moderate climatic zones, much less so in vast parts of Africa, Asia and Australia.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 07:12 PM   #25
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The idea that people were even aware of seeds as plant reproducers is an invalid assumption.

Making that observation requires paying attention to which seeds went where, sticking around long enough to see the results even though they're likely not to appear til another season, and keeping track of that memory of where which seeds went during the whole wait when nothing seems to be happening.

And, more important than whatever we could now try to project what people back then must have thought, we have some direct evidence of what they thought not much later. For example, although the Old Testament wasn't written til the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, it still preserves some oral myths from earlier times when the Bible's people's predecessors thought that plants simply came from the ground spontaneously, as if part of the ground's nature was to just push plants out because that's what ground does, at least as long as there was enough water. One of the two creation myths says that at one point the world had no plants because it hadn't rained yet and includes explicit creation of animals but never describes such an event for plants but just has the ground producing them, and the flood myth has no mention of collecting seeds along with the animals but does have plants growing again as soon as there's any bare ground to produce them again.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 07:30 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
The idea that people were even aware of seeds as plant reproducers is an invalid assumption.

Making that observation requires paying attention to which seeds went where, sticking around long enough to see the results even though they're likely not to appear til another season, and keeping track of that memory of where which seeds went during the whole wait when nothing seems to be happening.
But some seeds are still visible when the plant is grown to recognizable size. If you pull up one of the young pygmy date palms in my yard, you'll still see the burgundy colored bean-sized seed, with a root poking out of one end and thin fronds out of the other. The seed itself is unmistakable. I'm sure the same is true for many wild edible plants.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 07:37 PM   #27
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I think the mistake is equating agriculture with farming.

We started off as hunter/gathers and we didn't just turn into settled down city-state farmers overnight with no transitional phase.

Proto-farming, moving from area to area as new plant life grows, learning when this berry ripened in the season or when that root plant could be dug out, creating a migration pattern based on that so you're hunter/gatherer route too you to this valley where this type of plant grows at this type of year and so forth and once that pattern was established we start, probably almost by accident at first, doing the simplest and tiniest things to help that little batch of berries or whatever grow just a little bit better next season. Clearing out competing plants, helping the seeds get buried.

We were probably at that stage for looong time. Probably until we learned to brew beer. All civilization is based on beer. I'm only joking a little.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 09:26 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Delvo View Post
The idea that people were even aware of seeds as plant reproducers is an invalid assumption.

Making that observation requires paying attention to which seeds went where, sticking around long enough to see the results even though they're likely not to appear til another season, and keeping track of that memory of where which seeds went during the whole wait when nothing seems to be happening.

And, more important than whatever we could now try to project what people back then must have thought, we have some direct evidence of what they thought not much later. For example, although the Old Testament wasn't written til the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, it still preserves some oral myths from earlier times when the Bible's people's predecessors thought that plants simply came from the ground spontaneously, as if part of the ground's nature was to just push plants out because that's what ground does, at least as long as there was enough water. One of the two creation myths says that at one point the world had no plants because it hadn't rained yet and includes explicit creation of animals but never describes such an event for plants but just has the ground producing them, and the flood myth has no mention of collecting seeds along with the animals but does have plants growing again as soon as there's any bare ground to produce them again.
Ridiculous. You can see the plant coming out of the ground with the seed shell still stuck to it:
https://www.google.com/search?q=sunf...-FcF9b7MhZqGM:

The conclusion would be obvious to anyone who's not a complete idiot.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 10:32 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Fudbucker View Post
Ridiculous. You can see the plant coming out of the ground with the seed shell still stuck to it:
https://www.google.com/search?q=sunf...-FcF9b7MhZqGM:

The conclusion would be obvious to anyone who's not a complete idiot.
"Complete idiots" exist to this very day. Why do you think "complete idiots" did not exist in antiquity?
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Old 2nd September 2017, 11:35 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
"Complete idiots" exist to this very day. Why do you think "complete idiots" did not exist in antiquity?
I'm sure they did, but observing seeds in various stages of development is universal, and they would all have to be idiots for none of them to have made the connection, and that, of course, is very unlikely. Highly intelligent people existed back then, just as today.

Quadraginta is right: small-scale farming most likely occurred, but it took outside pressures to really get agriculture going.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 12:09 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by JoeBentley View Post
I think the mistake is equating agriculture with farming.

[...]

We were probably at that stage for looong time. Probably until we learned to brew beer. All civilization is based on beer. I'm only joking a little.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 02:04 AM   #32
Craig B
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Originally Posted by Oystein View Post
My take:

The hunter/gatherer lifesyle is happier and healthier than the toil of agriculture, as long as it is sustainable (i.e. with human population not outgrowing game and edible wild plant populations). It is known that hunters/gatherers spend much less time per day on securing food than stone age agriculturalists do, their diet is more pletiful, less associated with desease and simply richer in calories.

Agriculture had to become a necessity to gain a foothold.
This is noted in ancient mythology. Adam was thrown out of a garden in which he collected plants provided for him by God, and was then cursed in the following terms
Gen 3:17 ... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.
So disagreeable was the agricultural toil familiar to the compilers of the Torah that they perceived it as the effect of a curse; and they had a vague notion that in very early times their ancestors had lived a more pleasant and easier life, where plants could be gathered without such exertion.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 05:56 AM   #33
angrysoba
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Originally Posted by Craig B View Post
This is noted in ancient mythology. Adam was thrown out of a garden in which he collected plants provided for him by God, and was then cursed in the following terms
Gen 3:17 ... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.
So disagreeable was the agricultural toil familiar to the compilers of the Torah that they perceived it as the effect of a curse; and they had a vague notion that in very early times their ancestors had lived a more pleasant and easier life, where plants could be gathered without such exertion.
Yuval Noah Hariri agrees with this. In his book Sapiens, he talks about how agriculture offered an illusory promise of plenty for less work, but that in reality, for most people, it resulted in much harder work (and work that we hadn't evolved to do), and a poorer diet as people ended up eating almost exclusively what they had worked hard to produce rather than the varied diet of the hunter-gatherers. In fact, he calls the Agricultural Revolution history's biggest fraud and somewhat provocatively says that humans didn't domesticate wheat so much as wheat domesticated humans.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 3rd September 2017, 06:03 AM   #34
BobTheCoward
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Yuval Noah Hariri agrees with this. In his book Sapiens, he talks about how agriculture offered an illusory promise of plenty for less work, but that in reality, for most people, it resulted in much harder work (and work that we hadn't evolved to do), and a poorer diet as people ended up eating almost exclusively what they had worked hard to produce rather than the varied diet of the hunter-gatherers. In fact, he calls the Agricultural Revolution history's biggest fraud and somewhat provocatively says that humans didn't domesticate wheat so much as wheat domesticated humans.
Seems like the people who did agriculture got pretty good at kicking the butts of Hunter gatherers. What good did not farming do them?
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Old 3rd September 2017, 06:57 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by BobTheCoward View Post
Seems like the people who did agriculture got pretty good at kicking the butts of Hunter gatherers. What good did not farming do them?
Yes, it is true, but not relevant to what I said. After the industrial revolution kicked in some cities in Britain had extremely squalid conditions with children having to do dangerous and unhealthy work. Their lives were probably more miserable than those of children in hunter-gatherer societies even if the British army and navy could kick the butts of hunter-gatherer societies with ease.

Two things can be true at the same time without both of those things being relevant to each other.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 3rd September 2017, 06:59 AM   #36
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ITT: Appeals to incredulity vs. Just So Stories.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 07:02 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Modified View Post
But some seeds are still visible when the plant is grown to recognizable size. If you pull up one of the young pygmy date palms in my yard, you'll still see the burgundy colored bean-sized seed, with a root poking out of one end and thin fronds out of the other. The seed itself is unmistakable. I'm sure the same is true for many wild edible plants.

They don't even have to be very big seeds. Harvesting grain from wild grasses they certainly would have had some of these grains sprout.

It isn't all that difficult a connection to make.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 07:05 AM   #38
BobTheCoward
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Yes, it is true, but not relevant to what I said. After the industrial revolution kicked in some cities in Britain had extremely squalid conditions with children having to do dangerous and unhealthy work. Their lives were probably more miserable than those of children in hunter-gatherer societies even if the British army and navy could kick the butts of hunter-gatherer societies with ease.

Two things can be true at the same time without both of those things being relevant to each other.
But it is related choice. Have some of your people live in squalor or have none of your people live at all.
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Old 3rd September 2017, 07:35 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by BobTheCoward View Post
But it is related choice. Have some of your people live in squalor or have none of your people live at all.
Not really. That was hardly what pre-Industrial Britain had to choose, was it? That wasn't the choice being made.

The thing is, I think the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions were big advancements for humanity as a whole. But many of the people who shouldered these advancements did so by living worse lives, on an individual basis than those who lived in previous generations.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 3rd September 2017, 07:36 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Not really. That was hardly what pre-Industrial Britain had to choose, was it? That wasn't the choice being made.

The thing is, I think the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions were big advancements for humanity as a whole. But many of the people who shouldered these advancements did so by living worse lives, on an individual basis than those who lived in previous generations.
That was the choice being made.
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