The Neolithic Revolution
Approximately 10,000 years ago, people discovered an ability their predecessors had not known. They learned how to cultivate their food, instead of finding it in the wild.
In the Middle East, food (mostly grains) and hunt was plentiful. People could find years’ supply of food in only weeks, so there was no need to have a regular nomadic lifestyle in which people would constantly travel. Since their homes stayed in the same place for decades, people transformed their camps into villages. This new way of living allowed the hunter-gatherer groups to grow and prosper, making tribes that once might have had one family grow into a community of hundreds of different people. This had happened for thousands of years in the Middle East.
As the world’s climate changed, so did the landscape of the Middle East. It became more arid, resulting in less wild food, which in turn decreased the population of animals to hunt. With a significant drop in food, people had few choices to survive: they could either return to the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors and travel to a place with more of an abundance of food, or discover a new way of getting enough sustenance. This choice caused the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, the area where agriculture was first used.
In the beginning, space was made for farming by chopping down trees and removing brush, afterward setting the remnants ablaze. The farmer would then plant seeds with a hoe. After many years of producing food on one patch of land, the farmer would move to another with more nutrition and repeat the same process. Over thousands of years, hunter-gatherer people had learned about the plants they ate. They discovered which seeds would grow more food, and by only growing the better seeds (known as selective breeding), it led to more bountiful plants overall as the traits of the better seeds were passed down. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was virtually eliminated in areas with farming, as crops could not be left untended for long.
Although communities grew and their cultures development during this time, there would be no state authorities for many thousands of years. Societies were instead linked by ancestry. People would live with others of the same ancestry and share their food and possession with those who didn’t have enough. This was noted in many Native American Tribes who had similar lifestyles as early farming people in the Middle East. They would share food with others who were hungry, without asking for anything in return.
In hunter-gatherer lives, children were harder to raise. They constantly needed to be cared for by their mothers, being carried around wherever they went. As parents could only take care of one child at a time, the world’s population remained small. But with a different village life, mothers could have help from other family members, and they also did not need to carry their children wherever they went. This resulted in a population growth in agricultural communities. Although it grew at a small rate of 0.1% every year, the world’s population quadrupled over then next 2,000 years.
A People’s History of the World by Chris Harman