Man the Cook
Alongside the development of plants was the evolution of cooking.
Richard Wrangham of Harvard University has persuasively argued that agriculture was only possible because of the development of cooking. Cooking makes digestion easier and increases the energy recovered from food. By freeing humans from having to spend half the day chewing tough raw food — as our primate relatives do — cooking allowed humans to devote themselves to other activities. The hypothesis is that cooking enabled increased hunting, which may have hastened extinction of big game.
He believes the advent of cooking permitted a new division of labor between men and women, although his explantions of patriarchy seem over-functionalist: Men entered into relationships to have someone to cook for them, initially enabling more time to be devoted to hunting. Women benefited from men’s protection, safeguarding their food from thieves. The humanity-defining notion that partners share what they find in the way of food. Cooking, he claims, made us human. “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human”
Plants and Humans Domesticate Each Other
As humankind developed technologies for intensification of gathering this set off co-evolutionary processes in plants. For example humans selected grains whose stalks had failed to shatter and legumes which hadn’t exploded as these which were easiest to collect. Even before cultivation by choosing and scattering these seeds humans caused a genetic change, from them on these plants could not survive without humans. From the onset of intensive gathering mankind was driving evolution and not ebing driven by it.
Annual plants had evolved a variation in the rate of the germination of their seeds; this enabled them to survive harsh years. Humans in sowing seeds in one season and then harvesting the first to sprout would lead to rapid evolution of early sprouting seeds and less variation in speed of germination. The risk was then spread to humans of starvation in harsh years.
Humans would also of course select for other traits such as size, taste and digestibility. Some crops such as olives were selected for their oil content, others such as hemp and cotton for their fibre’ Selection also removed poisonous qualities from plants such as cabbage and almonds.
Fruit and nut trees resisted domestication until around 5,000 BP because seed selected from desirable plants could not be relied upon to reproduce similarly desirable offspring. The discovery of propagation of cuttings overcame this problem in olives, figs, grapes and pomegranates. The development of grafting which originated in China enabled domestication of cherries, apples, pears, and plums.
Around places of human habitation a gradual genetic change and increased yield of many plants would have occurred. Agriculture was not an overnight event, it would have evolved slowly, but quickened in periods where pressures lessened hunting and forced more intensive gathering.
Indeed bread, from the gathering of wild seed, is far older than agriculture, dating from the upper Paleolithic around 30,000 years ago. However bread could not become a staple food until the invention of agriculture. Consumption of cereal seed only increased toward the end of the Pleistocene, and humans did not develop storage pits and tools necessary for significant consumption of cereals until the Neolithic. Today, most humans receive two-thirds of their protein and calorie intake for cereal-derived foods like wheat, corn, rice, and barley. Bread was nutritious and light but required milling, preparation and baking, a fire and oven. Increasing reliance on bread required a shift from camps and open campfires to houses, hearths and ovens.
Some groups could easily plant their seeds in open fields along river valleys, but others had forests blocking their farming land. In this context, humans used slash-and-burn agriculture to clear more land, and make it suitable for their plants and animals.
Over a period of several thousand years humankind became increasing reliant on agriculture and with the much greater yields from agriculture those tribes which had perfected new techniques would have enormous evolutionary advantages. Efficient foraging also depended on mobility, while larger populations were more stationary and thus required a stable food source. The population growth of those practising agriculture would lead to pulses of migration forcing back hunter-gatherers.
The evolutionary changes of plants constantly interact with evolutionary changes in animals in a process of co-evolution. As flowering plants and insects evolved together so did domesticated plants and human society.
With greater yields a greater population could be supported and most importantly in good years a agricultural surplus could be generated and dry stored during winter. Many gathered foods such as fruit are difficult to store for long periods and only with the fairly modern invention of pickling did this become possible.
High population densities leads to more intensification of farming, whereas increased hunting and gathering in one area can rapidly lead to depletion and extinction.
“Settled agriculturists can survive at higher population densities estimated to be ten to one hundred times greater than hunters-gatherers”
Domestication of Animals
The first animals to be domesticated were dogs (around 11,000 BP), probably as aids during hunting, especially chase and exhaustion hunting.
The major domestic farm animals all come from europe sheep, goats and pigs were the first to be domesticated.Around 7000 BC cows were domesticated and began to be used in farm labour.
The Original Sin
Agriculture has been described as choosing “cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition.” Humans were greater in number but less healthy. It was this force of numbers, and probably the development of larger raiding parties, the genesis of armies, that enabled the expansion of agriculturalists, and most likely set the conditions for the rise of warlords and later kings. Studies of various skeletal evidence indicate an increase in infectious diseases, malnutrition, and anaemia in early agricultural societies as compared to hunter-gatherers.
The proliferation of agriculture is a self-perpetuating. With rising population, agriculture is needed to produce greater amounts of food. As food production increases through agriculture, populations grow and the demand for food increases. Mankind has been in a race for over 11,000 years to increase food production more quickly than population, and so avoid mass starvation.