The introduction of agriculture requires sedentism, but it is difficult to see how both could arise simultaneously. The intensification of gathering and gradual plant selection and intentional sowing requires some form of sedentism in the first instance.
Indeed we do find several such neolithic culture, notably the Natfian, which developed sedentism before agriculture and which shows the earliest clear evidence of permanent village settlement in the middle east. This culture existed in the Levant from around 13,500 to 10,500 BP. This culture had abundant natural resources and gathered wild grain. Although there villages show no evidence of storage there is some evidence for the deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye from around 11,00BP. The Tell Abu Hureyra site, which is the site for earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. Another example is the Joam in Japan ( c. 13000 to 11000 BP with some evidence of rice cultivation late in this period).
There were of course villages before in the middle east but evidence from middens show that earlier villages were nomadic seasonal camps, showing evidence of trans-huminance amongst hunter gatherers. In a permanent settlement you need a site for rubbish close to but outside the settlement, a midden, to avoid a dangerous pile up of garbage, and the earliest we know we find in the Natafian culture.
There is even tantalisingly evidence of sedentism elsewhere in earlier interglacials, during the Upper Paleolithic in Moravia in Europe and on the Russian Plain already during the interval of c. 25000-17000 BC. We return then to the question of why in these periods agriculture did not develop? It would appear that the conditions in the middle east around 11,000 BP were ideal. Again we return to the issue of favourable local climatic conditions in the levant at the beginning of the Holcene.
Sedentism places a pressure on local resources, abundant local resources will lead to a rapid increase in population putting pressure on wild grains etc. This will have created pressure for more intense forms of growing, in due course leading to agriculture but only if conditions are favorable.
Ester Boserup’s Population Pressure view is that population growth is the major determining factor. Given rising population pressure, people invented agriculture life in order to feed themselves.
Today such a unicausal thesis is challenged. The discovery of multiple sites of sedentism before agriculture suggests that humankind lives in locations where population would have grown, but despite the pressures this caused this did not trigger agricultural innovation, as far as we know, until one such period in one region. This suggest that sedentary groups must have developed balanced equilibrium with the local environment. They live in a state of systemic balance where change is the exception rather than the rule. This keeps numbers below the carrying capacity of local food resources. “What will stimulate change in this static situation?”
The idea that agriculture developed as a conscious adaptation has also been challenged – the ‘paradigm of consciousness’ -by Davis Rindos. (The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective David Rindos Academic Press 1984) . Evolutionary approaches, tracing the coeveolution of the development of plants and humans (as set out in the previous chapter) creates a systemic homeostasis which does not require conscious adaptation, rather gradual adaptation is a evolved response. However sudden change, such as climatic change, can force innovation, and those that don’t innovate will not survive.
Cuyler Smith & Philip Smith’s thesis accepts that population pressure was the causal factor for the emergence of domestication but climatically induced population growth around the beginning of the Holocene stimulated domestication then agriculture, initially in the sedentary zones of the Levant.
Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery extend this systemic approach by focussing on the relationship between population pressure, environment and subsistence strategies. There thesis is that population change forced migration into areas of less optimum food resources – the hilly flanks. This extension of, not yet fully a margin of cultivation but a margin of intensive gathering, into more marginal and less productive land. This overpopulation created systemic imbalance in areas where there were inadequate wild food resources for the expanded populations. The invention of agriculture occurred in these regions to recover systemic equilibrium at a different subsistence level.
This change may have been the brief onset of dryer conditions in the lower dryas, this would have meant that villages could maintain lower populations forcing migration.
A similar approach is found in the more recent work of Ofer Bar-Yosef and Anna Belfer-Cohen (JOURNAL OF WORLD PREHISTORY Volume 3, Number 4, 447-498, DOI: 10.1007/BF00975111). They trace groups who made changes in subsistence strategies, which, in the southern Levant, led to sedentism in base camps on edge (ecotone) of the Mediterranean woodland-parkland and the Irano-Turanian steppe.
The relatively cold and dry climate of the Lower Dryas of the eleventh millennium B.P. forced innovation to intensify cultivation. The early Holocene onset of wetter and warmer conditions favored the earliest Neolithic development of village life based on the cultivation of barley and legumes, and continued gathering of wild seeds and fruits and hunting.
Evidence suggest that nodamism continued in in a parallel fashion for several thousand years, until somewhat more sites turned to sedentism, and gradually agricultural sedentism.