Do we owe the beginning of civilization to cereals?

carly caselle

WALL – The birth of human civilization is often associated with the emergence of agriculture. As food production increased, so did human population, trade, and taxes. Or the mainstream story continues like this.

Today, economists have advanced a rival view, which argues that surplus food alone is not enough to effect the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to hierarchical states that eventually paved the way for civilization. that we know.

Rather, multiple datasets spanning several millennia are empirical evidence for this mainstream theory. [deneysel] reveals that he has flaws.

It did not pave the way for complex hierarchies or tax-collecting states, even as parts of the world embraced agriculture and began producing more food than needed.

Social structures only began to take shape when people began to grow food that could be stored, divided, traded, and taxed.

Probably – rather than the tropical plant taro, the sweet potato or the potato – cereals such as wheat, barley and rice formed the basis of almost all classical civilizations. Evidence shows that if land is suitable for grain production, it is much more likely to support complex social structures.

“The fact that the stored grain is relatively easy to grasp, its high energy and its endurance increase its divisibility and thus facilitate the emergence of an elite of tax collectors,” write the authors of the hypothesis.

“Roots and tubers, on the other hand, are generally long-lived and do not need to be harvested at specific times; but they quickly become perishable after being harvested.

For example, in parts of South America, perennial root crops such as cassava can be harvested year-round. Unfortunately, cassava rots easily and is difficult to transport.

That’s why hierarchies that transcend chiefdoms emerged in any society that depended on cassava, researchers say, even though there are more than enough roots to feed everyone.

The Maya, on the other hand, were one of the most dominant and distinctive civilizations in Central America; however, this ancient society could not rely solely on root crops. Instead, the Mayan civilization was heavily dependent on corn.

It was the same for the Incas who reigned in the Andes.

The type of food farmers grew was obviously more important to society than the amount produced.

The different social effects of root crops compared to grain crops may help explain why some civilizations became more complex, while other societies remained local communities or chiefdoms. It may also reveal why a surplus of food in a hunter-gatherer society did not lead to the advancement of civilizations.

Agriculture was clearly a necessary step to improve food production; however, scholars suspect that only easily confiscated products led to the rise of an elite.

If a strong section of society began collecting grain taxes from farmers who had no surplus food, farming communities would not be able to support such a large population. As a result, the community would likely shrink, creating a surplus of food available for the more elite classes.

If these farmers did not protect the elite, the elite would not protect their food stores from bandits. After all, stealing grain was much more valuable than stealing perishable food.

The author of the new hypothesis states: “Thus, we agree with the traditional theory of productivity that farmers living in hierarchical societies produce surplus food; however, our contention is that it is not a surplus of food that gives rise to the elite, but rather that a surplus of food is produced upon which the elite can thrive once given a favorable opportunity to rise,” he explains.

For example, an atlas of human cultures reveals that the greatest number of wild relatives of cereal crops are found in the Fertile Crescent*, which is often said to be the cradle of human civilization.

Meanwhile, there were historical societies in Northwest America, Central Asia, Australia, and Southwest Africa that did not conduct any agricultural activity. But these societies did not form complex hierarchical structures.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provide further evidence for the new hypothesis. It shows that regions where grains are more productive than roots and tubers are more likely to be organized into states with higher tax rates.

Roots and tubers, on the other hand, were not tied to more complex social hierarchies, even when grown on highly productive agricultural land.

“Using this new data, we were able to reveal that complex hierarchies, such as chiefdoms and complex states, emerge in regions where cereal crops that are easy to tax and expropriate are the only crops that really exist,” explains the author. Economist Luigi Pascali de Pompeu. Fabra University in Spain.

“Paradoxically, the most fertile soils, where not only cereals but also roots and tubers were present and fertile, did not experience the same political developments.”

Economist Joram Mayshar, co-author of the study with Pascali, calls it the “curse of abundance.” Without some kind of food that elite individuals can store and preserve, a stratified type of “give and take” society controlled by law and order does not exist.

Ultimately, says Mayshar, this reliance on root crops appears to have hindered statehood and economic development in some parts of the world, such as the South Pacific islands.

None of the empirical research presented in the last article can definitively prove or disprove the new hypothesis. Still, the study authors say their findings are “wonderfully robust to the account of productivity and redundancy that prevails in the context of emerging hierarchy.” However, they found no evidence for this oft-cited hypothesis.

“Only where climate and geography favored cereals was the hierarchy likely to shift,” says Mayshar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Our data shows that the higher the productivity level of cereals relative to tubers and roots, the more likely it is to form a hierarchy.”

This may further reflect the truth when considering the old adage that “we are what we eat”.

The research was published in the Journal of Political Economy.

*The Fertile Crescent is the name given to the region of the Middle East where Western and Middle Eastern civilizations were born. Today, most of southeastern Anatolia includes Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and the Nile Delta.

Translated by: Tarkan Tufan

Source: Scientific alert

Leave a Comment