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Ancient Societies: Hunter Gatherers Transitioning to Agriculturalists

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Abstract:

With time comes progress, and as humans we tend to follow the route that’s most feasible leading us in that direction. When we “humans” discovered agriculture, universally we came to the realization of its significance, and how progress could be made there. Its salient to comprehend the significance this transition did to the human species as a whole; from hunters and gatherers we transitioned to agriculturalists, thus allowing for progress and innovations that’d lead us in that direction. This change in lifestyle allowed for individuals to acquire lines of expertise and professions, opening up a marketplace and trade to which then allowed for expansion; moving from small villages to large abundant societies. Essentially there are several complex reasons why we made this transition, the most important reason being that as hunters and gathers we were always on the move scavenging for our next meal, thus always in a shortage of food; agriculture was easier to sustain and allowed for a more complex lifestyle. Living a sedentary lifestyle also meant that population growth was bound to happen, and food production was necessary in order to survive.

Transitioning:

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As families reproduced and expanded in numbers, it caused them to stall, slow down and shift towards a sedentary, agriculturalist lifestyle. There are various factors that influenced a shift in lifestyle structure, “demographic pressure, environmental change, and socioeconomic competition”( Kennett and Winterhalder 2006:4). Shifting courses in lifestyle meant that in order to thrive, hunter gatherers were forced to experiment, adapt and evolve into their given environments, thus the agrarian shift took years of practice to grasp, and master; they learned that maintaining a surplus of food was necessary in maintaining the population. This rapid increase in population influenced agriculture furthermore given how essential it was in order to survive. A salient theory of agriculture as mentioned by Zeder was that there was a significant amount of pressure on producing an abundance of food, there was no other option than to produce a surplus, in order to sustain the population growth (Zeder 2006:111).

History of Agriculture:

The agricultural transition started roughly at about ten-thousand years ago, and with the years hunter gatherers grew larger in numbers due to the fact that settling, allowed for them to have more time for other activities. Given that archaeologists have yet to answer how agriculture came to its existence, they focused on the transitional phase. Nomadic groups can pick up and reside in a new location if new areas are discovered and available; if there’s an area with a significant amount of potential resources, there would be a major increase in food production. Depending on the richness of the soil, and the environment in which one is residing in, the land would either yield the intended seed planted or not; some foods adapted better than others to certain environments. If we take a look at history we can conclude that prior to the practice of agriculture, people were already practicing some form of agriculture to some extent, all of these strategies were practiced prior to the full on development and commitment of agriculture (Kennett and Winterhalder).

There’s no solid evidence to the theories made thus far about agriculture (Editorial), but a strong factor in the discovery of agriculture can be tied to food shortages; and the domestication process can be said to of been a series or trial and error, before they fully transitioned over to an agrarian lifestyle. With agriculture, we notice a rise and shift towards complex societies and the rise of ancient civilizations, such as with the Mayas thousands of years ago, they started cultivating and comprehending what farming was and abandoned the hunter gatherer lifestyle, to essentially agriculture, and given that their environments and ecology were rich and resourceful, it played a major role in determining diet, “… the extent of diet diversity was based on local available resources.” (Lucero 1998). The Mayans lived in a diverse tropical environment, rich with resources that allowed for them to hunt, gather and cultivate at the same time. Non exotic animals were also differentially available as food and secondary resources (artefacts, tools and non food consumables), (Emery 2003), thus the tools where too used for agricultural purposes, to cultivate and harvest produce. And as mentioned by Bar-Yosef, foragers from the Near East also transitioned to a agrarian lifestyle, due to the inevitable circumstances causing a drastic evolutionary change.

Differences in Lifestyle:

Some groups more than others had the resources to shift towards agriculture, and some were forced by food shortages. Agriculture requires time, tending to plants and animals, patience, and increases the amount of investment; this route typically is not made by choice if a hunter-gatherer lifestyle provides more than enough. Hunter gatherers also receive an immediate result whereas agriculture has a longer process. Depending on where one lives the environment as well as ecology, it can influence and dictate the outcome, some plants and animals are more susceptible to harm in certain environments outside of their natural state. Hunter-gatherers followed animal herds and where constantly on the move, dependent on them to survive, and did not stay in the same place for more than a few days.

There are pros and cons to both lifestyles, agriculture provides people with security, in the sense that there is food promised, and they can stay in one place, thus allowing other members to practice new skills and gather consumption goods from nature, which also allowed for progression, turning villages into complex civilizations. Living a sedentary lifestyle relieved individuals from uncertainties they would obtain if living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The biggest downside to living a sedentary lifestyle was acquiring patience, and the workload it required. Living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle requires farless responsibilities, and more freedom, but are always on the move, and the downside to this lifestyle is that food is not guaranteed, and is more tiring physically and mentally.

Conclusion:

There are various theories to the origins and evolution to agriculture, and beliefs behind which lifestyle is best. The two types of lifestyles depended on what resources were available, and some had the choice of shifting their lifestyles while others were pressured into change. After doing my research I have concluded that living an agrarian lifestyle was most promising towards food security, and allowed for the expansion in complex societies, as well as the practice of obtaining new professions, and opening up a marketplace. Overall the agricultural pros outweigh the cons, and living with constant uncertainty can create other problems revolving selfcare, thus the shift in agriculture was bound to happen and inevitable.

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