The agricultural revolution is a notion applied to a wide spectrum of new kinds of human activities and a variety of new forms of social and cultural life resulting from the practice of soil cultivation, cattle breeding, and livestock raising. In some cases, it could be understood as opposition to the “Neolithic revolution” concept, proposed in the 1920s by W. G. Childe in order to characterize the origin of self-sufficient societies that produce their food. Such understanding emphasizes a broader sense of an agricultural revolution versus a Neolithic one, implying at the same time their common economic and ecological background. Unlike the Neolithic revolution, which indicated strict chronological frameworks of the event, in most cases we apply the term agricultural revolution to long-lasting gradual processes and their historic consequences. So, the “evolutionary” is interpreted as “revolution,” exclusively based on its important impact in all spheres of human life.
Technological Components of the Agricultural Revolution
The origin of a productive economy was accompanied by a series of technological innovations. One of the most important among them was the origin of ceramics, which is regarded as the first artificial raw material used by prehistoric populations. Pottery enabled the process of boiling and cooking; it gave rise to soups and cooked cereals, an introduction to the paleodiet, substantially broadening its spectrum of microelements and vitamins that human beings could receive from food, and changing in some manner the processes of metabolism. Pottery utilization also greatly promoted storage strategy development, which helped to secure subsistence as well. Beginning with primitive handmade multipurpose forms, pottery gradually evolved toward fine vessels made with the help of a potter’s wheel. Pottery ornamentation traditionally is regarded as one of the basic ethnic markers, while the morphology of ceramic artifacts is connected with the sphere of their utilization and economic orientation of their makers.
Tool-Making Technology Improvement
The beginning of land cultivation required new tools. New forms of tools connected with wood processing (deforestation being the first stage of land preparation) appeared at the Neolithic times, and a variety of axes is the most striking feature of the tool kit of this time. A series of tools for land cultivation was also widely distributed. The technique of polishing and grinding widely distributed in the Neolithic enabled the origin of specific tools for cereal processing (for example, millstones, graters, and the like). The peculiarities of the natural habitat of early forms of productive-economy promoters contributed to spatial differentiation of their tool kits and techniques of tool production.
House building gradually replaced hunter-gatherers’ temporary huts, and tent construction could be regarded as another important technological innovation connected with agricultural revolution. The necessity of looking after their crops and herds promoted the need for a well-prepared house accompanied by special facilities for crop storage and domestic animals and birds.
The origin of spinning and weaving was an inevitable reply to the need for food transportation and storage, and enabled interior house decoration as well.
Transportation meant improvement. Transport by wheel and sail is one more important technological element of agricultural revolution. It mirrors the needs of the socioeconomic processes accompanying land cultivation and improved cattle breeding.
Socioeconomic Implications of the Agricultural Revolution
Transition to a Settled Mode of Life and the Premise of Town Origin
The origins of plant cultivation and cattle breeding helped to secure the food procurement system and contributed greatly to the creation of a rather settled mode of life. It was grounded on a relatively stable quantity of product, which could be obtained during a long period of time from the same territory using different sources or/and different ways of their exploitation, combining traits of hunter-gatherers with a productive economy. The most suitable areas for living later were developed into towns with wide specialization (trade or/and crafts, war shelters, ritual and/or administration centers).
Exchange System Transformation
The establishment of a productive economy caused a transformation of the exchange process function. Traditional for hunter-gatherers’ community rituals and “strategic” implication of exchange aimed to establish peaceful contacts among different communities after the beginning of land cultivation and cattle breeding was added by real economic value. The appearance of intercommunity exchange of food obtained from different sources in many cases guaranteed the survival of communities and satisfaction of their vital needs and, in this way, contributed to the growth of prestige of early agricultural communities. The origin of the first equivalent of money, “protomoney,” occurred in such exchange. A specific form of exchange, so-called prestige, or potlatch, became one of the basic elements of the transformation of prehistoric communities, promoting the appearance of individuals possessing relatively more authority, property, and power in their groups.
Surplus Product Origin, Prestige Economy
The development of farming and cattle breeding, for the first time in human history, guaranteed the existence of surplus product during a rather long period of time (till the next crop or next calving, for example). Crucial for its basic existence (excluding the display of any sort of inequality in its frame), prehistoric society faced the necessity of managing this surplus. The original form of prestige exchange, potlatch, which appeared at organized festivals, promoted the redistribution of surplus product among the community members. As a result, a restricted number of “big men,” relatively more authoritative and wealthy persons, appeared in the historical arena. This group gave rise to private property, exploitation, and class structure formation, promoting in this way the origin of civilization and state power.
Food base improvement and the gradual growth of the term of occupation on the same settlement removed earlier natural limitations on child birth rate and thus caused rapid population growth, accompanied by the formation of heterogeneity. Thus, territories more suitable for productive economy became more attractive for occupation, and the tendency toward overpopulation was demonstrated. In turn, the tension of excessive population on the territory created the first ecological problems for early farmers and cattle breeders. Most probably, one such crises originated a special form of productive economy, nomad cattle breeding, which has often been interpreted as an accelerated way to property accumulation, trade, and nonequivalent exchange development. Territories with excessive population density gave rise to the first wars, contributing to an early form of exploitation.
Ideological and Cultural Displays of Agricultural Revolution
Another development in the productive economy was the appearance of leisure, that is time free from subsistence, in particular from food procurement activities. And the needs of new forms of economy and social relations required rational knowledge as well as an ideological background and ritual sanction.
The fertility cult is one of the most striking features of mental life with origins in the productive economy. Fertility cults usually were accompanied by the growth of the role of Woman-Mother (foremother), as well as inspiration by natural forces and phenomena. Common economic backgrounds and the extreme importance of such forms of ideology in everyday life of early agriculturists caused the curious situation in which similar ritual activity was realized in principally different forms in different locations.
Rapid development of astronomy and time-count systems could be regarded as a specific element of the agricultural revolution and at the same time as its necessary premise. The first calendars enabled rational and well-timed agricultural processes, in this way guaranteeing surplus product.
Protoscientific knowledge development (zoology, veterinary, etiology, agronomy, genetics, geography, climate, and soil studies, among others) also contributed greatly to the development of agriculture and promoted the rise of its effectiveness.
Primitive writing systems used for the fixation and transmission of new knowledge systems and newly formed traditions is also connected with the agricultural revolution.
Other Displays of the Agricultural Revolution
The gradual transition from hunter-gatherers to an agricultural mode of life was accompanied by changes in human morphology. This is displayed in the modification of facial and postcranial (connected with the consumption of boiled instead of roasted food), the degradation of human dens (because of lack of necessity to chew fresh vegetation), and many diseases and epidemics connected with a stationary mode of life that included constant contact with animals.
Alongside the weakening of the human body, the natural habitat also deteriorated. Human society has participated in the disturbance of the balance in nature by its intervention into physical geographic processes, in particular, by deforestation, by soil erosion, and by introducing new sorts of plants and animals into environments.
Changes in the mode of life, from a subsistence system to the formation of a prestige exchange network, resulted in the degradation of prehistoric social dogmas and stereotypes and promoted modification of the marriage system (polygamy) and changes in community structure (formation of lineage) and kinship systems.
It should be stressed, nevertheless, that most components of the agricultural revolution displayed themselves only when farming and cattle breeding became not only a guaranteed supplement but the necessary bases of food procurement system in prehistoric populations. The replacement of hunting, gathering, and fishing in prehistoric subsistence was a long and gradual process, whose realization in different parts of the world depended on a set of natural geographic, economic, and cultural agencies.
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