Speculations of the Dawn of Human History

  November 28, 2023   News ID 7122
Speculations of the Dawn of Human History
Survival in the face of the elements has been the struggle for most of human existence on the planet. Since their emergence, Homo sapiens have invested most of their time in hunting and food gathering and staying warm and dry during the periods known as the ice ages.
Modern human beings migrated from their fi rst home in Africa into Europe, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas, probably following herds of bison and mastodon, an early source of food. They were so successful in their hunting that many animal herds were reduced to the point of extinction. As the climate changed and the ice receded, new possibilities for food production occurred. Our human ancestors began to gather edible plants and learned how to domesticate them. This was an agricultural revolution that allowed them to break free from their nomadic past and establish sedentary communities. Along with cultivating plants came the domestication of animals, probably fi rst dogs and then livestock that would provide meat, milk products, as well as hides for clothing. Some animals became beasts of burden. In the division of labor between genders, women assumed domestic roles that included cooking, tending small animals, and weaving, while men did the farming, hunting, and herding of large animals. These new methods of food production could produce surpluses, which in turn allowed larger communities to develop, advancing civilization. Where conditions did not allow agriculture, nomadism continued. By and large, nomads existed on the fringes of the civilized world, and they failed to develop written languages. The agricultural revolution occurred fi rst in Mesopotamia and spread afterward to Asia and Europe.
Fertile Crescent. Mesopotamia, or the Fertile Crescent, developed the world’s fi rst cities, so it is not surprising that wheat and barley were fi rst cultivated there. Irrigation and the drainage of swamps also fi rst occurred there, around 5000 b.c.e. From time immemorial the Nile River overfl owed its banks bringing fertile silt and water to the narrow and prolifi c fl oodplain. When the Nile failed, social upheaval and revolution often followed. In China, agriculture began along the Yellow River valley around 10,000 b.c.e. with the domestication of millet, barley, and other crops. Rice was fi rst grown along the Yangtze River valley around 5000 b.c.e. and later became the staple food for much of Asia. By 3000 b.c.e. the Chinese had invented the plow, and by 400 b.c.e., iron-clad farming implements. The agricultural revolution occurred along the Indus River valley before 5000 b.c.e., where farmers cultivated wheat, barley, peas, and other crops.
Farming became common across Europe by 3500 b.c.e., but for centuries afterward, farmers worked a piece of land until the soil wore out, then simply moved on to virgin fi elds. Such practice is roughly the same as the “slash and burn” farming of seminomadic communities in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, still in use to the present day. A remedy for soil depletion was crop rotation: One plant replenished what another plant took from the soil the previous season. This method was practiced fi rst in Europe around 1400 b.c.e. In the Western Hemisphere the agricultural revolution began fi rst in Mexico, perhaps around 5000 b.c.e. The “three sisters” of diet in this part of the world—maize, beans, and squash—provided a balanced diet and source of nutrition for the indigenous people, and they required little labor to produce. Beasts of Burden. The first beasts of burden to be domesticated were the donkey, the buffalo, and the camel, all by 3000 b.c.e. The llama was used in the Andes Mountains in South America. Animal husbandry lagged behind in the Americas because horses died out early in this part of the world and were only reintroduced by Europeans after 1500 c.e. Over the centuries people as far separated as the Celts and Chinese adopted the horse to great advantage.
However, at first the horses were mainly used to pull war chariots; later for cavalry, and not commonly for agricultural labor. Human diet throughout the world largely consisted of cereal grains, beans, vegetable oils, fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy products, occasional fresh meat, and fermented beverages made from either fruit or grains. Consumption of cereals came in many forms, but in Europe, the Near East, and the Americas mainly through coarse bread. White bread, made of fi ne wheat fl our without the germ, was most highly prized throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. In 350 b.c.e. a new strain of wheat suitable for such bread was cultivated in Egypt, and Egypt and North Africa thereafter became a granary for the Mediterranean peoples. Fruits and vegetables were consumed locally. Trade and migrations introduced new plants across Eurasia and Africa and resulted in great improvements in food production. Sub-Saharan Africa produced food surpluses with the introduction of the banana by the Malay peoples (of present-day Indonesia). Because of this fortuitous event, in the fourth century b.c.e. the city-states of Nigeria were able to flourish. Another revolutionary product, sugarcane, was cultivated in India and the East Indies from 100 b.c.e., but its dissemination to Europe waited for the discovery of a process of refi nement. Instead, honey and concentrated fruit were used for sweetening throughout much of the ancient world. The New World offered a variety of plants not available in the Old World, most important maize, but also cacao, papaya, guava, avocado, pineapple, chilies, and sassafras. Several of the more common foods today originally come from the Americas: peanuts, potatoes, and tomatoes. The relationship between abundant food and community development was readily apparent in this hemisphere: Where farming flourished (Mesoamerica and South America), city-states and civilizations abounded; but where farming lagged (North America), population centers were few and less organized. The “discovery” of the Americas by Western explorers had an enormous impact on diet and nutritional resources throughout the world.

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