About 12,000 years ago, some humans took up agriculture – animal husbandry, followed soon thereafter by farming – instead of traditional hunter gathering. That triggered such a radical change in society and how humans lived that it came to be known as the “Agricultural Revolution”. The wandering hunter gatherer lifestyle that had endured since our species started its evolution into humans was replaced by permanent settlements, out of which cities and civilization grew, and our population skyrocketed.
Following are ten significant things about the Agricultural Revolution, history’s greatest revolution.
Humans Evolved As Hunter Gatherers
For millions of years, our distant human and proto-human ancestors kept body and soul together by hunting animals, scavenging their carcasses, or eating plants and fruits. Unlike our (mostly) domesticated sources of nourishment today, the plants and animals that sustained our ancestors were wild. From the earliest hominids and throughout most of the history of Homo sapiens, our ancestors neither controlled nor attempted to influence the planting or birth of their food sources.
All things considered, it was a relatively easy lifestyle. For millions of years, human population densities were pretty low compared to the food resources available to feed them. Other than during periods of crisis caused by draughts or other natural disasters, our hunter gatherer ancestors seldom needed to put in more than an hour or two of work each day to gather enough calories to keep themselves and their dependents fed. Indeed, anthropologists today calculate that on average, hunter gatherers such as the Kalahari Desert Bushmen spend only about 15 hours each week to obtain food.
Kalahari Bushmen manage to do that despite eking their living in some of the most dreary and inhospitable terrain on earth – a literal desert. By contrast, hunter gatherers throughout most of history had free run of the most lush, hospitable, and resource rich terrain on the planet. Nourishment was there almost just for the taking, from a wide variety of plants and animals. And unlike our modern carbohydrate-rich diet, such as from wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes, our hunter gatherer ancestors had a better balanced and richer variety diet, with plenty of protein, as well as fruits.
Other than a brief period spent on gathering or hunting, the remainder of their waking hours were free time to spend as they saw fit, socializing, exploring their surroundings, sexing each other, or just lazing the day away. When anthropologists asked one Bushman why his hunter gatherer band had not settled down and adopted farming like the tribes surrounding the Kalahari Desert, he replied: “Why should we, when there are so many free mongongo nuts in the world?”
Then about 10,000 years ago, that relatively carefree idyll started coming to an end as our ancestors were introduced to a new lifestyle that involved backbreaking work from sunup to sundown, taking care of a few plant and animal species. That was the start of the agricultural revolution. It eventually saw the majority of mankind shift from wild plants and animals as it main source of sustenance, and rely instead on the produce of farming and animal husbandry to feed itself.