Why Was Farming Delayed?
If intelligent humans were around for hundreds of thousands of years, why didn’t any of them think about farming sooner?
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just printed a special section about human evolution. Let’s see if any of the papers can answer the question of why farming was delayed so long in the evolutionary history of man.
Early farmers from across Europe directly descended from Neolithic Aegeans (Hofmanova et al.). Thirty-nine authors are listed on this paper. “One of the most enduring and widely debated questions in prehistoric archaeology concerns the origins of Europe’s earliest farmers,” the paper begins. The authors agree that farming communities began about 6,000 BC in Anatolia (Turkey), but offers no explanation for what happened to turn hunter-gatherers into farmers. “Although current archaeological research has revealed various pathways of Neolithization in the first half of the 7th millennium BCE, questions still remain regarding how and where these trajectories overlapped and influenced each other in generating the complex emergence of agriculturalist lifestyles on the southeastern edge of Europe,” they say. Their only suggestion: “the adoption of different dietary lifeways.” Tired of chasing fast food?
Unraveling the evolution of uniquely human cognition (MacLean). This paper has but one author, Evan L MacLean of Duke University. “A satisfactory account of human cognitive evolution will explain not only the psychological mechanisms that make our species unique, but also how, when, and why these traits evolved,” he says. His answer: “convergent evolution.” This paper is all about comparing humans and apes. It says nothing about farming and the rise of agriculture. But if the “proliferation of cultural artifacts” some 20,000 to 70,000 years ago indicated “increased social tolerance that allowed humans to work productively with conspecifics in new ways,” why didn’t anyone plant a farm till much later? “Humans are unusual animals in many respects,” he comments. That’s obvious to an evolutionist. It begs the question of why they are.
The Pliocene hominin diversity conundrum: Do more fossils mean less clarity? (Haile-Selassie et al.). Haile-Selassie points out that Lucy was not the only “hominin” of her era. His paper has nothing to do with cognitive changes or the rise of agriculture.
Ancient DNA and human history (Slatkin and Racimo). These paleoanthropologists from UC Berkeley mostly talk about who had sex with whom: Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans. They do mention that the first evidence of farming shows up about 8,000 to 9,000 years BC, but they don’t explain what happened, or why it happened so late. Mere genetic mixing doesn’t explain the rise of farming. Is there a gene for agriculture? Surely all humans living for the prior tens of thousands of years had the physical and mental skills for it. Ötzi the Iceman enters the narrative:
In a related study, Lazaridis et al. obtained high-coverage genomes from an ancient Western European hunter-gatherer (found near Loschbour, Luxembourg) and an ancient Central European farmer (found near Stuttgart, Germany), and proposed a three-way mixture model of European origins. According to this model, the Loschbour individual belonged to the original modern human occupants of Europe, called Western hunter-gatherers (WHG). The ancestors of this population mixed with a basal Eurasian population coming from the Near East during the Neolithic to produce a population called Early European farmers (EEF), which likely brought agriculture into the region. This is the population to which the Stuttgart and Ötzi individuals belonged. Afterward, a third wave of migration from the Pontic steppe introduced the ANE [ancient near eastern] ancestry component into the region.
Neandertals revised (Roebroeks and Soressi). This paper contributes to debunking the notion that Neanderthals lacked the cognitive skills of modern humans, and agrees that Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans interbred. The authors say nothing, however, about what turned hunter-gatherers into farmers, ranchers and civilized people so recently, especially when they say that Neanderthals were already making carefully-crafted wooden spears 300,000 years ago (30 times as long as all recorded civilization). They were not intellectual lightweights when modern humans arrived: “it is also a fact that the archeological records of Neandertals and their African near-modern human contemporaries are very similar in terms of what were once thought to be standard markers of modern cognitive and behavioral capacities, such as diversity of subsistence strategies and diet, use of minerals, use and transport of lithics, shells, personal ornaments, and hafting, and pyrotechnology.”
Ecological consequences of human niche construction: Examining long-term anthropogenic shaping of global species distributions (Boivin et al.). This international team focuses on the ecological changes after agriculture began, but says nothing about why it began. “The exhibition of increasingly intensive and complex niche construction behaviors through time is a key feature of human evolution, culminating in the advanced capacity for ecosystem engineering exhibited by Homo sapiens.” How did this come about? To them, it just “emerged” somehow as the world watched: e.g., “the emergence and spread of agriculture beginning in the Early Holocene.” In the paper, they continue their causeless emergent theme: “The beginning of the Holocene (< 11.7 ka) witnessed fundamental shifts in climatic and geological regimes globally, as well as in human societies,” they say. “The Early to Middle Holocene in many regions worldwide saw the beginning of agricultural economies, placing new evolutionary pressures on plants, animals, and microbes, and resulting in major demographic expansions for humans.” But how? Why? Why then?
Issues in human evolution (Richard G. Klein). This human biologist from Stanford summarizes the papers in the special section on human evolution. He adds nothing to the other papers on this fundamental question: What happened after hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution to turn intelligent, upright-walking, skilled nomads into farmers almost instantly in evolutionary history? Why didn’t any of them think of it before?
We want you to see for yourselves. When we say that evolutionary anthropologists are clueless about the rise of agriculture and civilization, we back it up with references and quotes. Here was a perfect opportunity for leading paleoanthropologists in America’s prestigious National Academy of Sciences to answer the question, and they completely dodged it. What kind of explanation is it to say, “agriculture emerged”? Well, yeah. OK. What happened? A lucky mutation? Magic? Stuff Happens? You’re telling us that for 400,000 years (in the evolutionary scheme) human beings had brains and bodies for farming, but they just sat around in caves, building campfires, and traveling long distances on foot to hunt meat and gather berries. When Ötzi’s uncle suddenly had a bright idea of planting seeds so they didn’t have to walk so far, you can be sure the rest of the tribe said, “Well, doh! Why didn’t we think of that before?” A small fraction of that time later, man is walking on the moon and receiving pictures from Pluto.
Who has the incredible, unscientific story? The ones who know what humans are capable of, or the Darwin worshipers? The ones who find Genesis 1 reasonable, or the ones who appeal to “emergence” as the explanation for everything? We report; you decide.