Yuval Harari on the Agrarian Revolution

Yuval Harari on the Agrarian Revolution

How did the transition to sedentary farming undermine the health of ancient people and drive them into bondage for a long time, while wheat forced man to serve himself?

We all know about the agrarian revolution, or, as it is commonly called, the Neolithic revolution when ancient man began to shift from gathering and hunting to farming and domestication of animals. It began about 10 thousand years ago and affected much of the world’s population at that time, from Africa to America and Australia. And it is what historian Yuval Harari, a professor at the Department of History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, calls the greatest swindle in the history of mankind. He devoted a chapter to this topic in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.

farms

Yuval Harari writes that the transition to agriculture was slow. It took thousands of years. There was no such thing as a group of ancient people who had previously hunted rabbits, picked berries and mushrooms, suddenly built a settlement, and started growing wheat there and carrying water from the nearest river to irrigate it. They were the first to domesticate goats and wheat in about 9,000 B.C. A millennium later it came to peas and lentils. About 7,000 years ago, the olive was domesticated and the horse domesticated. The turn for other representatives of flora and fauna came even later. But, as the historian points out, in 3.5 thousand years BC the process of domestication is over.

And cites an interesting fact. Despite all the developed technology, modern man gets more than 90% of calories from the plants that his ancestors learned to grow between the mid-tenth and fourth millennium BC, namely wheat, corn, millet, rice, barley, and potatoes.

“In the last two thousand years, we have not been able to domesticate a single plant or animal worthy of mention. If we inherited the brain from hunter-gatherers, we inherited the forage from ancient farmers,” writes Yuval Harari.

How ancient people became advertising agents for the wheat
But according to the historian, plants such as wheat, rice, and potatoes were not tamed by man, but they made him serve himself. He further suggests that we look at the agrarian revolution from the perspective of wheat.

The author notes that until 10,000 years ago this field grass was only common in a small area in the Middle East. Only a few millennia later, it has taken over the world. Not only that, it was wheat that became the most successful plant in the history of the earth. Regions like the Great Plains of North America didn’t grow a single spike 10,000 years ago. What do we have today? In an area of hundreds of square kilometers, there is nothing but this crop. Wheatfields cover about 22.5 million square kilometers, ten times more than the territory of Britain. How did an unremarkable plant manage to do this? The answer is obvious: by deceiving humans.

Juval-Harari

Yuval Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

What arguments does he give to support his theory?

 

He writes that even before the agrarian revolution, ancient people ate grains, but they did not play a special role in the diet. When the last ice age ended 18,000 years ago, temperatures began to rise and precipitation increased, conditions were perfect for the reproduction of wheat and other grains. People began to consume them more and, as Yuval Harari notes, unknowingly turned into its promoters.

What arguments does he give to support his theory?

He writes that even before the agrarian revolution, ancient people ate grains, but they did not play a special role in the diet. When the last ice age ended 18,000 years ago, temperatures began to rise and precipitation increased, conditions were perfect for the reproduction of wheat and other grains. People began to consume them more and, as Yuval Harari notes, unknowingly turned into its promoters.

But the ears themselves were hard and unpalatable. The grain had to be milled and the resulting product subjected to heat treatment. So people, having gathered the ears, carried them for processing to their temporary camp, of course, scattering some of them on the way. As a result, more and more cereal plants grew near the camps after a while.

“Slash-and-burn farming also contributed to its spread. Fire destroyed trees and shrubs, and wheat solely appropriated sunlight, water, and nutrients. Where wheat was particularly plentiful, where the game was found and other sources of food were abundant, people could camp and settle for a season or even return the next,” writes Yuval Harari.

At first, people would settle down for a month. That was enough time to harvest their crops. But in the next generation, the camp would stay for a week, then another two, and eventually become a whole settlement. Houses and barns were built to accumulate grain in case of famine. Next, the people began to leave some seeds for the following year. They noticed that if they buried the grain in the ground instead of scattering it on top, they would get a better harvest. Then they began to plow the land. Then they learned how to put fertilizer in the soil, weed the fields, and protect the crops from pests. They had less time left to gather and hunt. So gradually they became farmers.

The deceit is exposed

So, according to Yuval Harari, wheat achieved its domination over man by deception. Before the agrarian revolution, the half-monkey was quite happy: if it needed food, it picked it up or caught it in the forest. But when they started to cultivate wheat, in two millennia, people in many parts of the world did nothing but sow wheat from dawn to dusk, tend it, and harvest it.

Wheat did not grow among rocks and weeds, so we had to spend a lot of time cleaning and weeding. In addition, wheat had to be protected from pests and rodents. It likes moisture and nutrients, so ancient people had to carry water from nearby reservoirs and collect animal excrement. And all this in order to satisfy the whims of her “majesty of wheat”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *