Ancient Agricultural Systems in Dry Regions

  • H. W. Lawton
  • P. J. Wilke
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 34)

Abstract

More than 90% of the estimated 80 billion people that have ever lived out a lifespan on earth subsisted by scavenging, hunting, fishing, shellfishing, and gathering and collecting wild plants, insects, and other natural foods (Lee and DeVore, 1968a). Man did not practice agriculture for a hundred thousand generations. Hunting and gathering as a lifestyle may not have been as harsh as we usually imagine in terms of the human condition. In many respects, as plant geneticist Jack Harlan (1975) has observed, man’s first three million years was truly his “Golden Age.” Analogy with the few living hunting and gathering peoples that survive today in such remote regions as the Kalahari Desert of southwest Africa suggests that each adult seldom needed to spend more than two or three days a week on the food quest (Lee, 1968; Harlan, 1975). Insofar as we can infer, diets were well-balanced with adequate amounts of plant and animal protein, and starvation was probably rare. In all likelihood, it was a time of relative freedom from infectious diseases, which could not spread readily from one small, isolated, mobile group to another. It was not ignorance that kept prehistoric man from engaging in agriculture. There is increasing evidence that ancient hunters and gatherers had a sophisticated knowledge of the life cycle of plants and animals on which they relied for subsistence. Probably most hunting and gathering groups engaged in some forms of environmental manipulation (e.g., Downs, 1966; Bean and Lawton, 1973).

Keywords

Depression Turkey Manure Hull Malaria 

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  • H. W. Lawton
  • P. J. Wilke

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