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Alcohol or Temples?

Besides the iMac and iPhone, one of the greatest inventions of mankind is agriculture. But an eternal question remains: what sparked the invention of agriculture? What motivated the hunter-gatherer to leave a foraging life, settle down and apply for a mortgage?

One theory says that following the Ice Age (Part 3), the environment dried out creating areas of deserts and oases. People were driven to areas with resources, like the Nile valley, and the population pressure led to innovation. In contrast to this shortage model, the abundance model tells that agriculture developed in areas, like the Fertile Crescent, where plenty of wild wheat grew.

There is another theory which says that the motivation was alcohol

Here is how the story likely began — a prehistoric human picked up some dropped fruit from the ground and popped it unsuspectingly into his or her mouth. The first effect was nothing more than an agreeably bittersweet flavor spreading across the palate. But as alcohol entered the bloodstream, the brain started sending out a new message — whatever that was, I want more of it! Humankind’s first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred in just such an accidental fashion. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication. [Brewing Up a Civilization]

This is related to the Social Competition model which explains that groups which were able to produce better goods for feast gained prestige and dominance relative to other groups. The earliest domesticated crops — wheat, millet — were also ingredients in alcohol. Thus it was not about substinence, but about getting friendly with strangers.

The latest in the list of theories regarding the origin of agriculture suggests that it was the need to worship that made the foragers settle down; To support this new religious life style, they domesticated plants and animals. We had covered this few years back (1,2), but recently Newsweek had a major story on this topic in connection to the 11,500 year old temple at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a “Neolithic revolution” 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the “high” religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archaeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that “the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture,” and Göbekli may prove his case. [History in the Remaking]

6 Responses to Alcohol or Temples?

  1. Khalil Sawant March 2, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Agriculture was discovered/invented by women , when their husbands were out hunting, and they realised that this new discovery/invention would bring more sedenteriness to the family

  2. libertarian March 5, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Guns, Germs and Steel (Jared Diamond) has a (painfully detailed) history of the evolution of agriculture. He suggests it has a string correlation with geography. Kinda explains why Afghanistan will always be tribal/semi-nomadic.

  3. kedar March 6, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    Hi JK,
    A frequent complaint about Indians is our lack of rigour in historical studies. Our puraNas since they have a different purpose, do not serve as accurate historical records.

    Can you write something on how our ancients viewed historical studies and whether any instances are available when a court historian saved the day?

    • jk March 8, 2010 at 8:11 am #

      Kedar,

      Simple example of historial rigor from recent story. We know a great deal of the Indus colony in Ancient Mesopotamia of 200 B.C.E. We know their names, what they ate, and who owed who. Look at India of the same period.

      You have asked a question for which I need to read a lot :-) So will keep that in the back of my mind.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Arnab Ray, Greatbong - Indian Blogger & Book Author interview - March 4, 2010

    […] National Interest: A group blog which is the definitive place for serious opinions and commentary about Indian politics and policy. (Latest Post: The origin of agriculture) […]

  2. The First Buildings | varnam - May 5, 2011

    […] about 12,000 years back in various places around the world, starting with the Fertile Cresent. Many models have been proposed to explain why humans left a foraging for farming. With the discovery of the 11,500 year old temple […]

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