The agricultural revolution as environmental catastrophe: Implications for health and lifestyle in the Holocene
Clark Spencer Larsen
Published: March 2006
One of the most fundamental developments in the history of our species—and one having among the most profound impacts on landscapes and the people occupying them—was the domestication of plants and animals. In addition to altering landscapes around the globe from the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene, the shift from foraging to farming resulted in negative and multiple consequences for human health. Study of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts shows that the introduction of grains and other cultigens and the increase in their dietary focus resulted in a decline in health and alterations in activity and lifestyle. Although agriculture provided the economic basis for the rise of states and development of civilizations, the change in diet and acquisition of food resulted in a decline in quality of life for most human populations in the last 10,000 years.
A reassessment of civilization
James C. Scott investigates a major question in human history: ‘‘How did urban civilization arise?’’ [...] As Scott notes, ‘‘the sequence of progress from hunting and gathering to nomadism to agriculture (and from band to village to town to city) was settled doctrine’’ (9). It was held by philosophers and thinkers from Thomas Hobbes to Locke to Vico to Spengler and the social Darwinists (9). Scott casts doubt on the received view, mobilizing recent discoveries and new methods that have provided striking evidence against this long-standing narrative: The narrative of this process has typically been told as one of progress, of civilization and public order, and of increasing health and leisure. Given what we now know, much of this narrative is wrong or seriously misleading. The purpose of this book is to call that narrative into question on the basis of my reading of the advances in archaeological and historical research of the past two decades.