Thursday, April 16, 2009

Early Farmers in the Americas - Farming because they wanted to, not because they had to

This is an interesting article, especially for me, with my interest in indigenous precolumbian agriculture in the Americas.
Three thousand eight hundred years ago, long before U.S. plains rippled with vast rows of corn, Native Americans planted farms with hardy "pioneer" crops, according to new evidence of the first farming in eastern North America.

Because the area appears to have been well stocked with wild food sources, the discovery may rewrite some beliefs about what led people to start farming on the continent, scientists say.

Rather than turning to farming as a matter of survival, the so-called Riverton people may have been exercising "free will" and engaging in a bit of gastronomic innovation, archaeologists say.

This does not surprise me in the least. We always assume 'prehistoric' peoples started farming because they had to, as a survival technique, but we don't ever stop to think that they might be just like us, inventing new things simply because they want to. Did we need the iPod or the car? Was our survival significantly enhanced because of either of them? We grow later to think we can't live without electricity, flush toilets, and the internet, because they make our lives easier or more enjoyable.
Around the world and throughout ancient history, people switched from mainly hunting and gathering to farming as a way to cope with environmental stresses, such as drought—or so the conventional wisdom says.

But the new research "really challenges the whole idea of humans domesticating plants and animals in response to an external stress [and] makes a strong case for almost the polar opposite," said lead study author Bruce Smith, curator of North American archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Before they began farming, the Riverton people lived among bountiful river valleys and lakes, apparently eating a healthy and diverse diet of nuts, white-tailed deer, fish, and shellfish, the study says.
But that doesn't mean farming didn't give the Riverton culture a practical advantage: In addition to their normal fare, the people may have relied on the crops as a stable source of food—insurance against shortages of wild food sources..


Chrystal Ocean said...


Modern folk talk today of the pleasures of gardening. There's something about caring for and watching things grow. Perhaps that might also have been part of some people's incentive to farm? Simply the satisfaction of helping create something in partnership with nature?

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a story: my aunties rediscovered an old, forgotten food of my people: the tuli. It's a root, much like a potato. However, as rice, it only grows in still water. Sadly, it's also endangered. You might imagine the difficulty in farming it, especially considering it's incredibly sensitive, and was considered impossible to transplant (which my aunties easily proved wrong).

However, it's an incredible delicacy. Oh, is it ever fantastic! Sweet (not too sweet) and tender, with a smoother texture than a potato (it tastes like squash, but with a much better feeling). I can just imagine my people having the knowledge and wisdom of farming it to increase it simply for its taste, and the difficulty in keeping it alive. I can envision them farming simply it for the challenge.

I would confidently state that my people have forgotten more about the food sources and care for them in our own lands than has been introduced by European dominance of agriculture.

sibyl2004 said...

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I thought your entry about media coverage of the homeless was particularly interesting.

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Please let me know what you think!

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