Stable Climate And Plant Domestication Linked

January 12, 2010

New study argues climate change was not responsible for the Agricultural Revolution

Sustainable farming and the introduction of new crops relies on a relatively stable climate, not dramatic conditions attributable to climate change. Basing their argument on evolutionary, ecological, genetic and agronomic considerations, Dr. Shahal Abbo, from the Levi Eshkol School of Agriculture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and colleagues, demonstrate why climate change is not the likely cause of plant domestication in the Near East. Rather, the variety of crops in the Near East was chosen to function within the normal east Mediterranean rainfall pattern, in which good rainy years create enough surplus to sustain farming communities during drought years. In the authors’ view, climate change is unlikely to induce major cultural changes. Their thesis is published online in Springer’s journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

Climate-based explanations for the beginning of new agricultural practices give environmental factors a central role, as prime movers for the cultural-economic change known as the Near Eastern Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution (about 8500 B.C., 10500 cal. B.P.*). Dr. Abbo and team studied the traditional farming systems which existed until the early twentieth century in the Near East, looking for insights into the agronomic basis of the early days of Near Eastern farming, and to shed light on the possible role of climatic factors as stimuli for the Agricultural Revolution.

Their detailed analysis demonstrates that climate change could not have been the reason for the emergence of grain farming in the Near East. They find that farming requires a relatively stable climate to function as a sustainable economy and therefore is not a sustainable option in times of climatic deterioration.

The authors conclude, “We argue against climate change being at the origin of Near Eastern agriculture and believe that a slow but real climatic change is unlikely to induce revolutionary cultural changes.”

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