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Geography>Food Production

Of critical importance is the comparison human societies made between a nomadic, food-gathering way of life and a food producing way of life.  Which one was more rewarding?  Many societies remained nomadic hunter-gatherers because it provided a better life.  Others saw each as complementary and maintained both.  Some switched and then switched back.  Still others switched for good.  Societies choose what is best for them based on what is available.  What are the consequences, though, for those societies which did develop food production early? 

When a society chooses a food producing rather than a hunting-gathering way of life, it is launched on the sequence that heads this page.  We will see that Europe is the ultimate beneficiary of the fact that the peoples of the Fertile Crescent had the opportunity to make an early choice of a food-producing way of life.  Europe stands at the western end of a latitudinal migration from the Fertile Crescent (W. Europe<Rome<Greece<Fertile Crescent).   But the people of the Fertile Crescent only chose because they had the possibility of choice—which returns to the idea of geography as the premise for the fates of human societies.  What grew in the Fertile Crescent grows in W. Europe, but a north-south  continental axis blocks the easy spread.  Wide bands of different climate intervene between a climate which can grow a certain food and the next band of climate which can grow that same food

Only three sites (China, MesoAmerica, and the Fertile Crescent), Diamond says, are undisputed origins of food production.  Other centers of food production (see Chapter 5 of Guns, Germs, and Steel) may show early food production because people brought the grains.  Of the three centers which are undisputed, Southwest Asia is earlier than China by 1000 years and earlier than Mesoamerica by 5000 years; that kind of head start has significant consequences which Diamond argues in much greater detail.

            The Fertile Crescent had another advantage as well.  It had a high concentration of heavy-headed annual grasses—32 of the best 56.  As Diamond says, “In contrast, the Mediterranean zone of Chile offered only two of those species, California and southern Africa just one each, and southwestern Australia none at all.  That fact alone goes a long way toward explaining the course of human history,” (Diamond, 139). 

            Available food combines with available animals to domesticate, so that in the Fertile Crescent, people made the choice to live in settled villages between 9000 B.C. and 6000 B.C.   That same choice, hampered by available food and animals, was made in Mesoamerica between 3500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.  In other words, in Mesoamerica first domestication began 5500 years later.

Becoming a food producing society brings changes (from hunter-gatherer society)

            *population explosion

            *need for food storage

            *food storage means an accumulation of wealth and a need to guard that wealth


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