Agricultural Revolution


Author: Adekola Taylor
June, 2015


In the process of time, the nomads recognized that the techniques of gathering and hunting would not be profitable enough anymore, so they were compelled to adopt another technique of survival. According to Putterman, the shifting from dependence on gathering and hunting by the Paleolithic people to dependence on agriculture was one of the outstanding changes in the history of mankind. Therefore, Agricultural Revolution can be defined as the extensive transition of different human cultures from a routine life of gathering and hunting to that of settlement and agriculture, to enable support for a growing large population (Jean-Pierre). As the population of human beings was increasing, there was an increasing reduction in game resources and hunters and gatherers had no option than to come up with another technique of sustaining themselves.

Many anthropologists and historians are of the opinion that the Agricultural Revolution of the Neolithic age, characterized by domestication of animals and plants, and ability to produce food rather than hunting and gathering, was a key process in the emergence of civilization. It is a stark fact that before the first civilizations took place 5000 or 6000 years ago, human beings had been populating different parts of the globe for thousands of years. There are two important questions which are still subject to debate: Why did agricultural revolution occur so late in the history of mankind? Was this revolution inevitable? This paper is written to present the notion that agricultural revolution was inevitable and to discuss the reasons why it occurred so late in the history of mankind.

Causes of Neolithic Transition

For human beings to survive in the midst of increasing number of population, a new method of survival has to be adopted for their sustenance. This was a fundamental force that made the Stone Age humans to abandon their nomadic life to become sedentary cultivators and animal rearers and breeders. There are a lot of different opinions on the emergence of farming in the Neolithic Age. For instance, Smith hypothesized that the wiping out of large herding animals by Paleolithic hunters resulted to the emergence of agriculture. Another school of thought posited that the application and development of domestication and cultivation methods were as a result of growing population pressure and the change from common to communal property rights North and Thomas). According to Deevey, 300,000 years ago the population of humans on earth was considered to be one million. Some 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic Revolution, the population of humans on earth was considered to be 5 million, and nearly 8,000 years ago, precisely at the time of Roman Empire, the population of humans was 133 millions.

In recent times, family’s resource-allocation behavior has been related to the rise of agriculture by a model presented by Morand. More importantly, Olsson with the use of archaeological explanations supports the theory that environmental factors, in conjunction with genetic alterations in the species fitted for domestication, gave rise to agriculture. The environmental factors cannot be underestimated when discussing the rise of Agricultural Revolution in the Neolithic Age. It is evident that the process of global warming that started nearly 16,000 years ago, which signified the end of the last Ice Age, coincided with the Agricultural Revolution. The Ice Age ended about 11,000 years ago, and with this change in climatic conditions, Homo sapiens were able to migrate across the globe to create new conditions appropriate for Agricultural Revolution.

In line with Smith's hypothesis, active hunting by Paleolithic hunters, along with climatic changes in some areas brought about the extinction of large mammals on which Paleolithic people depended on for sustenance. It is no exaggeration to say that over millions of years, agriculture was not adopted because there was no need that necessitated it. However, with the changes in environmental factors, characterized by wetter, more stable, and warmer conditions especially in the temperate and tropical areas of the globe, and increasing numbers of populations, Agricultural Revolution became inevitable. In temperate and tropical regions, these climatic changes gave birth to the flourishing of wild plants that seeds were used by the Paleolithic people for domesticating of crops.

It was not impossible that the changes in climatic conditions in some areas, which led to the shift to sedentary farming, led to the increasing numbers of human populations (Guisepi). In other words, the increasing population growth in the Neolithic Age was highly linked to changes in climate, animal and plant life. With the extinction of large herding mammals coupled with hunting-and gathering pattern reaching climax, Paleolithic people shifted their attention to growing grains and breeding animals which at last led to systematic and conscious cultivation of plants, breeding and rearing of animals and thus Agricultural Revolution. From another point of view, increasing growth in population is associated with food crises. The necessity to get more food must have brought out the innovations and skills of the Paleolithic people to improve and experiment with the knowledge they had gathered over the years.


It is worth noting that Agricultural Revolution occurred at separate times in various parts of the earth. However, it is believed that Agricultural Revolution occurred after about 250,000 years of human existence on earth between 12,000 to 4,000 years ago. Agricultural Revolution happened to occur independently and separately in different parts of the earth. Some of the most remarkable and historic areas of the world where Agricultural Revolution began were: Eastern North America, China, the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia, Mesoamerica, the Andes, New Guinea, and many places in the sub-Saharan Africa. It is crystal clear that favorable changes in climatic conditions at the end of Ice Age provided ample opportunities for the emergence of Agricultural Revolution.

In the quest for humans to adapt to their new climatic changes, new knowledge and technology cropped up as Paleolithic people explored and exploited the advantages of global warming and pressure of growing population to develop new methods of food sustenance that led to Agricultural revolution. In conclusion, the Agricultural Revolution occurred so late in the story of humankind because changes, such as environmental changes, growing population, and so forth, which necessitated the emergence of Agricultural Revolution, occurred so late in the history of humans.

Worked Cited

Deevey, E. S. “The human population.” Scientific American CCIII(1960): 195–204. Guisepi, Robert. Agriculture and the Origins of Civilization: The Neolithic Revolution. Accessed June 2015 from tion.htm

Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel. "When the World's Population Took Off: The Springboard of the Neolithic Demographic Transition" Science 333. 6042(2011): 560–561

Morand, O. F. (2002). Evolution through Revolutions: Growing Populations and Changes in Modes of Production. Mimeo, University of Connecticut. 2002

North, D. C. and Thomas, R. P. “The first Economic Revolution.” Economic History Review 30 (1977): 229–241.

Olsson, O. The Rise of Neolithic Agriculture. Working Paper in Economics No. 57, University of Goteborg, 2001.

Putterman, Louis. Agriculture, Diffusion, and Development: Ripple Effects of the Neolithic Revolution, Working Paper. Brown University, Department of Economics, 2006

Smith, B. D. The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library, 1995

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