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30 May 2006
Shift from hunting to farming due to flooding?

One of the most vexing problems in archaeology is explaining the shift from societies that made their living by hunting and gathering to those that made their living by growing crops. Early archaeologists assumed it was simply a natural, evolutionary progression from ignorant savages who didnít know how to grow plants, to more civilized villagers who had learned the secret of producing food. This ethnocentric view, however, underestimated the intelligence of the so-called "savages" and overestimated the immediate benefits of a farming way of life. Early farmers actually had a diminished quality of life as measured by how hard they had to work to feed their families as well as their general health and nutrition. So, from the perspective of the hunter, the decision to switch to farming was not, perhaps, such an obvious choice.
     In the April issue of the journal American Antiquity, Tristram Kidder, an archaeologist with Washington University in St. Louis, looks at this in the light of an increasingly rich record of both cultural and climatic change in the Mississippi River basin. He has identified a correlation. In eastern North America, the change from the hunting and gathering cultures of the Archaic period to the farming cultures of the Woodland period took place from about 1000 to 500 BCE. This coincided with a period of rapid global climate change that included lower temperatures, more rain and increased flooding. The greater frequency and severity of floods resulted in significant changes in the landscape, the forced abandonment of large parts of the region and, according to Kidder, a widespread and rapid 'cultural transformation' that included the shift from hunting and gathering to farming.
     Just how cooler temperatures and increased flooding might have brought about such a change is unclear. Kidder acknowledges that climate "is only one of many factors influencing the direction of human history." But flooding can have a dramatic impact on communities in terms of loss of life, homes and property.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch (23 May 2006)

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