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Subsistence economics

Agricultural subsistence economy in the Near East

Incipient agriculture in some world areas: beginning domestication of some plants and animals

Homo sapiens gathers wild plants and hunts small and large game

Homo erectus gathers wild plants, hunts small and large game; and scavenges carnivore kills

Homo habilis gathers wild plants, forages for small animals, and scavenges carnivore kills areas do we have a complete picture of the development of agriculture.

In the New World, agriculture began independently a few thousand years later than it did in the Near East. There were dramatic developments in Mexico, tropical Central and South America, and in the South American Andes Mountain region. Like those of the Old World, New World domesticates were to have worldwide consequences. Also like that of the Old World, the picture is frustratingly incomplete.

The development of agriculture was revolutionary in several senses: (1) it eliminated dependence on wild resources; (2) in its areas of origin and in areas that ultimately adopted it, it permitted population growth well beyond what wild resources could support; and (3) it laid the economic foundation for the eventual development of civilization. Without agriculture, there would be no cities and nation-states with their centralized government bureaucracies, monumental public works, social class systems and inequities, exact and predictive sciences, and all other civilizational characteristics such as taxes, welfare systems, and terrorists. Humanity could not afford them.

As indicated earlier, the major part of this presentation is based on archaeological research. It is essentially an archaeological odyssey through time and around the globe; thus, and because the reader is most likely not an archaeologist, it is necessary to present a brief discussion of the problems and methods involved in reconstructing the prehistory and history of food. A glossary of technical terms may be found at the end of the article.

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