Did agriculture originate from clothes needs, not food needs?


These two videos are about the history of agriculture, and the neolithic revolution.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

First farmers wanted clothes not food

Anna Salleh

ABC Science Online

Friday, 12 October 2007

People turned to farming to grow fibre for clothing, and not to provide food, says one researcher who challenges conventional ideas about the origins of agriculture.

Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, says his theory also explains why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers.

Gilligan says they did not need fibre for clothing, so had no reason to grow fibre crops like cotton.

He argues his case in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association.

“Conventional thinking assumes that the transition to farming was related to people’s need to find new ways of getting food,” says Gilligan.

“That doesn’t really make sense for a number of reasons.”

Gilligan says it doesn’t explain why cultivating plants and domesticating animals only started 10,000 years ago in some areas of the world.

He says a better explanation is climate.

Cold winds, underclothes and agriculture

He says in the northern hemisphere during the last ice age it was 12-15ºC cooler than today, which led hunters and gatherers to develop sophisticated forms of clothing.

This included tailored and multilayered clothes, including underclothes, to keep out the cold winds, says Gilligan.

Animal hides and furs from hunted animals provided the most suitable warm clothing, he says.

But once the climate warmed, humans wanted lighter and more breathable clothing.

Textiles based on fibre crops such as cotton, linen and hemp and woolly animals like sheep and goats did the job.

At the same time, says Gilligan, clothing became important as a form of display and decoration.

A milder Australia

But the story in Australia was different, says Gilligan.

“In Australia, even in Tasmania, conditions were never so cold that Aboriginal people needed multilayered tailored garments,” he says.

Gilligan says in this most severe environment, temperatures was only about 6-8ºC lower than today.

He says Aboriginal people habitually went without clothing and when they did wear something it was simple.

For example, they might have draped a single layered wallaby fur cloak around their shoulders at the height of the last ice age, says Gilligan.

And decorations were made directly on their body.

Gilligan says there was no incentive for Aboriginal people to take up farming because all their needs were met by hunting and gathering.

“The idea that early farming offered humans a more reliable food supply has been exposed as a myth,” he says.

Gilligan says hunting and gathering was a far more flexible, reliable and efficient way of getting food.

“Australian Aborigines never worried where their next meal was coming from, even in the outback, and they enjoyed much more leisure time than any early farmers,” he says.

Important contribution

Professor Lindsay Falvey from the University of Melbourne, whose research interests include agriculture in traditional societies, says Gilligan’s paper is “really important”.

“There’s been a lot of difficulty how we explain the transition from hunting and gathering to farming,” he says.

Falvey, a former dean of agriculture at the university, thinks both clothes and food were important in establishing agriculture, which he sees as a product of co-evolution between humans, plants and animals.

Whatever the origins of agriculture, he welcomes Gilligan’s contribution.

“Keeping the discussion open, like this paper does, is the most important thing,” he says.

Early domestic animals surprisingly well bred: here.

Central Europeans were first adults to drink milk: here.

Genetic evidence suggests all “taurine” cattle (the most commonly recognized breed) descend from only about 80 females and came from a single region in what is now Iran about 10,500 years ago. A study in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution traced the modern global herd’s heritage back to its ancestral home on the range: here.

6 thoughts on “Did agriculture originate from clothes needs, not food needs?

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