Almost the entire evolutionary history of genus Homo has taken place within a hunting-and-gathering context. It was only 15,000 years ago that societies of modern humans in different areas of the world began to shift to an agricultural way of life. The transition from hunter–gatherer societies to agricultural societies is one of the most profound and significant events in prehistory. The origins of agriculture can be viewed as a broad phenomenon that can be broken into three components.
The development of agriculture involves important shifts in social organization, leadership, and the relationship between kin groups and property. The shift to agricultural society also had significant effects on cosmology—the way people saw themselves in relation to supernatural forces. The historical photograph of the Walpi Pueblo in on page 173 gives a sense of the size and organization characteristic of farming villages.
In the 1940s, V. Gordon Childe synthesized the existing archaeological information to reformulate Morgan’s ideas about the origin of agriculture. He coined the term Neolithic Revolution. For Childe, the most important result of the Neolithic Revolution was the ability to actively control food production. This led to an increase in the food supply, which in turn supported an increase in population, resulting in the development of settled villages. The concepts developed by Morgan and Childe remain essential to the study of prehistory. Few archaeologists question the revolutionary effects the development of agriculture had on human society, and understanding the Neolithic Revolution remains central to the study of prehistory. However, although Morgan’s and Childe’s contributions are widely recognized, most of their specific ideas about the nature of the shift to agriculture are the subject of debate and criticism.
For David Rindos, the development of agriculture was a coevolutionary process involving a...