The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change
42 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2005
Date Written: January 2005
Until about 13,000 years ago all humans obtained their food through hunting and gathering, but thereafter people in some parts of the world began a transition to agriculture. Recent data strongly implicate climate change as the driving force behind the agricultural transition in southwest Asia. We propose a model of this process in which population and technology respond endogenously to climate. The key idea is that after a lengthy period of favorable environmental conditions during which regional population grew significantly, an abrupt climate reversal forced people to take refuge at a few ecologically favored sites. The resulting spike in local population density reduced the marginal product of labor in foraging and made agriculture attractive. Once agriculture was initiated, rapid technological progress through artificial selection on plant characteristics led to domesticated varieties. Farming became a permanent part of the regional economy when this productivity growth was combined with climate recovery.
Keywords: agriculture, climate change, foraging, hunting and gathering, anthropology, archaeology
JEL Classification: D90, J10, N50, O10, O30, Q10, Q20
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