The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change

42 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2005

See all articles by Gregory K. Dow

Gregory K. Dow

Simon Fraser University

Nancy Olewiler

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics

Clyde Reed

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 2005

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Dow, Gregory K. and Olewiler, Nancy and Reed, Clyde, The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change (January 2005). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=698342 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.698342

Gregory K. Dow (Contact Author)

Simon Fraser University ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada
604-291-5502 (Phone)
604-291-5944 (Fax)

Nancy Olewiler

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada
(604) 291-3442 (Phone)

Clyde Reed

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada

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