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GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production 
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Post GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
This section has 7 chapters and takes up to about page 190. Putting the whole matter in a nutshell, we get this: "It's the food, stupid!" That might seem too reductive, civilizations hinging on how well the environments provided surplus food for the non-producers, but maybe it's pretty accurate. We don't today need to think very much about where we get our food; it just appears for us as an industrial product. We don't often consider that when we look at a large commuter parking lot, it's unlikely that even one of those migrating workers is directly involved in making food. Complain as we might about factory farms and the food industry, almost none of us could have the non-farming jobs we have without that incredibly productive sector of the economy that includes only 2% of the U.S. population.

Okay, if somebody smart like saffron could fix my typo in the thread title, I'd greatly appreciate it!


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Last edited by DWill on Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:46 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
In ‘Apples or Indians’ Jared considers three contrasting sites in which food production arose indigenously. He also introduces evidence to suggest that when more productive crops arose from elsewhere, the local people took full advantage of them. But then he extends this theory to suppose that food production never arose in California or Austrtalia because there were even less in the way of animals and wild plants to domesticate – though he produces no evidence, and the table he refers to on page 81 does not seem to include them. Also, as I understand, Diamond is talking about a period from between 2,500 BC and 8,000 BC, and the grass survey he mentions was completed in 1992, on present day grasses. Much could have changed in 10,000 years.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
(I tried to post this on Zebraas and Unhappy Marriages' but the topic was locked?
One of my biggest problems so far with Diamond’s thesis is his definition of Eurasia – which ‘includes in several cases North Africa, which biogeographically and in many aspects of human culture is more closely related to Eurasia than to Sub Saharan Africa’ (p161).
What does he mean by this? He himself states that Eurasia is ‘very diverse ecologically, with habitats ranging from extensive tropical rain forests, through temperate forests, deserts, and marshes to equally extensive tundras’. Well with that definition, you could include the whole of Africa, not just the North?
And what does he mean by North Africans being closer culturally to Eurasia than Sub Saharan Africa? Has a North African more in common with a Chinese than a Senegalese? I don’t think he’s talking about culture, I think he’s talking about race. But he’s quite happy to include Asians and Westerners as belonging to the same culture?
Diamond also claims that Sub Saharan Africa has fewer plant and animal groups because it is smaller and ecologically less diverse than Eurasia. Well it is now, because he just lopped off a third of the continent! In the next chapter, when Diamond points out that the axis of continents affects the rate of spread of crops and livestock, North Africa is conveniently included in the continent again. The Sahara desert, which diamond uses as a cut off point between North and South Africa only came into existence as it is now about 3,400 BC.
Recent excavations have shown the existence of a fishing based culture in the Sahara area which thrived from about 10,000 to 8,000 years ago. From about 6,000 years ago, evidence has been uncovered that the population turned to herding, as conditions gradually changed.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/ ... win-text/7
Not including North Africa in the continent of Africa seriously skews Diamond’s figures, because when we take Africa as a whole, we now have ancestors of the modern cow, pig, camel and donkey as indigenous to Africa, plus crops of sorghum, pearl millet and African rice as early crops in Sub Saharan Africa, but we don’t know about crops in the whole of Africa because the North is included in Eurasia.


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Sat Dec 03, 2011 7:29 am
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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
heledd wrote:
In ‘Apples or Indians’ Jared considers three contrasting sites in which food production arose indigenously. He also introduces evidence to suggest that when more productive crops arose from elsewhere, the local people took full advantage of them. But then he extends this theory to suppose that food production never arose in California or Austrtalia because there were even less in the way of animals and wild plants to domesticate – though he produces no evidence, and the table he refers to on page 81 does not seem to include them. Also, as I understand, Diamond is talking about a period from between 2,500 BC and 8,000 BC, and the grass survey he mentions was completed in 1992, on present day grasses. Much could have changed in 10,000 years.

I'm glad you're plowing ahead. You appear to be raising questions about JD's methodology. From the little commentary I've seen on the book, you're not alone in doing that.

As I read the chapter, it seems to be the Mediterranean climate of the Fertile Crescent--part of Western Eurasia-- that JD is claiming actually occurs in other places on the globe, including northern Africa, but also including areas in the other hemisphere. So I don't know--is JD really saying that Northwestern Africa is part of Eurasia? It seems that he has the western extreme of the Mediterranean demarcating Eurasia.

Referring to your objection to his reasons for why food production didn't arise in the other Mediterranean climate areas, he places significance on the numbers of plants available as suitable ones for domestication. If there were only a few possibilities, he reasons that this might have been a barrier to peoples being able to make the unconscious switch to farming, since the calories needed might not have been obtainable from those species. He does account for the grass species in the Americas and Australia in his table on 81. Yet, perhaps supporting your objection, farming based on one of these few species--corn--did develop in the Americas. Was even that species, which took thousands of years to evolve under cultivation to the modern form, not available in the Mediterranean climate areas? Your other objection is to the discrepancy between the date of the survey of wild grasses and the era JD is talking about. Possibly, though, 10,000 years is not such a long time after all, in evolutionary terms. The abundance of wild grasses in the F.C. today, versus the non-abundance in Africa and Australia, could well reflect the situation of 10,000 y.a.

I will admit to a little unease about all after-the-fact explanations. It's not that hard to point to reasons for the status quo, making that state seem to be the inevitable one. It reminds me of a historian's statement about the reasons given for the North's victory in the Civil War. They suffer from reversibility. If the South had won instead, the same reasons could be used to explain the Norths' defeat. If world history had developed differently, could we have pointed to Diamond's disadvantages as somehow constituting advantages? Diamond would say, I think, that we can't even consider the possibility, because geographical determinism is just that strong. There would have to have been a different earth history to alter the human history we now look upon.

I wanted to close by emphasizing just how powerful is the determinism of geography, according to Diamond:
Quote:
That contrast between the immediate virtues of wheat and barley and the difficulties posed by teosinte [precursor of corn] may have been a significant factor in the differing developments of New World and Eurasian human societies (p. 137).

Quote:
That fact alone [i.e., that California and S. Africa have just one domesticatable wild grass species] goes a long way toward explaining the course of human history (p. 139).


Edit: I see that in the remarks on Eurasia, I commented on the content of your second post, not of the one I quoted.


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Sat Dec 03, 2011 10:56 am
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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
Yes I am enjoying the book. I know he does account for North America as a whole in table 8.2 but he doesn't mention the California area, and I don't really understand why he only puts in Northern Australia, perhaps I missed something there.


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Sat Dec 03, 2011 11:19 am
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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
By the way, the chapter that you found was locked, was from the earlier discussion of the book, some years ago. Those threads were open at first, but then Chris locked them to avoid chaos. If you want to comment on a certain chapter within the four sections, just go ahead and create a new thread under the GG & S forum.


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Sat Dec 03, 2011 12:12 pm
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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
The big theme for Diamond's geographic determinism is that crops and people can easily move east -west along the same latitude, but moving north to south faces formidable barriers. Wheat grows across the whole temperate swathe of the world, enabling growth of civilization with economies of scale. Africa has the north-south barriers of desert, jungle and tsetse flies that have prevented development. The technology that evolved along easy east west corridors of Eurasia had economies of scale and competition that meant it was simply far bigger and more advanced and overwhelmed everyone else.

The American Civil War may have been a close run thing, as Wellington said of Waterloo, but there may also have been an economic inevitability in the North's industrial might. Even so, the question of slavery seems to be primarily cultural rather than economic, although that is very complicated to say.

Hitler could have allied with Japan to defeat Russia and establish a Eurasian empire that could have dominated the world, but it seems the Nazi racist attitude towards Japan prevented this from happening.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
I can understand why crops find it easier to move along at the same latitude, but I don't see why this should apply to people and livestock. Prehistoric man is known to have had several routes across the Sahara desert, probably for trade. During the middle ages, there were trade routes linking Egypt to Ethiopia and across to Western Africa.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Saharan_trade


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
heledd wrote:
I can understand why crops find it easier to move along at the same latitude, but I don't see why this should apply to people and livestock. Prehistoric man is known to have had several routes across the Sahara desert, probably for trade. During the middle ages, there were trade routes linking Egypt to Ethiopia and across to Western Africa.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Saharan_trade

My understanding is that the F.C. crops didn't move across Asia and Europe by themselves, but rather they were taken there by people. The climate across that region was pretty well suited for them. There wouldn't have been large barriers against people moving, either, of course. Where there were significant barriers for people in the N-S direction, people still managed to make it across, but maybe the difficulty impeded the whole process of transmitting crops, and there then would also be the barrier of climate against those crops thriving. There is a degree of speculation in all of this, but I think this is what happens in the early stages of a theory.

Did anybody catch Diamond's error in "How to Make an Almond"? I won't come down on him too hard for this, but on p. 117 he talks about wading into a "thorny thicket" of strawberry plants! Obviously, his "berry-picking days" are long behind him and he has forgotten that strawberries are ground-huggers that probably have never been thorny.

Does anyone have an idea about why he includes the photos of Eurasian people and their descendants in this section? He never makes reference to these pictures.

I liked his handling of the Hunter-gatherer transition in "To Farm or Not to Farm." He makes the point that saffron made about the supposed advantages of the farming lifestyle; that is, from an objective standpoint the advantage for people moving to it is hard to see. Farmers may have to work harder, longer, in the fields. They typically eat less well in addition. So why would they give up the old ways? Diamond says that the choice is far from conscious and takes place over generations, so that people don't realize they're doing something; they just are gradually yielding to necessity. Diamond says that the population in the late Pleistocene appears to have been increasing, which can happen even for h-g's when conditions are favorable. This could have made them more receptive to developing farming when chance occurrences such as plants sprouting around the garbage dumps presented themselves. The motion toward a more settled life means that women can bear and raise more children, which increases the pressure to have a dependable--even if not abundant--food supply with which to feed them. He terms this an autocatalytic process.

We might ask, with this prompting, what is progress? Is it clear that farming was a better way to live, that anyone with sense and without cultural prejudice, would automatically jump at it? Diamond would say "no,": farming was a way that humans found, as any animal must, to support increasing numbers. Knowing what we do now, that farming made possible our literature, science, moon rockets, and internet, we have difficulty seeing the matter so objectively. We want to believe that humans were urged on by a vision of what they could become as a species. While it's true that humans definitely recognized the particular things that would be useful to solve immediate practical needs, it's less clear that they ever had the big picture in mind.


The scenario above applies to the independent rise of food production. When such production has already occurred, and it is observed by hunter-gatherers, those groups often do not embrace it. This would seem to fit Diamond's point that if the h-g life is making ends meet, there is no particular advantage to dropping it in favor of farming. There may be at this point cultural constraints against doing so as well. The hunting life may be viewed by the nomads as the only life for real people.

Diamond also advises us not make sharp distinctions between hunters and farmers, since often the roles are mixed within a society. Some h-g groups, who lived amid abundant resources, have been settled people. It often takes centuries for hunting-gathering to become a mere sideline or pass-time. At this point in our development, there are few or even none who make their living in this way.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
DWill - Perhaps not much can change in 10000 years but this also coincided with the end of the ice age? As the ice melted, so man was able to cross into the Americas. The Sahara went from desert to a land which could sustain fishing, to a land which could sustain animal herding, and then back to desert again, from what I read . I think the sea levels in California changed quite drastically too.
Does anyone else find the dating confusing? Sometimes we talk about 10,000 years ago, sometimes 8000BC and the same with the AD figures. And then to add to it all, Diamond talks about callibrated figures, and I have no idea whether the dates given on the net are callibrated or not.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
heledd wrote:
I can understand why crops find it easier to move along at the same latitude, but I don't see why this should apply to people and livestock. Prehistoric man is known to have had several routes across the Sahara desert, probably for trade. During the middle ages, there were trade routes linking Egypt to Ethiopia and across to Western Africa.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Saharan_trade

You're raising the question of 'trade' as a significant factor in development and I've had this in mind too. I'm not sure how Diamond will deal with trade because it introduces the notion that production (particularly food but could be applied more broadly for other materials) is not the only way in which humans can obtain the necessities of survival, prosper and develop surplus. Trade is the other significant way. People have been traders for a very long time and some groups have done very well. Also, some trade goods originated from hunting-gathering not from farming. An example would special stone, like obsidian, which is incredibly sharp and is an amazing stone for weapons and tools. The important knowledge is where to find special materials like this and then how to trade them for other goods, food etc.

I'm skeptical about Diamond's claim that hunter gatherers are at such a huge competitive disadvantage to farmers. Farming is subject to huge risks ... crop failure, soil exhaustion, flood, overpopulation, war and so on. So much is invested in a patch of ground and there are so many uncontrollable factors.

DWill wrote:
Did anybody catch Diamond's error in "How to Make an Almond"? I won't come down on him too hard for this, but on p. 117 he talks about wading into a "thorny thicket" of strawberry plants! Obviously, his "berry-picking days" are long behind him and he has forgotten that strawberries are ground-huggers that probably have never been thorny.

Yes, I guess he means raspberries? Maybe mixing stawberries and raspberries is like mixing cauliflower and broccolli, which happens commonly enough I think .. :mrgreen:



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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
I believe he accounts for trade, in the sense that the areas that didn't originate the food production package of the Fertile Crescent, but who ended up with it later, had to get it somehow. It could have been that food producers moved into the areas, but it also would have happened that people who didn't have the package received it from the food producers in a trade-like process.

Giselle, it was also my first impression that Diamond saw food production as such an obvious advantage over hunting-gathering, that any group that was exposed to it would see the light and abandon its means of sustenance. But in "To Farm or Not to Farm," he tells us that is fact it's not so clear-cut that farming is a better way of life for people. For example, studies have shown that h-g people may need to spend less time and labor on providing for themselves than do village people who farm. The latter may also be less well-fed, on lower-quality protein. The decision of how to feed the population is complex, but it depends basically on the estimation of the amount of work it will take to get the job done. Then other factors enter in as well, such as cultural beliefs that hunting-gathering is what people were put on earth to do. The mythology may be heavily weighted toward retaining the old ways, which is why Diamond says that in no area is the transition thought to have been sudden. The transition is almost complete now, worldwide. But it doesn't appear that "progress" is necessarily the label to put on it.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
The last chapter in this section, "Spacious Skies and Tilted Axes," is important for Diamond's theory. He needs to account for not just the rise of food production, but the transfer of it to other, non-originating, areas that ended up exercising dominance. I wonder if that alone constitutes a challenge to his theory; I mean that since the original areas of food production didn't end up on top, but rather that distinction went to areas with a shorter history, what additional ingredients might explain why the Spanish were able to overwhelm the Incas (for example)? Diamond has a later chapter explaining what went "wrong" to prevent China, one of the earliest food producers, from coming to the fore. I'll be interested to hear what he has to say.

No doubt the large east-west expanse of the Eurasian land mass helped to spread the Fertile Crescent food package over great distances. Diamond, however, cites several exceptions to the "east-west is good, north-south is bad" rule that detracts a bit from the power of that principle.

I think that, regarding the spread of the plant and animal suites, we need to understand that the geographical barriers weren't ones that prevented the movement of people, but prevented the success of agriculture in those areas, making it difficult for the crops to jump the barriers to areas that might have been more conducive to growing these crops. These people were no longer nomadic, so they weren't into traveling to other areas just to find food.


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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
DWill wrote:
Giselle, it was also my first impression that Diamond saw food production as such an obvious advantage over hunting-gathering, that any group that was exposed to it would see the light and abandon its means of sustenance. But in "To Farm or Not to Farm," he tells us that is fact it's not so clear-cut that farming is a better way of life for people. For example, studies have shown that h-g people may need to spend less time and labor on providing for themselves than do village people who farm. The latter may also be less well-fed, on lower-quality protein. The decision of how to feed the population is complex, but it depends basically on the estimation of the amount of work it will take to get the job done. Then other factors enter in as well, such as cultural beliefs that hunting-gathering is what people were put on earth to do. The mythology may be heavily weighted toward retaining the old ways, which is why Diamond says that in no area is the transition thought to have been sudden. The transition is almost complete now, worldwide. But it doesn't appear that "progress" is necessarily the label to put on it.

Thanks for that, DWill. I do feel that in the early chapters JD's argument was biased toward farming production as more efficient without looking critically at what makes up farming in terms of land use, environmental impact and as you point out, the quality aspects of food production through farming. But I doubt that the farmers of thousands of years ago spent much time reflecting on these matters unless the impact of their activity forced them too. And likely they just saw the h-g's fate as a small price to pay to achieve their objectives, if they bothered to think about it at all.

I think he does a good job in the Farm or not to Farm chapter of dealing with farming and h-g more fairly. He also highlights the chicken and egg argument about food production and population growth. To the extent that one believes that farming and the resulting food production fostered population growth, then it is clearly a basic factor in wiping out the hunter gatherer way of life. There is nothing like too many people to make hunting unproductive, inefficient and to eventually wipe out game. With all the stuff that people and communities bring with them (habitat destruction, fences, guns, fear), the h-g's didn't stand a chance. I would like to mention fishing as one activity that is 'h-g' and is still quite active today and a major industry in many countries. Perhaps it survived as a relic of h-g because it is water based and so the competition with farming is not so head-on. I'll read on to see if JD covers this topic.



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Post Re: GG & S 2: The Rise & Spread of Food Production
giselle wrote:
But I doubt that the farmers of thousands of years ago spent much time reflecting on these matters unless the impact of their activity forced them too. And likely they just saw the h-g's fate as a small price to pay to achieve their objectives, if they bothered to think about it at all.

I think he does a good job in the Farm or not to Farm chapter of dealing with farming and h-g more fairly. He also highlights the chicken and egg argument about food production and population growth. To the extent that one believes that farming and the resulting food production fostered population growth, then it is clearly a basic factor in wiping out the hunter gatherer way of life. There is nothing like too many people to make hunting unproductive, inefficient and to eventually wipe out game. With all the stuff that people and communities bring with them (habitat destruction, fences, guns, fear), the h-g's didn't stand a chance. I would like to mention fishing as one activity that is 'h-g' and is still quite active today and a major industry in many countries. Perhaps it survived as a relic of h-g because it is water based and so the competition with farming is not so head-on. I'll read on to see if JD covers this topic.

I think it's key to envision how the transition would actually have happened--so slowly that it would not be noticed, especially for those groups who originated food production. They would have had no conscious idea of what they were doing. Even for h-g groups that made contact with food producers, the transition might not have been a conscious one, since the contacted group probably would have been in transition, too, still hanging on to some h-g ways. Certain ways of getting food would just have seemed advantageous, whether those involved hunting or growing plants in gardens. One theory Diamond mentions is that early gardens were like insurance policies for h-g groups, in case of poor hunting.

That's a good point about fishing as a surviving big-time hunting activity. Maybe as the oceans become more and more depleted, fish farming will displace the hunting of wild fish.

Diamond uses words such as 'primitive' and 'advanced,' but sometimes he puts these in quotation marks. Being quite familiar with some h-g peoples (though perhaps these aren't 'pure' h-g groups), he seems to be aware that civilization is bought at a price. We don't have to subscribe to 'a noble savage' view in order to reflect on the evils, as well as what seem the benefits, of our civilization. H-g life might have been in some variations 'nasty, poor, brutish, and short,' but so can modern life be this way for many.


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