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Why was agriculture invented in the Holocene Epoch and not before?

lpetrich

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There is a curious fact about agriculture. All surviving inventions of it date back to earlier in the Holocene Epoch, and not before. Was agriculture not invented before then? Was it invented but could not be sustained? The same may also be true of some Holocene inventions of agriculture.

Let's take a closer look:  Neolithic Revolution and  Vavilov center and  List of food origins and (PDF) Current perspectives and the future of domestication studies

Agriculture was invented in several places, with several different crop plants, and here are the places where the inventions were sustained to recent centuries. I have assembled the dates from several sources.
WhereWhen (BP)
(Holocene)11,650 - present
Middle East12,000
India8,500
China11,500
New Guinea10,000
East Africa8,000
West Africa4,500
North America6,500
Central America10,000
Andes: South America10,000
Amazonia: South America9,000

BP =  Before Present taken to be 1950 Jan 1.

The  Holocene Epoch is defined as the end of the  Younger Dryas cold snap (12,900 to 11,700 BP), a brief return to ice-age conditions at the end of the  Pleistocene Epoch.  Younger Dryas impact hypothesis is a speculation on the cause of that event.
 

steve_bank

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The path of least resistance?

I is easier for a group to farm than hunt and gather.
 

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The path of least resistance?

It is easier for a group to farm than hunt and gather.

Right. Except during an ice age.
A thousand year long setback in harvests may have taken the shine off the farming option for a while. And the ice probably erased most evidence of crop cultivation prior to 13k bp, if it existed.
 

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You can't stay in one spot unless you farm, because your tribe will exhaust the local food supply.

But you can't ferment alcoholic beverages unless you stay in one spot - and ideally that spot should be producing plenty of grain of one kind or another, which again implies farming.

Nomadic people have a far better diet and typically a far better lifestyle than farmers. But they don't have beer.
 

lpetrich

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The path of least resistance?

It is easier for a group to farm than hunt and gather.

Right. Except during an ice age.
A thousand year long setback in harvests may have taken the shine off the farming option for a while. And the ice probably erased most evidence of crop cultivation prior to 13k bp, if it existed.
Our planet didn't get iced over during the Ice Ages -- not even close. The  Last Glacial Maximum was about 25,000 - 20,000 years ago, and the farthest the ice went was Canada / northern contiguous US and northern Europe. South of this ice was temperate and subtropical and tropical climates.
 

lpetrich

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Our species is much older than the beginning of the Holocene.
Here's a giveaway feature of our present species, one that is easy to recognize in fossils. The chin. In our present species, it sticks out a little, while in predecessor species, it doesn't. So we could rename our species Homo magnimentum ("big chin")

This means that for at least 100,000 years, our ancestors never invented agriculture. But over the last 12,000 years, several populations invented agriculture independently, and did so in places all over the globe.
 

Elixir

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South, hunting/gathering was still easier than farming.
You can't stay in one spot unless you farm, because your tribe will exhaust the local food supply.

But you can't ferment alcoholic beverages unless you stay in one spot - and ideally that spot should be producing plenty of grain of one kind or another, which again implies farming.

Nomadic people have a far better diet and typically a far better lifestyle than farmers. But they don't have beer.
^that.
Farming has economy of scale that hunting/gathering doesn’t. So as populations increased farming became more and more essential.
 

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What does "inventing agriculture look like? Agriculture is the use of long term planning which allows a person to produce a food surplus which can be stored for later use. There are actually very few food plants which suit this criteria.

Although agriculture may have existed all over the planet, there are only two places where it had a real impact on society, which is to say civilization. The first is the Middle East, where the early strains of wheat were developed, and China, which was based on rice. These crops allowed for population expansion, which combined with other factors such as a suitable beast of burden, drove technology development.
 

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What does "inventing agriculture look like? Agriculture is the use of long term planning which allows a person to produce a food surplus which can be stored for later use. There are actually very few food plants which suit this criteria.

Although agriculture may have existed all over the planet, there are only two places where it had a real impact on society, which is to say civilization. The first is the Middle East, where the early strains of wheat were developed, and China, which was based on rice. These crops allowed for population expansion, which combined with other factors such as a suitable beast of burden, drove technology development.
Maize underpinned another agricultural civilisation, whose baked goods were allegedly fantastic, though no recipes survived the predations of the Spanish Conquistadors, so bye, bye, Mesoamerican pie...
 

lpetrich

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What does "inventing agriculture look like? Agriculture is the use of long term planning which allows a person to produce a food surplus which can be stored for later use. There are actually very few food plants which suit this criteria.
How is that? We have oodles of domesticated plants, crop plants, and we eat most parts of crop plants, even if not most parts of each individual one: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, seed casings. We also use plants' structural materials as raw materials: wood and fibers, both stem fibers and seed fibers. We even raise ornamental plants, like plants raised for their flowers.
Although agriculture may have existed all over the planet, there are only two places where it had a real impact on society, which is to say civilization. The first is the Middle East, where the early strains of wheat were developed, and China, which was based on rice. These crops allowed for population expansion, which combined with other factors such as a suitable beast of burden, drove technology development.
One must add Central America and the Andes are also places where agriculture made possible large-scale societies. However, I don't know how much that can be said about Amazonia or West Africa or East Africa or Central Asia or India or Southeast Asia or New Guinea. The Mediterranean and North America are centers that were influenced by the Middle East and Central America, respectively.

Look at  List of domesticated plants - oodles of them - and  Vavilov center of plant domestication - several of them.
 

lpetrich

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We currently use crop plants from most of the plant-domestication centers: the Middle East (wheat), the Mediterranean (lettuce, olive), East Africa (coffee), India (cucumber, cinnamon), Central Asia (carrot, apple), China (rice, soybean, orange), Southeast Asia (coconut), New Guinea (banana), Central America (American corn, pumpkin), North America (sunflower), the Andes (potato, Lima bean), Amazonia (peanut, pineapple, cocoa).

 List of domesticated animals is not quite as long as for plants.

The only pre-Holocene (Paleolithic) domestication is of a now-extinct Eurasian wolf (sub)species, around 15,000 BP, giving the domestic dog.

All the others were domesticated in the Holocene, and nearly all at places and times where crop plants were grown. The first one was the goat, domesticated around 12,000 BP, at the beginning of the Holocene in the Middle East.

I've also found  List of domesticated fungi and microorganisms
 

steve_bank

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There was a show Survivor Man. A guy named Les Shroud dropped himself into remote places and videoed himself survivng.

He did a show living with natives-aborigines in South America. They had some contact with the outside world but were traditional hunter gatherers.

Building and rainmaking arrows, bows, and spears was a daily occupation. When they walked to visit another village they carried bags for game and food taken along the way.

The local group was fully occupied every day with getting enough calories.

To ancient humans farming would have been a logical step, along with domestication.

The show is probably online.

Large scale agriculture requires water and space. Egypt and the Nile.

An ice age? Go south for the winter:D
 

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Large scale agriculture probably relied on animal domestication. You cannot plow without them. A few exceptions existed, corn for example. But large scale farming of wheat and barley need plows.
 

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The simplest explanation is probably the key. The Holocene was the warmest climate on earth since the Eemian Interglacial, over 100,000 years earlier. If early farming required subtropical plains, the Holocene was the first opportunity since 120,000 BC.

And humans 120,000 years ago did not have the same language and tool-making skills as modern humans have. Yes, H. sapiens could interbreed with Neanderthal man, but the superiority of modern man is demonstrated by the ease and rapidity with which Neanderthals were eradicated.

Our species is much older than the beginning of the Holocene.
Here's a giveaway feature of our present species, one that is easy to recognize in fossils. The chin. In our present species, it sticks out a little, while in predecessor species, it doesn't. So we could rename our species Homo magnimentum ("big chin")

The big chin might be a "giveaway feature," but it was linguistic skill which was most important. Modern man had a better vocal tract than Neanderthals, and perhaps specially adapted cerebral features. lpetrich's own cite,  Behavioral modernity, admits its thesis is undertain:

The Late Upper Paleolithic Model, or Upper Paleolithic Revolution, refers to the idea that, though anatomically modern humans first appear around 150,000 years ago (as was once believed), they were not cognitively or behaviorally "modern" until around 50,000 years ago, leading to their expansion out of Africa and into Europe and Asia.[7][18][19] These authors note that traits used as a metric for behavioral modernity do not appear as a package until around 40–50,000 years ago.
 

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The last 2.5 million years, the  Pleistocene epoch, has had very variable climate, with the continental glaciers coming and going over a timescale of roughly 100 thousand years.  Interglacial and  Glacial period -  Holocene (current interglacial) and  Eemian (previous interglacial). Pre-Holocene interglacials often have several regional names, and often no overall name, like Holocene or Eemian. Also  Last Glacial Period and  Penultimate Glacial Period and Quaternary glaciation and  Marine isotope stages

InterglacialBegin (Kyr BP)End (Kyr BP)Duration (Kyr BP)
MIS 1 - Holocene11.650 (not ended)11.65 (not ended)
MIS 5e - Eemian13011515
(weak)22020020
MIS 7 - Aveley24223012
MIS 9 - Purfleet33730037
MIS 11 - Hoxnian42437450
MIS 13 - Cromerian52447450

MIS = Marine Isotope Stage

The Eemian interglacial is also called Sangamonian, Ipswichian, Mikulin, Kaydaky, Valdivia, Riss-Würm, penultimate, or the last interglacial.

 Blombos Cave - that's some of the oldest evidence of behavioral modernity, and its artifacts go back to some 70 - 100 Kyr BP. That's a little after the Eemian interglacial.

So if our ancestors could only get agriculture started during an interglacial period, why this one and not the Eemian?
 

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I'll now look at animal domestication, using  List of domesticated animals and the times for domestication of plant species. Times are kiloyears BP.

The dog is the only species with pre-Holocene domestication.

PlacePlant dom.Animal dom.Species
Middle East12,00012,000Goat, pig, sheep, bovine, cat
China11,50011,000Pig, duck, silkmoth
India
8,500
10,000Bovine, water buffalo
Southeast Asia
8,500
8,000Chicken, water buffalo
Andes10,0007,000Guinea pig, llama, alpaca
Arabia6,000Camel
Western Steppe Zone5,500Horse
Mediterranean5,000Honeybee, goose, pigeon, rabbit

So animal domestication is more recent than plant domestication with the exception of the dog.
 

steve_bank

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It ws not just agriculture. Speciazation wnet had in hand with agriculture. With a stable food sipply that did not take the kabor of the entire group some people got good at making shoes, others bows and arrows.
 

lpetrich

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It ws not just agriculture. Speciazation wnet had in hand with agriculture. With a stable food sipply that did not take the kabor of the entire group some people got good at making shoes, others bows and arrows.
Yes, such specialization was made possible by agriculture. Lots of other technologies are also likely dependent on agriculture, like metalworking and writing.

From  Smelting -

Metal(s)PlaceDiscovery TimeAgriculture time
Tin, leadÇatal Höyük, Turkey6,500 BCE7,100 BCE
CopperPločnik and Belovode, Serbia5,500 BCE6,000 BCE
IronKaman-Kalehöyük, Turkey2,200 BCE6,600 BCE

From  Writing -

PlaceInvention TimeAgriculture Time
Sumer (Southeastern Iraq)3,200 BCE8,300 BCE
Egypt3,100 BCE6,000 BCE
China1,200 BCE9,500 BCE
Central America1,000 BCE8,000 BCE
 

lpetrich

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Now for the hypotheses.

Was low atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a limiting factor for the origin of agriculture? - SAGE - 1995 - Global Change Biology - Wiley Online Library
Abstract:
Agriculture originated independently in many distinct regions at approximately the same time in human history. This synchrony in agricultural origins indicates that a global factor may have controlled the timing of the transition from foraging to food-producing economies. The global factor may have been a rise in atmospheric CO2 from below 200 to near 270 μol mol−1 which occurred between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Atmospheric CO2 directly affects photosynthesis and plant productivity, with the largest proportional responses occurring below the current level of 350 μol mol−1. In the late Pleistocene, CO2 levels near 200 μol mol−1 may have been too low to support the level of productivity required for successful establishment of agriculture. Recent studies demonstrate that atmospheric CO2 increase from 200 to 270 μol mol−1 stimulates photosynthesis and biomass productivity of C3 plants by 25% to 50%, and greatly increases the performance of C3 plants relative to weedy C4 competitors. Rising CO2 also stimulates biological nitrogen fixation and enhances the capacity of plants to obtain limiting resources such as water and mineral nutrients. These results indicate that increases in productivity following the late Pleistocene rise in CO2 may have been substantial enough to have affected human subsistence patterns in ways that promoted the development of agriculture. Increasing CO2 may have simply removed a productivity barrier to successful domestication and cultivation of plants. Through effects on ecosystem productivity, rising CO2 may also have been a catalyst for agricultural origins by promoting population growth, sedentism, and novel social relationships that in turn led to domestication and cultivation of preferred plant resources.
I find that unconvincing, because that is not a very strong effect. At most, it would mean that agriculture could be started and sustained in fewer Pleistocene places.

But there were none, while in the Holocene, there were at least 5 independent inventions of agriculture, in the Middle East, China, Papua New Guinea, Central America, and the Andes.
 

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Constraints on the Development of Agriculture | Current Anthropology: Vol 50, No 5 - "The development of agriculture was limited by external constraints, mainly climate, before the Holocene and mainly by social institutions after that. Population size and growth was important but ultimately did not determine where and why agriculture evolved."
Climate Change Is Certainly the Major External Constraint

Ice age climates varied at very short timescales (Richerson, Boyd, and Bettinger 2001). Ice core data show that last glacialclimate was highly variable on timescales of centuries to millenia (Anklin et al. 1993; Clark, Alley, and Pollard 1999; Dansgaard et al. 1993; Ditlevsen, Svensmark, and Johnsen 1996). There are sharp millennial-scale excursions in estimated temperature, atmospheric dust, and greenhouse gases, right down to the limits of the high-resolution ice core data. The highest-resolution Greenland ice records show that millennial-scale warming and cooling events often began and ended very abruptly and were often punctuated by quite large spikes of relative warmth and cold with durations of a decade or two (e.g., von Grafenstein et al. 1999). Post-Younger Dryas warming (the Pleistocene to Hoiocene shift) may have occurred in less than a decade (Hughen et al. 2000). In comparison, the Hoiocene after 11,600 BP has been a period of comparatively very stable climate. Recent work shows that, though driven by the same deepwater cycling process, the climatic variability of the last glacial cycle is greater than those of the previous three (Martrat et al. 2007).

The dramatic Pleistocene climate fluctuations captured in polar ice cores also register at lower latitudes (Allen et al. 1999, 2002; Hendy and Kennett 2000; Martrat et al. 2007; Peterson et al. 2000; Schulz, von Rad, and Erlenkeuser 1998). Mediterranean pollen records show that these changes are reflected in approximately century-scale changes in vegetation (Sanchez Goni et al. 2002).
 Dansgaard–Oeschger event - some 25 of them in the last glacial period.
In the Northern Hemisphere, they take the form of rapid warming episodes, typically in a matter of decades, each followed by gradual cooling over a longer period. For example, about 11,500 years ago, averaged annual temperatures on the Greenland ice sheet increased by around 8 °C over 40 years, in three steps of five years (see,[3] Stewart, chapter 13), where a 5 °C change over 30–40 years is more common.

...
The course of a D-O event sees a rapid warming, followed by a cool period lasting a few hundred years.[5] This cold period sees an expansion of the polar front, with ice floating further south across the North Atlantic Ocean.[5]
What causes these events is still not very clear.

The Holocene has similar events -  Bond event - but much weaker ones.
 

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I think that climate fluctuations are a much stronger hypothesis than lower CO2 concentration, because they can have a strong effect on what plants can be grown at any one site.

The authors then consider social constraints on Holocene adoptions of agriculture, stating that "perhaps 20% of the world remained as hunters and gatherers until nineteenth-century European expansion", likely referring to land area with human inhabitants. Their list:
  • "First, social organization is not particularly observable by outsiders. Social institutions are enacted in a diffuse network of everyday interactions, punctuated by public rituals and ceremonies of uncertain meaning to outsiders."
  • "Second, institutional innovations are more difficult to try out than technical ones. At least some minimum number of individuals must understand and subscribe to an institutional innovation for it to begin operating. Its success or failure may take a generation or more to evaluate." - while it's much easier to experiment with new crop plants.
  • "Third, game theorists tell us that repeated games have many equilibria. Most likely, social systems tend to be locally stable, and when events destabilize one equilibrium, the search for a new one will be heavily constrained by history (Greif 2006)." - meaning that they are likely to be stuck in some local equilibrium state rather than a global equilibrium. Thus rejecting Panglossianism.
  • "Fourth, to the extent that institutions evolve by a process of cultural group selection, rates of change will tend to have millennial timescales (Soltis, Boyd, and Richerson 1995)."
 

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They then consider variations among foragers' subsistence strategies.
There are at least two dominant hunter-gatherer equilibria in the Holocene, and the dichotomy is variously styled as complex versus simple, immediate versus delayed return, and so forth. We prefer a contrast in standard ecological parlance, between energy maximizing and time minimizing hunter-gatherers, terms that refer to the two quantities that dominate quantitative treatments of foraging behavior (Bettinger 1999, 2001).
Energy maximizers spend as much time as possible in harvesting resources, while time minimizers spend as little time as possible on doing that.

Energy maximizing seems like a good way to get started with agriculture, while time minimizing is not.
 

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Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis | American Antiquity | Cambridge Core
Several independent trajectories of subsistence intensification, often leading to agriculture, began during the Holocene. No plant-rich intensifications are known from the Pleistocene, even from the late Pleistocene when human populations were otherwise quite sophisticated. Recent data from ice and ocean-core climate proxies show that last glacial climates were extremely hostile to agriculture—dry, low in atmospheric CO2, and extremely variable on quite short time scales. We hypothesize that agriculture was impossible under last-glacial conditions. The quite abrupt final amelioration of the climate was followed immediately by the beginnings of plant-intensive resource-use strategies in some areas, although the turn to plants was much later elsewhere. Almost all trajectories of subsistence intensification in the Holocene are progressive, and eventually agriculture became the dominant strategy in all but marginal environments. We hypothesize that, in the Holocene, agriculture was, in the long run, compulsory. We use a mathematical analysis to argue that the rate-limiting process for intensification trajectories must generally be the rate of innovation of subsistence technology or subsistence-related social organization. At the observed rates of innovation, population growth will always be rapid enough to sustain a high level of population pressure. Several processes appear to retard rates of cultural evolution below the maxima we observe in the most favorable cases.

They propose:
Agriculture Was Impossible During The Last Glacial.

During the last glacial, climates were variable and very dry over large areas. Atmospheric levels of CO, were low. Probably most important, last-glacial climates were characterized by high-amplitude fluctuations on time scales of a decade or less to a millennium. Because agricultural subsistence systems are vulnerable to weather extremes, and because the cultural evolution of subsistence systems making heavy, specialized, use of plant resources occurs relatively slowly, agriculture could not evolve.
then
In The Long Run, Agriculture Is Compulsory In The Holocene.

In contrast to the Pleistocene, stable Holocene climates allowed the evolution of agriculture in vast areas with relatively warm, wet climates, or access to irrigation. Prehistoric populations tended to grow rapidly to the carrying capacity set by the environment and the efficiency of the prevailing subsistence system. Local communities that discover or acquire more intensive subsistence strategies will increase in number and exert competitive pressure on smaller populations with less intensive strategies. Thus, in the Holocene, such inter-group competition a generated a competitive ratchet favoring the origin and diffusion of agriculture.
 

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They mention the Little Ice Age (400 - 150 BP / 1550 - 1800 CE), a fluctuation typical of the Holocene. "Extreme years during the Little Ice Age caused notable famines and such extremes would have been more exaggerated and more frequent during last glacial times."

Weather variation accounts for some 10% of crop losses, sometimes as high as 40%. So during the last ice age, it would have been much worse.

The article mentioned risk-reduction strategies, like opportunism for foragers. That made it difficult to get started on agriculture, because much agriculture focuses on a small number of crop plants.

"In keeping with our argument, the direct archaeological evidence suggests that people began to use intensively the technologies that underpinned agriculture only after about 15,000 B.P. (Bettinger 2000)."

That was around the Bølling-Allerød warm period, where the Earth became almost as warm as in the Holocene. It was soon followed by the Younger Dryas cold period, however, and the Holocene is now defined as beginning at the end of the Younger Dryas.
 

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Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis | American Antiquity | Cambridge Core
Several independent trajectories of subsistence intensification, often leading to agriculture, began during the Holocene. No plant-rich intensifications are known from the Pleistocene, even from the late Pleistocene when human populations were otherwise quite sophisticated. Recent data from ice and ocean-core climate proxies show that last glacial climates were extremely hostile to agriculture—dry, low in atmospheric CO2, and extremely variable on quite short time scales. We hypothesize that agriculture was impossible under last-glacial conditions. The quite abrupt final amelioration of the climate was followed immediately by the beginnings of plant-intensive resource-use strategies in some areas, although the turn to plants was much later elsewhere. Almost all trajectories of subsistence intensification in the Holocene are progressive, and eventually agriculture became the dominant strategy in all but marginal environments. We hypothesize that, in the Holocene, agriculture was, in the long run, compulsory. We use a mathematical analysis to argue that the rate-limiting process for intensification trajectories must generally be the rate of innovation of subsistence technology or subsistence-related social organization. At the observed rates of innovation, population growth will always be rapid enough to sustain a high level of population pressure. Several processes appear to retard rates of cultural evolution below the maxima we observe in the most favorable cases.

They propose:
Agriculture Was Impossible During The Last Glacial.

During the last glacial, climates were variable and very dry over large areas. Atmospheric levels of CO, were low. Probably most important, last-glacial climates were characterized by high-amplitude fluctuations on time scales of a decade or less to a millennium. Because agricultural subsistence systems are vulnerable to weather extremes, and because the cultural evolution of subsistence systems making heavy, specialized, use of plant resources occurs relatively slowly, agriculture could not evolve.
then
In The Long Run, Agriculture Is Compulsory In The Holocene.

In contrast to the Pleistocene, stable Holocene climates allowed the evolution of agriculture in vast areas with relatively warm, wet climates, or access to irrigation. Prehistoric populations tended to grow rapidly to the carrying capacity set by the environment and the efficiency of the prevailing subsistence system. Local communities that discover or acquire more intensive subsistence strategies will increase in number and exert competitive pressure on smaller populations with less intensive strategies. Thus, in the Holocene, such inter-group competition a generated a competitive ratchet favoring the origin and diffusion of agriculture.

That's what I said. Or rather, meant. (That's why they get the big bucks.)
 

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The authors then compared 14 sites, places where intensive foraging is known to have preceded agriculture. Dates are years BP.

PlaceIntensive ForagingAgriculture
(Centers of Domestication)
Middle East15,00011,500
North China11,600>9,000
South China12,000?8,000
Sub-Saharan Africa9,0004,500
South-central Andes7,0005,250
Central Mexico7,0005,750
Eastern US6,0005,250
(Controversial Centers)
New Guinea Highlands?9,000?
Amazonia13,000?9,000?
(Acquisition by Diffusion)
Northwestern Europe12,5007,000
Southwestern US6,0003,500
Japan10,5003,000
(Never Acquired)
California4,000--
Agriculture3,500--

The Middle East (or Near East) had the earliest emergence of intensive foraging. Was that also made difficult for most of the Pleistocene?
 

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Two lines of evidence that point to independent domestication in each center:
  • "First, the domesticates taken up in each center are distinctive and no evidence of domesticates from other centers turns up early in any of the sequences."
  • "Second, archaeology suggests that none of the centers had agricultural neighbors at the time that their initial domestications were undertaken."
So there were at least 7 centers of origin of agriculture and likely at least 9. Intensive foraging typically preceded agriculture by a few thousand years, and in some cases, was pre-Holocene. But even the oldest intensive foraging goes back only as far as the  Bølling–Allerød warming period, about 14,690 to 12,890 BP.

The authors conclude that species variety is not a very good indicator of intensiveness of foraging.
For all these reasons, quantitative features of subsistence technology are a better index of Pleistocene resource intensification than species used. We believe that the dramatic increase in the quantity and range of small chipped stone and groundstone tools only after 15,000 B.P. signals the beginning of the pattern of intensification that led to agriculture.

The authors also note
The exact sequence of events also varies quite widely. For example, in the Near East, sedentism pre- ceded agriculture, at least in the Levantine Natufian sequence, but in Mesoamerica crops seem to have bcen added to a hunting-and-gathering system that was dispersed and long remained rather mobile (MacNeish 1991:27-29).
So agriculture was not all-or-nothing, and it was preceded by halfway-agriculture systems.
 

lpetrich

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More Intensive Technologies Tend to Spread

One successful and durable agricultural origin in the last glacial on any sizeable land mass would have been sufficient to produce a highly visible archaeological record, to judge from events in the Holocene. Once well-established agricultural systems existed in the Holocene, they expanded at the expense of hunting-and-gathering neighbors at appreciable rates (Bellwood 1996).

In conclusion,
Those who are familiar with the Pleistocene often remark that the Holocene is just the "present inter- glacial." The return of climate variation on the scale that characterized the last glacial is quite likely if current ideas about the Milankovich driving forces of the Pleistocene are correct. Sustaining agriculture under conditions of much higher amplitude, high-frequency environmental variation than farmers currently cope with would be a considerable technical challenge. At the very best, lower CO, concentrations and lower average precipitation suggest that world average agricultural output would fall considerably.
Then mentioning global warming caused by emission of CO2 from burning fossil fuels. Would that stave off the return of the glaciers?
Nevertheless, the intrinsic instability of the Pleistocene climate system, and the degree to which agriculture is likely dependent upon the Holocene stable period should give one pause (Broecker1997).
So we are in danger of ruining a great interglacial period by spewing lots of CO2 into the air.
 

lpetrich

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From the Cover: Current perspectives and the future of domestication studies - PMC - that paper as a webpage.

I searched in Google Scholar for +Eemian +agriculture and while I got some hits, the agriculture that they discussed was all Holocene agriculture. I could not find any discussions of why our ancestors back then had not invented agriculture.

So I looked for comparisons of Eemian and Holocene climate stability.

Eemian climate fluctuations observed in a European pollen record | Nature
RECENT ice-core data from Greenland1,2 suggest that the climate during the last interglacial period (the Eemian) was more unstable than that of the Holocene (about 10,000 years ago to the present), being characterized in particular by a series of cold episodes each lasting about 70 to 750 years. Subsequent analysis of a second Greenland ice core3,4, however, failed to corroborate the details of these Eemian climate fluctuations, a result that may be attributable to the effects of ice flow4. To resolve this discrepancy, it is imperative to seek alternative sources of information about the Eemian climate. Here we present climate reconstructions from pollen data from the annually laminated Eemian lake-sediment record at Bispingen5 and from the Eemian and Holocene peat records at La Grande Pile6. The former record indicates that an initially warm period of 2,900 yr was followed by cooling and a series of colder episodes, one of which had winter temperatures comparable to those at the end of the preceding cold stage. The latter records show greater climate instability during the Eemian than the Holocene. These results are in broad agreement with those from the GRIP ice core, but contrast both with the GISP2 core3,4 and with recent high-resolution marine records from the North Atlantic7,8.

Intra-interglacial cold events: an Eemian-Holocene comparison - Maslinetal1998.pdf
Abstract: Rapid oscillations between warm and cold climates have been found in the oxygen isotope record of the Greenland Ice-core Project (GRIP) ice core during the Eemian/Marine oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e. In contrast, the variability in Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core is significantly different and some Atlantic deep-sea records suggest no such climate variations. We present here a high-resolution (50-300 years) set of marine proxies from the low-latitude east Atlantic margin (ODP Site 658), which suggest that in general the Eemian was climatically very similar to the Holocene. We, however, observe that the upwelling intensity off the West African coast was greatly reduced during the early Eemian, corresponding to the very mild climate observed in the European lake records. We observe that MIS 5e contains one significant short cold spell (<400 years), which is marked by a reduction of upper North Atlantic deep water ventilation. We suggest this cold event may correlate with the cold interval found in the European terrestrial records. The cause of the intra-Eemian event was likely to be the freshening and cooling observed in the Norwegian Sea. This brief cold spell, however, did not affect the overall stability of MIS 5e, and moreover it has an analogue event in the Holocene 'Sub-Boreal' period. Marine and terrestrial records thus seem to be incompatible with those of the GRIP ice core record, supporting the suggestion that the GRIP record has been altered by ice tectonics.

Tepsankumpu revisited — pollen evidence of stable Eemian climates in Finnish Lapland - SAARNISTO - 1999 - Boreas - Wiley Online Library
Several till-covered organic deposits, principally lake gyttja, in Finnish Lapland have been correlated with the last (i.e. Eemian) interglacial on the basis of their lithostratigraphic position and pollen stratigraphy. Most of the sequences are short, but together with three longer sequences from Finnish Lapland and one from Swedish Lapland (Leveäniemi) they provide a complete picture of Eemian vegetational and climatic development. The Tepsankumpu site was revisited, and the till-covered thick freshwater gyttja deposit was studied in detail for pollen in order to search for signals of rapid climatic fluctuations postulated for the earlier part of the Eemian on the basis of Greenland ice core studies. The Eemian pollen stratigraphy in Finnish Lapland closely resembles the Holocene pollen stratigraphy of the area. The abundance of spruce and alder pollen suggests, however, more northerly limits for forest vegetation zones during the Eemian than during the Holocene. Oak also grew closer to Lapland, indicating a wanner climate than during the Holocene climatic optimum. The Tepsankumpu pollen stratigraphy indicates climatic stability over the entire time-span it covers, i.e. the major part of the interglacial. This finding is in conflict with results from Greenland GRIP ice core studies and interpretations of some Continental European Eemian pollen diagrams.

So the Eemian was much like the Holocene. But it was initially warm and gradually cooled. One has to ask why the Holocene did not also do that.

Agriculture's influence on climate during the Holocene - ScienceDirect
This paper summarizes the variations of trace gas behaviour and climate during the Holocene (approximately the last 10,000 years), with reference to the last four ice age cycles. The industrial era, commonly regarded as commencing during the 18th century, is one noted when atmospheric greenhouse gas increases due to burning of fossil fuels and land use changes have been attributed to increases in global average near-surface temperatures, particularly in the latter part of the 20th century. However, analysis by Ruddiman has noted that in the Holocene during the period of civil society, the changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases have been anomalous compared with the geological record of the last 400,000 years. During this period, both carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) increased, probably as a result of the introduction of agrarian agriculture and land clearing in Eurasia. These, and other land use changes because of agrarian rural activities, may have caused a subtle forcing of climate, preventing climate cooling which might have been expected because of natural forcing. If future evidence supports the Ruddiman hypothesis, then agricultural and forestry activities during the period of civil society may have been exerting an influence on climate for, at least, the last 8000 years.
So our agriculture has been keeping our planet warm.
 

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Late Holocene climate: Natural or anthropogenic? - Ruddiman - 2016 - Reviews of Geophysics - Wiley Online Library
For more than a decade, scientists have argued about the warmth of the current interglaciation. Was the warmth of the preindustrial late Holocene natural in origin, the result of orbital changes that had not yet driven the system into a new glacial state? Or was it in considerable degree the result of humans intervening in the climate system through greenhouse gas emissions from early agriculture? Here we summarize new evidence that moves this debate forward by testing both hypotheses. By comparing late Holocene responses to those that occurred during previous interglaciations (in section 2), we assess whether the late Holocene responses look different (and thus anthropogenic) or similar (and thus natural). This comparison reveals anomalous (anthropogenic) signals. In section 3, we review paleoecological and archaeological syntheses that provide ground truth evidence on early anthropogenic releases of greenhouse gases. The available data document large early anthropogenic emissions consistent with the anthropogenic ice core anomalies, but more information is needed to constrain their size. A final section compares natural and anthropogenic interpretations of the δ13C trend in ice core CO2.
  • Holocene ice core and ocean sediment trends are anomalous compared to previous interglaciations
  • Paleoecology and archaeology show that early farmers emitted large amounts of CO2 and CH4
  • Large early agricultural emissions are consistent with geochemical constraints
It's a long paper, discussing a lot of evidence, so I'll skip to the end.
4.4 Conclusions

The late Holocene stands apart from equivalent intervals in other interglaciations of the last 800,000 years by registering greenhouse gas increases instead of decreases and in showing regional temperature stability in most regions instead of a shift toward glacial conditions (section 2). These anomalous responses implicate anthropogenic interference in the climate system. Independent ground truth estimates of CH4 and CO2 emissions sufficient to account for substantial parts of these inferred anomalies come from syntheses of archaeological and paleoecological data and from land use modeling (section 3). After more than a decade of debate over whether late Holocene climate was natural or anthropogenic, the convergence of evidence from these several branches of scientific inquiry points to a major anthropogenic influence.
Concluding that our agriculture has kept us warm by emitting greenhouse gases: CO2 and CH4.

That paper lists these origins of agriculture with approximate dates:
  • 12,000 - 8,200 BP -- Fertile Crescent, N China, S Mexico, N Andes, S Amazonia
  • 8,200 - 4,200 BP -- W Africa, E Africa, India, S China, Japan, New Guinea, E US, S Andes
 

rousseau

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Most ancient histories I own describe the early climactic conditions of the Holocene as pretty conducive to the growth of plant-life, even moreso than is the case today. Abundant resources for survival, easier cultivation, increased population pressures etc.

Maybe it's not so much that agriculture was invented during the Holocene, but rather it flourished during the period.
 

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Most ancient histories I own describe the early climactic conditions of the Holocene as pretty conducive to the growth of plant-life, even moreso than is the case today. Abundant resources for survival, easier cultivation, increased population pressures etc.

Maybe it's not so much that agriculture was invented during the Holocene, but rather it flourished during the period.
Also, agriculture is something that relies in many ways on language and structural advancement as well.

Hunting/gathering when there are few people and enough land is a lot less bother than farming.

If things keep changing or the tools to hold the knowledge aren't available, that just washes away quickly with time and the death of those who know the magic.
 

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Agriculture also isn't a pure dichotomy.

A nomadic hunter gatherer might make sure to scatter the seeds of the fruit he found, in the hope that the next year, there will be more fruit to be found.

Is he farming?
 

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Agriculture also isn't a pure dichotomy.

A nomadic hunter gatherer might make sure to scatter the seeds of the fruit he found, in the hope that the next year, there will be more fruit to be found.

Is he farming?
Or they may greedily and unskillfully eat the whole damn thing and shit somewhere nearby later. Or just toss the seed or stone or core as they walk away.

Are they farming?
 

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Agriculture also isn't a pure dichotomy.

A nomadic hunter gatherer might make sure to scatter the seeds of the fruit he found, in the hope that the next year, there will be more fruit to be found.

Is he farming?
Or they may greedily and unskillfully eat the whole damn thing and shit somewhere nearby later. Or just toss the seed or stone or core as they walk away.

Are they farming?
In that case, far less so. But it's clearly a spectrum, not an either-or proposition.
 

rousseau

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Most ancient histories I own describe the early climactic conditions of the Holocene as pretty conducive to the growth of plant-life, even moreso than is the case today. Abundant resources for survival, easier cultivation, increased population pressures etc.

Maybe it's not so much that agriculture was invented during the Holocene, but rather it flourished during the period.
Also, agriculture is something that relies in many ways on language and structural advancement as well.

Hunting/gathering when there are few people and enough land is a lot less bother than farming.

If things keep changing or the tools to hold the knowledge aren't available, that just washes away quickly with time and the death of those who know the magic.

Yea there was likely a cultural element there as well. To me it looks like most revolutions entail a massive change in energy intensification, which is energy extracted per unit of land. In the case of the Holocene it'd be hard to overstate how much more energy became available, not just for us, but for every form of life.

So the ability to cultivate was likely there before-hand, and possibly some small scale cultivation that would be impossible to prove, but the ultimate cause of social and ecological change during the Holocene was climate.

It's along the lines of what Bilby's saying, it doesn't have to be a dichotomy. More broadly than agriculture we saw a huge increase in energy availability, which gave rise to far more specialization.
 
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