Part 2, Archaeology: Domesticaton, Agriculture, Civilization
Explores archaeology, emphasizing how to understand the domestication of plants and animals, agriculture, and ideas of social complexity and civilization. For understanding plant and animal domestication in relation to gathering and hunting, I draw on the work of Tim Ingold in The Perception of the Environment (2000). For arguments about social complexity, state formation, and how to best interpret early empires, I am sympathetic to the approaches taken in Questioning Collapse (McAnany and Yoffee, editors, 2010), although there are many stylistic and writing issues with this volume (see Anthro-Flop-ology).
Did agriculture give us the splendors of civilization or was agriculture, in Jared Diamond’s words, the “Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race”?
Anthropology reveals gathering and hunting activities are quite diverse, encompassing an enormous range of environments, tools, and techniques.
The domestication of plants and animals opens new relational pathways with unintended consequences. It is not when humans began to control nature.
Agriculture arose independently in different areas of the world, depending on different mixes of plants and animals. There are many origins of agriculture.
Jared Diamond has done a disservice to the telling of human history, distorting the role of domestication and agriculture in Guns, Germs, and Steel.
For a preview of work on social complexity and state government, see Europe and the People Without History and Myths of the Spanish Conquest.