Update: These sections on archaeology were part of a project to create a companion series of web-pages for traditional anthropology textbooks. This project went unfinished, but the thinking persists and evolves in the 2021 Introduction to Anthropology course based on Anthropology: What does it mean to be human? For current material, see the Introduction to Anthropology page and the classes beginning with Archaeology Methods.
Archaeology: Domesticaton, Agriculture, Civilization
These sections explored 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 drew on the work of Tim Ingold in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (2000). For arguments about social complexity, state formation, and how to best interpret early empires, I was sympathetic to the approaches taken in Questioning Collapse (McAnany and Yoffee, editors, 2010), although there were many stylistic and writing issues with this volume (see my evaluation as Anthro-Flop-ology).
The sections here followed on the Biological Anthropology pages. Those pages concluded with the idea of the Biocultural Naturenurtural forming a broad platform for many social possibilities. The Archaeology sections detailed how people used that broad biological platform to further diversify their livelihoods and social organizations.
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.