Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: How did the lifestyle shift occur 10,000 years ago?

In my welcome note, I talked about the connection between sustainability and lifestyle. It is a well established fact that humans had lived as hunter-gatherers for 90,000 years, but about 10,000 years ago there was a transition to a sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture (and animal husbandry)

Hunting-gathering was the lifestyle of almost all animal species. Agriculture essentially involved holding another species (plant or animal) in captivity and nurture and breed for our own benefit. It was a totally new way of life that had never been attempted before by any animal or human species. And yet, it took hardly a thousand years for almost all humans spread across the world to abandon the only lifestyle that was ever known to them, and to make this radical shift. 
How did this transition happen? 

It is also quite well known that there were seven locations in the world where agriculture and animal husbandry first became established. For a long time historians believed that the agriculturists pushed back the nomads in the quest to get more and more land under cultivation, and finally ended up by replacing the hunter-gatherers almost everywhere. But genetic data refutes this hypothesis. Genealogical studies indicate that it was the KNOWLEDGE of agriculture that spread widely across the world, not the GENES of the early agriculturists! 

This indeed is most remarkable! Remember that we are talking of a time when even the most primitive tools of communication were not around. The only mode of information transmission at the time was chance encounters between two nomadic groups. Even in these encounters, useful exchange of information could happen only if the two groups spoke the same or similar languages, and were friendly enough to spend time 'chatting and gossiping'. 

Of course, conflicts between the two lifestyles also must have happened often, whenever hunter-gatherers and agriculturists tried to share the same space. It is also likely that the hunter-gatherers losing the battles may have ended up in slavery to the agriculturists. After all, for the agriculturists, it must have been a logical step forward from holding other species in captivity for their own use, to holding some individuals of their own species in captivity to use as manual labour! Thus, it is quite plausible that some hunter-gatherers may have been forced into agriculturist lifestyle. But the rapidity of the spread of agriculture suggests that hunter-gatherer groups in the vicinity of agriculturists also must have felt compelled to abandon their way of life and try out this novel approach taken by their neighbours.

The resultant lifestyle changes were not just outward behavioural changes, but also involved changes in value system. What were these changes? Let's talk about that next week! 

Priyadarshini Karve
Director, Samuchit Enviro Tech

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