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The Neolithic Revolution and Human Societies: Diverse Origins and Development Paths

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  • Svizzero, Serge
  • Tisdell, Clem

Abstract

Many economists have recently tried to explain the diverse levels of economic development of countries by studying their trajectories during past eras and in recent history. Special attention has been given to the influences on contemporary societies of relevant developments in prehistory and more particularly, those arising from the Neolithic revolution, i.e. the transition from foraging to farming. This transition from simple to complex hunting and gathering and then to farming is a sequence couched in social evolutionary terms. It suggests a pattern of progressive development resulting in increasing cultural complexity. In this evolutionary scheme, simple hunter-gatherers develop into complex hunters and collectors, whose critical economic decisions are a consequence of climatic changes that inevitably lead them to irreversibly adopt agriculture. Although this pattern of development is widely accepted, we challenge it. Studies of past and recent hunting and gathering societies show an incredible diversity of human social organization through time. Similarly, the various centers where agriculture started during the Neolithic period display great diversity in terms of their genesis, nature and consequences. The nature of the spread of agriculture from the Levant to Europe displays diversity. Demic diffusion and cultural diffusion were both present, and generated a variety of diffusion processes. This diversity of human societies is not easily accounted for by social evolutionary processes; indeed, people’s understanding of the world directly influences the economic decisions they make. The development of agriculture eventually generated an economic surplus. This (combined with increasing social and economic inequalities), another feature of the Neolithic revolution, led to economic growth and therefore to the long-term dominance of agropastoralists societies. Inequality (the appropriation by dominant classes of the economic surplus generated by agropastoralism and by stemming economic developments) was therefore a necessary early condition for increasing the chances of the survival and development of these societies; otherwise they would all have been caught in the Malthusian trap.

Suggested Citation

  • Svizzero, Serge & Tisdell, Clem, 2014. "The Neolithic Revolution and Human Societies: Diverse Origins and Development Paths," Economics, Ecology and Environment Working Papers 168375, University of Queensland, School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:uqseee:168375
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Smith, Vernon L, 1975. "The Primitive Hunter Culture, Pleistocene Extinction, and the Rise of Agriculture," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 83(4), pages 727-755, August.
    2. Diego Comin & William Easterly & Erick Gong, 2010. "Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 BC?," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 65-97, July.
    3. Areendam Chanda & Louis Putterman, 2007. "Early Starts, Reversals and Catch-up in the Process of Economic Development," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 109(2), pages 387-413, June.
    4. Easterly, William & Levine, Ross, 2003. "Tropics, germs, and crops: how endowments influence economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 3-39, January.
    5. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2007. "The Neolithic Revolution and Contemporary Variations in Life Expectancy," Working Papers 2007-14, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    6. repec:tiu:tiutis:fe79a9d2-e9e3-4dbc-9539-cdece886993d is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Clement A. Tisdell, 2013. "Competition, Diversity and Economic Performance," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 13026, April.
    8. Galor, Oded & Moav, Omer, 2001. "Evolution and growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(4-6), pages 718-729, May.
    9. Douglass C. North & Robert Paul Thomas, 1977. "The First Economic Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 30(2), pages 229-241, May.
    10. Horan, Richard D. & Bulte, Erwin & Shogren, Jason F., 2005. "How trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: an economic theory of Neanderthal extinction," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-29, September.
    11. George Grantham, 2006. "Prehistoric Origins Of European Economic Integration," Departmental Working Papers 2006-28, McGill University, Department of Economics.
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    Keywords

    hunter-gatherers; agriculture; Neolithic transition; demic diffusion; imitation; economic surplus; social and economic inequalities; social evolutionary theory.; Community/Rural/Urban Development; Crop Production/Industries; Land Economics/Use; N00; N5; O10; Q10;

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General

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