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The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change

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Abstract

Until about 13,000 years ago all humans obtained their food through hunting and gathering, but thereafter people in some parts of the world began a transition to agriculture. Recent data strongly implicate climate change as the driving force behind the transition in southwest Asia. We propose a model of this process in which population and technology respond endogenously to climate. After a period of favorable environmental conditions during which regional population grew, an abrupt climate reversal forced people to take refuge at a few favored sites. The resulting spike in local population density reduced the marginal product of labor in foraging and made agriculture attractive. Once agriculture was initiated, rapid technological progress through artificial selection led to domesticated plants. Farming became a permanent part of the regional economy when this productivity growth was combined with climate recovery. The available data on cases of transition and non-transition are consistent with this model but are often inconsistent with rival explanations.

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  • Gregory K. Dow & Nancy Olewiler & Clyde Reed, 2005. "The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change," Discussion Papers dp05-01, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp05-01
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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.
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    5. Locay, Luis, 1997. "Population equilibrium in primitive societies," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 747-767.
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    9. Olsson, Ola, 2001. "The Rise of Neolithic Agriculture," Working Papers in Economics 57, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    agriculture; foraging; hunting and gathering; climate; technology; population density; archaeology; economic anthropology; economic prehistory;

    JEL classification:

    • N50 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General

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