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

Author

Listed:
  • Gregory K. Dow

    (Simon Fraser University)

  • Nancy Olewiler

    (Simon Fraser University)

  • Clyde G. Reed

    (Simon Fraser University)

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 agricultural transition in southwest Asia. We propose a model of this process in which population and technology respond endogenously to climate. The key idea is that after a lengthy period of favorable environmental conditions during which regional population grew significantly, an abrupt climate reversal forced people to take refuge at a few ecologically 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 on plant characteristics led to domesticated varieties. Farming became a permanent part of the regional economy when this productivity growth was combined with climate recovery

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory K. Dow & Nancy Olewiler & Clyde G. Reed, 2005. "The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change," Economic History 0509003, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpeh:0509003
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 42. 42 page pdf file including title page, 6 pages of references, and 6 figures
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    File URL: https://econwpa.ub.uni-muenchen.de/econ-wp/eh/papers/0509/0509003.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    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. Brander, James A & Taylor, M Scott, 1998. "The Simple Economics of Easter Island: A Ricardo-Malthus Model of Renewable Resource Use," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 119-138, March.
    3. Nicolas Marceau & Gordon Myers, 2006. "On the Early Holocene: Foraging to Early Agriculture," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(513), pages 751-772, July.
    4. Olsson, Ola & Hibbs, Douglas Jr., 2005. "Biogeography and long-run economic development," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 909-938, May.
    5. Matthew J. Baker, 2003. "An Equilibrium Conflict Model of Land Tenure in Hunter-Gatherer Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(1), pages 124-173, February.
    6. Olsson, Ola, 2001. "The Rise of Neolithic Agriculture," Working Papers in Economics 57, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    7. Jacob L. Weisdorf, 2005. "From Foraging To Farming: Explaining The Neolithic Revolution," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(4), pages 561-586, September.
    8. Locay, Luis, 1997. "Population equilibrium in primitive societies," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 747-767.
    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. Locay, Luis, 1989. "From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(4), pages 737-756, July.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    origins of agriculture; foraging; hunting and gathering; climate change; population density; technical change; domestication; archaeology; anthropology; economic prehistory;

    JEL classification:

    • N - Economic History

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