Why farming was inevitable and miserable

There are many theories for the origin of farming. A classic explanation is that farming was simply a reaction to Malthusian pressures. Another, implied in Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, is that ideological factors may also have played a role in the emergence of sedentary lifestyles and so eventually farming.

I don’t have a strong opinion about the trigger for farming. What we know is that forms of farming seem to have emerged in very disparate locales after the last Ice Age. This is a curious contrast with the Eemian Interglacial 130 to 115 thousand years ago when to our knowledge farming did not emerge. Why didn’t farming become a common lifestyle then? One explanation is that behavioral modernity wasn’t a feature of our species, though at this point I think there’s a circularity in this to explain farming.

It seems plausible that biological and cultural factors over time made humans much more adaptable, protean, and innovative. We can leave it at that, and assume that the time was ripe by the Holocene.

Also, we need to be careful about assuming that modern hunter-gatherers, who occupy marginal lands, are representative of ancient hunter-gatherers. Ancient hunter-gatherers occupied the best and worst territory in terms of productivity. If territory is extremely rich in resources, such as the salmon fisheries of the Pacific Northwest, then a hunting and gathering lifestyle can coexist with dense sedentary lifestyles. But the fact is that in most cases hunting and gathering can support fewer humans per unit of land than agriculture.

The future belongs to the fecund, and if farming could support larger families, then the future would belong to farmers. Though I don’t think it was just a matter of fertility; I suspect farmer’s brought their numbers to bear when it comes to conflicts with hunter-gatherers.

Of course, farming is rather miserable. Why would anyone submit to this? One issue that I suspect needs to be considered is that when farming is initially applied to virgin land returns on labor are enormous. The early United States is a case of an agricultural society where yeoman farmers, what elsewhere would be called peasants, were large and robust. They gave rise to huge families, and never experienced famine. By the time the frontier closed in the late 19th century the American economy was already transitioning to industry, and the Malthusian trap was being avoided through gains in productivity and declining birthrates.

The very first generations of farmers would have experienced land surplus and been able to make recourse to extensive as opposed to intensive techniques. Their descendants would have to experience the immiseration on the Malthusian margin and recall the Golden Age of plenty in the past.

And obviously once a society transitioned to farming, there was no going back to a lower productivity lifestyle. Not only would starvation ensue, as there wouldn’t be sufficient game or wild grain to support the population, but farmers likely had lost many of the skills to harvest from the wild.

Finally, there is the question of whether farming or hunting and gathering is preferable in a pre-modern world. I believe it is definitely the latter. The ethnography and history that I have seen suggest that hunters and gatherers are coerced into settling down as farmers. It is never their ideal preference. This is a contrast with pastoralism, which hunting and gathering populations do shift to without coercion. The American frontier had many records of settlers “going native.” Hunting was the traditional pastime of European elites. Not the farming which supported their lavish lifestyles.

Many of the institutional features of “traditional” civilized life, from the tight control of kinship groups of domineering male figures, to the transformation of religion into a tool for mass mobilization, emerged I believe as cultural adaptations and instruments to deal with the stress of constraining individuals to the farming lifestyle. Now that we’re not all peasants we’re seeing the dimishment of the power of these ancient institutions.

21 thoughts on “Why farming was inevitable and miserable

  1. * “This is a curious contrast with the Eemian Interglacial 130 to 115 thousand years ago when to our knowledge farming did not emerge.”

    Humans were optimized for hunting and gathering in a particular part of Africa which was our “ideal environment”. In contrast, in places that weren’t quite so optimal for humans to engage in hunting and gathering, it was easier for farming to compete.

    Also, even moderately large temperature and precipitation tweaks in a place like Tanzania or Kenya where it never freezes and temperatures are comfortable enough to go nearly naked most or all of the year and where there is lots of rain, may make only a modest difference in the viability of farming, hunting and gathering respectively. But, if you are some place with a more marginal climate crossing a tipping point boundary from intolerable for farming to tolerable for farming is a lot more likely. So, the Eemian Interglacial wasn’t as much of a boost to us at the time because we weren’t someplace where it would really make a huge difference.

    We didn’t live in any of the places where farming developed earliest when it did arrive, at that time, and that is probably an important cause of our failure to develop farming then.

    We also had, at a minimum, Neanderthal neighbors to whom we were not militarily superior, who controlled lots of the prime places in which we might otherwise have sought to farm, or were between us and desirable farmland. Migrating to a Europe or West Asia full of thriving Neanderthals who were familiar with the local ecology and better at hunting big game than we were (which was a skill that would transfer well to warfare) for any purpose we might have had for doing so, may be been basically impossible. When we ultimately did take over Neanderthal turf, we did it when volcanoes that screwed with ecology and climate, and wildly variable weather patterns had left them vulnerable and struggling.

    * Fishing/shellfish collection is really closer to farming than to terrestrial hunting/gathering in terms of lifestyle. Not just the Pacific NW, but also, for example, the Jomon of Japan who were among the first to develop pottery, and populations on the Baltic Sea. Lumping maritime exploitation with terrestrial hunting and gathering is rarely a useful choice analytically. But, there are lots of places where you can’t be a fisherman and in those places farming is more attractive from a relative perspective, than in places where you can be a fisherman.

    * The relative benefits of farming v. hunting/gathering vary both by locality and by individual. Bad hunters (e.g. someone with a limp from an injury that prevents them from walking far or running fast) can have comparative advantage as farmers, and visa versa (being less conscientious is more of a liability for a farmer than a hunter-gatherer). Farming may be a better choice in meadows alongside streams too small for big fish to thrive in, while hunting may have comparative advantage in a desert or dense forest or tundra. Farming only has to be better for a very small group of people in a very narrow geographic area to justify the effort needed to develop and refine it there and once you invent it, the technology can be exported at a much lower cost than inventing it in the first place. In the same way, solar panels might be superior to oil as an economic choice in the Arizona desert even when it isn’t superior in a cloudy British port city near the North Sea, but once you invent the technology and perfect it, it might become superior in far more places than it was at first.

    * Populations in Egypt increased 100 fold when farming arrived, pretty much as quickly as fecundity would allow (and farmers don’t have to space their children as far apart from each other either). Not everyplace booms quite that dramatically, but everyplace did see order of magnitude increases in populations when farming arrived. Whatever harm farming did to GDP per capita, it undeniably dramatically increased total GDP per territory and total population per territory. This gave farmers a huge military advantage compared to places that haven’t made the transition. Misery beats being slaughtered in genocidal conquests of a farmer army that wildly outnumbers you. Even if your people are totally a bad ass warriors and you devote 10% of your hunter-gatherer population to war (which realistically doesn’t happen because the larger your army is proportionately the more you have to recruit marginal people to fill its ranks), while farmers only devote 1% of their population to war and suck as warriors (again, unlikely, because a smaller army allows you to limit your recruits to the most elite warriors), you are still going to lose most of the time in primitive warfare if you are always outnumbered 10-1. As they say in the Army, “quantity has its own quality.”

    * One reason it was possible for farmers to continue with greater misery than hunter-gatherers is that farming is more predictable. If a hunter-gatherer hits a bad streak of luck, people die, so it is necessary for society to structure itself with more slack relative to its Malthusian carrying capacity to prevent parents from having to invest too much in children only to see them die before they come of age too often. In contrast, farming is sufficiently predictable that bad times are more likely to make life suck than to kill you, so it is possible for society to position itself closer to the Malthusian line without crossing it accidentally. (Incidentally, this is also basically why people like teachers and government employees who have extremely predictable incomes and expenses accumulated more wealth relative to their incomes than people with higher, but less steady income streams like self-employed people who need to have their savings liquid in case bad news hits, and can’t afford to take long term risks with their non-business savings.)

  2. One issue that I suspect needs to be considered is that when farming is initially applied to virgin land returns on labor are enormous. The early United States is a case of an agricultural society where yeoman farmers, what elsewhere would be called peasants, were large and robust.

    American settlers had another advantage. European diseases went ahead of them, so much “virgin land” had actually been cleared years before. Ironically, one of the justifications for taking the land was that it was so well suited for farming but the Indians seemed to be just leaving it. They must be lazy and/or uncivilized, wasting it. People like that didn’t deserve it.

    In a further irony, many modern romantic environmentalists have taken the same “virgin land” lie and turned it into a celebration of people who supposedly left the land alone and “lived in harmony with nature.”

  3. i think some of the same applies in most cases where farming ppls push into HG lands: disease does a lot of the ‘work’ for them. though the columbian exchange was an extreme case.

  4. “Finally, there is the question of whether farming or hunting and gathering is preferable in a pre-modern world.”

    Preferable to whom, when, and in what circumstances? Can we pick placid places, with good weather, and abundant resources. Or do we need to factor in the possibilities of bad weather, hostile tribes, and epidemics.

    I don’t the question is well posed.

  5. Even if your people are totally a bad ass warriors and you devote 10% of your hunter-gatherer population to war (which realistically doesn’t happen because the larger your army is proportionately the more you have to recruit marginal people to fill its ranks), while farmers only devote 1% of their population to war and suck as warriors (again, unlikely, because a smaller army allows you to limit your recruits to the most elite warriors), you are still going to lose most of the time in primitive warfare if you are always outnumbered 10-1. As they say in the Army, “quantity has its own quality.”

    This is a very flawed analysis that suffers from a very modern, yet simplistic view of military recruitment and campaigning.

    In the first place, note that among hunter-gatherers and nomads, almost the entire male population except the very young and the very old were warriors. Hunting and slaughtering animals translate very well and directly to killing of men. Among ancients and medieval peoples, they had incredibly high “mobilization rates,” which was why they frequently posed such serious threats to the settled peoples who were far more numerous (and in their societies even women could pitch in when facing existential threats).

    On the other side of the ledger, farming doesn’t translate well to warfare. In farming societies, the proportion of professional warriors was generally quite small, almost miniscule, and that’s if they had any professional warriors who could be supported by what excess produce there was.

    Furthermore, farmers could only mobilize for war seasonally. They could not campaign during times when intense labor was necessary to produce the subsistence cereals, without which they would starve to death. So they were part-time soldiers at best, with all that entails about war-appropriate skill development (or lack thereof) as well as a limited “time clock” for campaigning.

    And what’s worse, since invaders had to live off the land (since people can only carry a few days’ worth of provisions at most), farmer armies were at a distinct disadvantage – when they invaded the lands of the hunters and pastoralists, they were entering an area in which the modes of produce were unfamiliar or had run off. In an opposite scenario, hunters and pastoralists who invaded agricultural areas could simply loot and exist off the lands… which was why agriculturally rich lands were invaded so often and taken over by outside groups.

    Indeed, having a mobile means of produce gave an enormous advantage to the hunters and pastoralists who could harry the invading farmers with their superior fieldcraft and skirmish skills and melt away before them, avoiding pitched combat that time-constrained farmers desired. Meanwhile, the latter who invaded the former could pick the moment of their choosing (night attacks were probably very common, which probably led to towns quickly acquiring walls and sentries against “bandits from the country who struck by night”). You have to remember that in much of early human history, raids were a far more common method of warfare than pitched battle, which almost required both sides to consent to fight (ritualistically?) on a chosen ground. If the side with superior mobility and little in the way of fixed positions to attack declined to engage, there was no combat.

    So, yes, while the higher fecundity and population density favored farmers, hunter-gatherers and nomads had enormous advantages – probably better health and mobility over rough terrain, orders of magnitude higher mobilization rates, far superior military skillsets, the ability to retreat without suffering catastrophic economic damage while able to inflict it on the settled civilizations, the ability to choose moments of combat, etc.

    And these advantages multiplied several fold where hunter-gatherers transitioned to pastoralists and also absorbed some of the organizational ideologies of the settled civilizations and built larger confederations. As I often say, pre-modern history is largely a history of conflict between pastoralists and agriculturalists, with the populations of the former living in the intermediate zone between the two often dominating the latter and becoming their assimilated elites.

  6. “Finally, there is the question of whether farming or hunting and gathering is preferable in a pre-modern world.”

    I’ve done both, and I know which is vastly more preferable and pleasurable. I think I’ve made that rather clear. Nor am I alone in this. In my wife’s family, there is a good number of commercial farmers in the Midwest (who have survived through niche marketing, e.g. organic farming, specialty produce, etc.). And most of them would agree that you farm, because you HAVE TO in order to make a living, but you hunt because you enjoy it (often the meat – if it’s something more palatable than squirrels and rabbits – is really quite expensive after calculating the permit/tag costs, gun, ammo, fuel, etc.).

    To be simplistic, farming is a series of worries, and dawn to dusk labor, on top of which is utterly maddening dealings with those in power (people who regulate it and provide markets for it, I suppose the modern equivalent of the king’s tax collectors). Hunting is sheer bliss in comparison – the quiet enjoyment of the fresh air of the outdoors, the thrill of marksmanship skills and the excitement of the chase of the prey, the immediacy of the very satisfying sense of accomplishment when it is successful. It’s not even a contest, really.

    And the end product tastes much better and fuller too!

  7. Twinkie: I’m not too knowledgeable about the issue, but what comes to mind are the part time raiders from agricultural Birkarls and Karelians taxing and raiding the pastoral and hunter-gatherer Saamis in Lapland in 14th century. Is this a rare scenario? Why wouldn’t the prehistory would have been similar in other places as well.

    Vikings were crop growers

  8. If farmers are in contact with foragers – who have enough space to *be* foragers, and not a specialist group (like fishermen or honey-gatherers) – then the farmers too have the ability to hunt in the same territory. And there are more of them, and they can live off agricultural produce when they’ve hunted out the game. A frontier situation, or a small-scale farming society, in which every man can be warrior as much as is the case for foragers, is quite different from a complex society in a landscape filled up with farmers. Pastoral nomads of course have some of the best of both worlds.

    In certain environments foragers may be able to just wander around without a schedule, but if you are a delayed-return forager in a seasonal climate you need to harvest certain resources at certain times. And these people outcompeted any wandering immediate-return foragers that may have existed in their regions, just as Neolithic farmers did.

  9. Nice little paper here from last year on decline in body size following the Neolithic transition in Central-Southeast Europe – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0148468&type=printable – “Early Life Conditions and Physiological Stress following the Transition to Farming in Central/Southeast Europe: Skeletal Growth Impairment and 6000 Years of Gradual Recovery”.

    Contrasts the Lepenski Vir “hunter-gatherer-fishers”, to Neolithic (LBK plus some Vinca culture), Bronze Age (Unetice, Maros, Middle Bronze Age), Iron Age and Medieval.

    Stature declines are about 7.79cm for males between Mesolithic, while for females 5.46cm, about a standard deviation in both cases. Note both of these populations are smaller than present day males, at 171cm and 164cm estimated stature.

    There’s then no recovery throughout the Bronze-Iron-Medieval sequence, regardless of any introduction of taller steppe ancestry. (The Bronze-Iron-Medievla subpopulations they sample are variable in it, but should all have more than the LBK, probably on the order of between 30-50% depending).
    Same for body mass (about 1SD reduction, stable).

    (At those kind of numbers, even with a population 10x in farmers, the number of very large individuals, over say 180cm, would have been slightly greater in the Mesolithic, than in Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval).

    They note that the “Late Mesolithic Iron Gates foragers is not representative of typical European hunter-gatherer lifeways, and their body size appears to be larger than their Western European Mesolithic counterparts” (based on another study), so size difference there should have been lesser.

    Still it does seem like there is a trend of body weight / height reduction with the adoption of a much more heavily crop based diet, based on the above, at least for people who are adapted to meat content in diet (e.g. FADS1 patterns)…

    Though on the other hand, BMI is basically in the same range for Neolithic and Mesolithic and in a health lean modern BMI (e.g. BMI 23 for Neolithic and 24 for Mesolithic, in the above), and limb strength seems proportionately to body size rather robust and strong in Early Neolithic people and actually more comparable to the Mesolithic hunter gatherers than later groups history are (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/23/7147.long).

    ….

    ohwilleke: “Fishing/shellfish collection is really closer to farming than to terrestrial hunting/gathering in terms of lifestyle.”
    Note where we have interaction and admixture within ancient samples in European prehistory between the Anatolian farmers and hunter gatherers, at the moment it seems all to occur at rich fishing based sites. Mathieson’s Lepenski Vir samples, Lipson’s Blatterhohle Cave and the Pitted Ware Culture around southern Sweden.

    I actually partly would not be surprised if it was (before the Indo-European expansion) *all* from fisher gatherers, and the hunters made no contribution to Mesolithic people.

    Megalophias: small-scale farming society, in which every man can be warrior as much as is the case for foragers, is quite different from a complex society in a landscape filled up with farmers

    Agree there are probably some big differences between, in say Europe, early-middle Neolithic farming societies, or even Bronze and Iron Age farming societies, and state level farming societies with very intensive agriculture such as came later (when history begins), esp. if we’re comparing the degree to which males were hability involved in fighting wars (ask Papuan Highlander farmers if men don’t spend a lot of time in warfare, Iron Age crop farmers in Central Europe, etc.).

  10. what comes to mind are the part time raiders from agricultural Birkarls and Karelians taxing and raiding the pastoral and hunter-gatherer Saamis in Lapland in 14th century. Is this a rare scenario?

    The main point of what I wrote earlier was NOT that hunter-gatherers (or pastoralists) would always beat farmers in war – it was rather that there were many other salient factors at work than merely population size and fertility that affected the outcomes of conflicts between these groups. And that in pre-modern times, several such salient factors favored the former group in ways that are not obvious to the general reader in the modern day when military power is essentially a function of population, economy, technology, and culture. (In modern conflicts, the bigger battalions have generally won the day, to borrow Napoleon’s dictum – though in the post-modern era, that general truism has been tested harshly in “low-intensity” conflicts).

    Obviously, there are many other contextual factors that would affect the relative military balance between groups of different productive modes. As an example, sometimes, that is, when they were unified and had energetic ruling elites, the Chinese taxed the nomads (i.e. tribute). Other times, the nomads taxed the Chinese (i.e. “gifts” otherwise known to settled Western Europeans as “Danegeld”).

    Vikings were crop growers

    There were many reasons for Viking eruptions, but it’s clear there was some excess population of menfolk who couldn’t be supported locally in what was relatively marginal farmlands. I doubt the most seasoned Vikings, those veterans of many raids and campaigns were really farmers. They were probably highly mobile troublemakers who lived on trade and booty.

    The other thing to keep in mind about the Vikings was that their greatest weapon was the rapid mobility via waterways. They usually avoided pitched battles and relied on unexpected raids and ambuscades. In other words, they preferred to attack undefended settlements to kill, steal, and rape civilians rather than confront trained warriors. When forced (cornered) into pitched battles against professional Western European warriors, they often fared poorly (and frequently fled). The modern view of the Viking as some sort of an invincible super-warriors is a myth.

    And, finally, don’t forget the Vikings attacked people who were more civilized and settled than they were. In other words, they preferred to attack farmers and priests, not gritty hunter-gatherers and pastoralists who were far more trouble (militarily) than they were worth in possessions.

  11. If farmers are in contact with foragers – who have enough space to *be* foragers, and not a specialist group (like fishermen or honey-gatherers) – then the farmers too have the ability to hunt in the same territory. And there are more of them, and they can live off agricultural produce when they’ve hunted out the game. A frontier situation, or a small-scale farming society, in which every man can be warrior as much as is the case for foragers, is quite different from a complex society in a landscape filled up with farmers. Pastoral nomads of course have some of the best of both worlds.

    I don’t disagree. That’s why pure hunter-gatherers didn’t conquer civilized states. They were too few, too primitive, and too poorly organized. The most dangerous people were, instead, semi-nomadic pastoralists and, yes, border settlers (led by what Mr. Razib called “Marcher lords” in one post, evoking those unruly, wild men of mixed economy who lived on the Welsh and Scottish frontiers of England, who frequently raided, warred, and hunted as well as farmed) who provided the main striking forces of many would-be conquerors. These were people who in some ways benefitted from the best of both worlds.

    However, it’s a fact of life that the more time a man spent farming (in other words, the more productive he was as a farmer, all other variables being constant), the less time he had to hone hunting skills and, therefore, warring skills, in the days before firearms. Part-timing is not conducive to learning to use pre-modern projectile weapons well; nor is it helpful to mastering fieldcraft well enough to navigate safely and effectively in strange lands and live off them. So it was easy for marches to be depopulated from hardship and conflict unless energetic leaders of civilizations subsidized their settlers as a bulwark against the “cattle thieves” of the wilderness (while also serving as dumping grounds for their own undesirables).

    This happened right here in the United States too… in Appalachia. Lowland cavaliers (and other English and German elites in possession of rich farmlands) frequently imported troublesome marchers (Scots-Irish) to settle the marginal hill country as a barrier against the Indians.

  12. @Twinkie and all, worth reading on the topic of the steppe and empires and militaries are all John Emerson’s posts on some subject (including even his comments on early iterations of this blog), and some only now available via web archives on the Wayback Machine. Back from the first decade of the 21st century, but still fresh (and are what formed my working knowledge around the topic):

    Why the Mongols?
    The Barbarian Reservoir
    2000 years of barbarians
    Some relevant blog comments: here and here

    There are some very similar ideas to Twinkie’s ideas (mobilisation, mobility), however also nuanced differences. He stresses the distinction nomad vs sedentary and the civilized vs barbarian rather than pastoralist vs agriculturalist, though these largely overlap (includes stress on steppe groups who were predominantly pastoralist adopting this as a comparative advantage, rather a pure incompatibility of nomadic life or the steppe with grain raising), has some specific estimates on levels of mobilization (10-30% of adults, so 20-60% males, while agreeing with Twinkie that these are higher than among sedentary folk), etc.

    Stresses the particular period of 700BC – 1300AD, and forces that played out over that time with specific development of cavalry, the advantages of mixed sedentary / nomadic states for the later point of that period that catalyzed the most major (if relatively brief) Mongol expansion of nomad power.

  13. nomad vs sedentary

    That’s a useful thematic distinction, but Mongols and others like them were not technically true nomads. They were semi-nomadic (seasonal) pastoralists. They still had territory that had to be defended to some extent. Clans/tribes that lost good pasturage and watering areas shrank and often were absorbed by the victors.*

    By the way, while I wouldn’t go as far as to call the author of that blog a “poser,” people who use terms like “supply trains” in the context of land armies of the era (in this specific case, Chinese armies in pursuit of the Mongols) are not people who are knowledgeable about pre-modern military history, and are parroting superficial things they read. And his description of why horse-archers were so deadly to infantry units is rather cartoonish.

    I don’t think he is a person of deep knowledge. He strikes me as someone who has read a few book on the topic.

    *The rise of Temujin and Mongols, in a way, is a story of the marginal people among the pastoralists, that is to say, the more hunter-gatherer-oriented among the pastoralists (as Temujin and several of his early companions were), rising to dominate the pastoralists as a whole and then going on to absorb mixed-economies (semi-sedentary pastoralists) in the border area, and, in the end, coopting the sedentary ideology and trappings of state- and empire-building peoples. It’s probably one of the greatest examples of specialist skill-leveraging, ever.

  14. “It seems plausible that biological and cultural factors over time made humans much more adaptable, protean, and innovative. We can leave it at that, and assume that the time was ripe by the Holocene.”

    That assumption is doing a lot of work (although I accept it’s not the main focus of the post). I think it’s meaningful that agriculture arose a half-dozen times in the last 10k years and not once before that. Given the wide range of cultures it arose from (including New World where the time for cultural evolution was much shorter), I have trouble understanding why cultural factors wouldn’t work before the Holocene unless biological factors where critical.

    Finally I don’t see the Holocene as a necessary starting point. The same habitats were present in the 50-100k years prior when modern humans were exploring the Old World, albeit in somewhat different locations. Malthusian pressures should take much shorter time to fill the hunter-gatherer niche and push for ag. It still didn’t happen for a long time in human history, and then apparently happened nearly simultaneously in multiple locations.

  15. I think his writing speaks for itself.

    By the way, begging our host’s pardon, I am going to link a beautiful video taken in Mongolia by the International Judo Federation and just released on YouTube (yes, I know, Judo is a hobby horse I trot out occasionally here).

    But I thought it would be a nice touch given the discussion about Mongols earlier. There is some evocative scenery in it.

    Here it is: https://youtu.be/alOBnmYAhMY

  16. I thought the Eemian had a much less stable climate than the Holocene has had, no? So that in and of itself could have been a big factor too. Maybe it required a certain population density and cultural complexity that we just lacked at that point.

    @Matt – re: HG admixture into farmer communities, one thing I found interesting in the… Mathieson paper I think?… was that they found 100% of the HG admixture between the Early and Middle Neolithic was from male HGs. And we see that reflected in the drop in farmer Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies. So I’d suggest that it wasn’t just peaceful mingling with fishers at least in that period, and was probably more violent on a continent wide scale not unlike the later IE expansion (which itself could have begun in a parallel to this process).

  17. If your group has started to rely on farming and then for a few years the last frost comes a few weeks later in the spring or a few weeks earlier in the fall, or it’s hotter and the rains don’t fall at the right time, you starve. After a few years, your diminished group abandons agriculture. Such climate variability was common before the Holocene.

  18. @CupOfSoup, a couple of comments though:

    a) Mark Lipson’s study thinks that HG admixture was regional, e.g. Iberian Neolithic from La Brana (Spanish HG) like people, French Neolithic from Loschbour (Rhine HG) like people. IRC Mathieson’s latest sort of agrees, as Iberia_MN and Chalcolithic can be actually modelled to a degree with input from Magdalenians rather than WHG (see table 4.2.1 in the latest revision).

    So it’s hard for it to be a single continent wide maneuver, as such, if admixture is looking regional hunters.

    b) EN+MN peoples look to have a good size amount of WHG mtdna (e.g. U), though it’s harder to say than with the y because of relatively high variability among Anatolians. That’s not so possible with a strict 100% HG being admixture from male HGs.

    Mathieson’s paper estimates about 11% mtdna in combined (EN+MN) Iberian farmers from WHG, against 20% autosomes, which would imply about 30% male WHG ancestry and 10% female WHG ancestry (if you assume female = mtdna and male+female/2 averages out at autosome).

    That said WHG y-dna is at very high proportions in some of these groups (100% in British Middle Neolithic for example), so potentially a major effect founder, which could be conquesty.

    Mingling with fishing groups may not have always been peaceful – they would have pretty high population density compared to other WHGs and appear potentially more well nourished than farmers…

  19. The Wells article is interesting but contains an old canard: “Thomas Malthus’s conjecture that population growth will eventually produce more people than can be supported by the available food supply.”

    Malthus never said any such thing, although the claim is at the heart of gibes that he was “wrong” about resource depletion and population crash. Malthus’s model was that population growth would eventually produce exactly as many people as could be supported by the available food supply, and then grow only to the extent the food supply did. His thesis was explaining the origin of persistent poverty and wealth inequality, not population overshoot.

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