Root crops hindered the development of the first civilizations

(ORDO NEWS) — The new hypothesis links the emergence of complex social structures with the cultivation of cereals that are convenient for accumulation and withdrawal. But cultures that relied on root crops and tubers remained at the level of primitive tribal communities.

The emergence of the first civilizations is usually associated with agriculture. It made it possible to obtain surplus food resources that can be withdrawn and used to support hierarchical structures, the emergence of elites, and, as a result, proto-states.

However, the authors of a new article published in the Journal of Political Economy show that this is not always the case. For the development of civilized communities, surpluses are needed not of any edible plants, but of cereals.

The authors of the new work – three professors from the UK, Israel and Italy: Joram Mayshar, Omer Moav (Omer Moav) and Luigi Pascali – noticed that many human groups have used agricultural practices for thousands of years, while without developing anything more complicated than primitive chiefdoms.

They never had rich elites who took over the war and government, nor a sufficiently complex internal structure, nor cities, nor other features of “civilization”.

Therefore, the researchers collected and analyzed a large amount of data on ancient human communities: information about the size and complexity of the hierarchy, the availability of wild ancestors of domesticated plants, the productivity of the area, etc.

It turned out that the emergence of civilizations occurred only in those groups that grew cereals, and not root crops, and more often in those where root crops were not used on a mass scale for a long time.

Scientists attribute this to the fact that the fruits of cereals (rice, rye, wheat, corn, etc.) are much more caloric, allowing you to accumulate more nutritious reserves.

Grains of cereals are compact and in suitable conditions can be stored for years. In contrast, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, etc.) spoil quickly, are heavy and contain relatively few calories. To remove them and keep them to support the “elite” levels of the social hierarchy is almost meaningless.

Thus, a number of communities in South America rely on cassava; You can collect them here all year round, but when collected, they quickly rot, so they are extremely poorly adapted for the accumulation of surpluses. At the same time, the neighboring cultures of the Incas and Maya grew up on cereals – corn.

The authors note that all the epicenters of the emergence of the first civilizations are associated with the maximum amount of wild cereals available for domestication.

Conversely, in regions where root crops and tubers produce a sufficient harvest, they seemed to slow down the development of societies.

This is presumably because the peasants could rely on these fruits to support themselves and did not create enough food surpluses for the elites. “The nature of the plants that the ancient peasants grew is more important than the fact of cultivation itself,” the scientists conclude.


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