In my latest feature, out today, I looked at the origins of agriculture. People like to think that it was an invention in the sense that neolithic hunter-gatherers "invented" farming and found it more efficient so switched from food-finding to food production.
However, recent research has shown up a massive paradox in this narrative. For the people concerned, farming wasn't a better way to make a living than foraging. If anything, they had to work harder for less reward. Also, the feat of "domestication" wasn't a clever trick devised by early plant breeders. Rather, people harvested the grains they liked and took them home, and unwittingly exerted selection pressure that changed the species they ate.
When birds spread plant seeds by eating berries, we tend to credit the plant for recruiting the animals as helpers in their own reproduction. After writing this feature I arrived at the conclusion that the origin of agriculture was very similar. Barley tricked humans into spreading its seeds around the world.
Anyhow. Full story here:
The paradoxical evolution of agriculture
Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 16, R667-R670, 19 August 2013 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.08.001
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