Daily Archives: December 6th, 2007

Agriculture and Civilization; In Search of a Buzz?

From sott.net :

What might head a list of the defining characteristics of the human species? While our view of ourselves could hardly avoid highlighting our accomplishments in engineering, art, medicine, space travel and the like, in a more dispassionate assessment agriculture would probably displace all other contenders for top billing. Most of the other achievements of humankind have followed from this one. Almost without exception, all people on earth today are sustained by agriculture. With a minute number of exceptions, no other species is a farmer. Essentially all of the arable land in the world is under cultivation. Yet agriculture began just a few thousand years ago, long after the appearance of anatomically modern humans.

Given the rate and the scope of this revolution in human biology, it is quite extraordinary that there is no generally accepted model accounting for the origin of agriculture. Indeed, an increasing array of arguments over recent years has suggested that agriculture, far from being a natural and upward step, in fact led commonly to a lower quality of life. Hunter-gatherers typically do less work for the same amount of food, are healthier, and are less prone to famine than primitive farmers (Lee & DeVore 1968, Cohen 1977, 1989). A biological assessment of what has been called the puzzle of agriculture might phrase it in simple ethological terms: why was this behaviour (agriculture) reinforced (and hence selected for) if it was not offering adaptive rewards surpassing those accruing to hunter-gathering or foraging economies?

This paradox is responsible for a profusion of models of the origin of agriculture. ‘Few topics in prehistory’, noted Hayden (1990) ‘have engendered as much discussion and resulted in so few satisfying answers as the attempt to explain why hunter/gatherers began to cultivate plants and raise animals. Climatic change, population pressure, sedentism, resource concentration from desertification, girls’ hormones, land ownership, geniuses, rituals, scheduling conflicts, random genetic kicks, natural selection, broad spectrum adaptation and multicausal retreats from explanation have all been proffered to explain domestication. All have major flaws … the data do not accord well with any one of these models. ‘

Recent discoveries of potentially psychoactive substances in certain agricultural products – cereals and milk – suggest an additional perspective on the adoption of agriculture and the behavioral changes (’civilisation’) that followed it. In this paper we review the evidence for the drug-like properties of these foods, and then show how they can help to solve the biological puzzle just described .

I have heard of this theory before, but only in the context of physical human evolution, i.e., lactose intolerance. Until the discovery/invention of animal agriculture, adult humans didn’t drink milk after being weaned from their mother’s breast. It was after the domestication of goats, sheep and cattle (horses too, possibly?) that mankind started to incorporate milk-type products into their diet.

While the use of milk agriculture tended toward a more nomadic living which was more in line with the hunter-gatherer life-style (because of seasons and grazing habits), the invention of cereal grain agriculture to support a psychoactive drug reinforcement is the focus of this essay. I have to say it is logical to assume such a theory. Years ago when I was in college I wrote a paper for a health class I was taking. The topic was the history of psychedelic drugs, mainly LSD and the discovery that it was from a mold that grew on the rye plant. The act of grinding the seeds into a flour and baking didn’t kill the active ingredient of the mold, so the bread that resulted from it got alot of people high and it caused quite a bit of trouble. Mainly witch trials and genocide. It seems many people weren’t having a good “trip”.

The authors mention the discovery/invention of beer also. When you look at it, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between beer and bread.

Could all of the great accomplishments (and violence) of mankind, past, present and future be the result of the urge to party? History from plant molds, the ultimate irony!

Original Article