Why did humans take so long to create civilization? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved about 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. However, it marks the first step towards civilization, the harvest and the domestication of crops, which began some 10,000 years ago, when the earliest civilization emerged some 6,400 years ago.
In 95% of human history, we have not cultivated, built large settlements, or formed complex political hierarchies. We live in small nomadic groups and live a life of hunting and gathering. Then something changed.
We moved from hunter-gatherer life to plant harvesting, began farming, and eventually developed cities. It's worth noting that the transformation began after the disappearance of the ice age megafauna - that is, after the extinction of mammoths, earth sloths and giant deer and horses. The reason why humans started farming remains unclear, but perhaps because the disappearance of the animals on which we live forced human civilization to begin to evolve.
Early humans were already capable of farming. All groups of modern humans have essentially the same level of intelligence, suggesting that our cognitive abilities evolved about 300,000 years ago, before different populations split on the evolutionary path, and then barely changed. Those ancestors who did not start planting plants were not because they were not smart enough, but were stopped by something in the environment, or they did not need it at all.
When the last ice age ended 11700 years ago, global warming could make farming easier. Because of rising temperatures, growing seasons, increasing rainfall and long-term climate stability, more parts of the world have become suitable for farming. But the problem is that until then the earth is unlikely to be cultivated everywhere. And the planet has experienced such warming many times before, thousands of years ago,200,000 years ago, but early warming has not spurred attempts at farming. Therefore, climate change will not be the only driving force for farming.
Human migration may also have an impact. As humans expanded from southern Africa to the entire continent and into Asia, Europe and America, they discovered new environments and new plants that could be used as food. But people arrived in these areas far earlier than the beginning of farming, and plant domestication emerged tens of thousands of years later than human migration.
Compared with foraging, agriculture has obvious disadvantages. Agriculture needs to pay more, people's leisure time will be reduced, and sometimes the quality of diet will also decline. If the hunters are hungry in the morning, they can roast food on the fire at night. Today's hard work takes a few months to pay off, or end up empty. Moreover, agriculture also means the need for the management of temporary surplus food to ensure that it meets the needs of people throughout the year.
If a hunter finds nothing today, he can go hunting again tomorrow or go elsewhere to find more prey. But land-related farmers are left at the mercy of the fickle nature. Rain comes too early or too late, and drought, frost, blight or locust infestation can lead to crop failure and even famine.
From a military perspective, agriculture also has shortcomings. Hunter-gatherers are more flexible and can travel long distances to strike or retreat. Their day-to-day lives have made them valiant warriors, with weapons such as spears and arrows. But farmers take root in the fields, their schedules are seasonal, their lives are fixed, and their food reserves appeal to hungry outsiders.
Perhaps human nature likes to become a nomadic hunter, thus hunting as a way of life. The Comanche Indians fought to the death to keep their hunting lifestyle alive. In southern Africa, the Basumans of Kalahari have always resisted being turned into farmers and pastoralists. In addition, it is even more surprising that when Polynesian farmers meet many flightless birds in New Zealand, they have largely abandoned agriculture and created a Maori hunting culture.
But things have changed. Since 10,000 years ago, humans have repeatedly abandoned the hunting-gathering lifestyle and begun farming. Perhaps from the Pleistocene, after the extinction of mammoths and other large animals and the overhunting of surviving animals, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle became less easy, forcing people to harvest and grow plants. Perhaps the birth of civilization did not stem from the impetus of progress, but from the disaster, which forced people to abandon their traditional way of life.
As humans leave Africa for the New World, every place we set foot on is accompanied by the disappearance of large animals. Almost without exception. In Europe and Asia, large animals such as woolly rhinos, mammoths and Irish moose disappeared about 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. In Australia, giant kangaroos and wombats disappeared 46000 years ago. In North America, horses, camels, giant armadillos, mammoths and ground sloths gradually decreased and disappeared from 11,500 years ago to 15,000 years ago, and then became extinct in South America 8,000 to 14,000 years ago. When humans stepped on the Caribbean Islands, Madagascar, New Zealand and Oceania, the large fauna of those regions also disappeared.
Hunting large prey like horses, camels and elephants is naturally more rewarding than hunting small prey like rabbits. But large animals tend to breed longer and have fewer offspring than small animals and are therefore more vulnerable to overhunting. Wherever we humans go, we can hunt with spear throwers with our own ingenuity, gather animals with the aid of fire, and push them to the edge of a cliff, meaning we kill large animals much faster than they reproduce themselves. This is arguably the first sustainability crisis.
As previous lifestyles are no longer feasible, humans may be forced to innovate, paying more and more attention to harvesting and planting plants to meet survival needs. This has led to an increase in the human population. Feeding on plants is a more efficient way of land use than feeding on meat, so farming in the same area can feed more people than hunting. People can settle there all the time, build settlements, and then go to civilization.
Archaeological and fossil records tell us that our ancestors could have started farming long ago, but they did so only after they had no choice. We might have hunted horses and mammoths all the time, but we were so good that we probably ended up destroying our own food supplies.
Agriculture and civilization did not emerge because they improved the way our ancestors lived, but because we had no choice. When we consume more than the ecosystem can afford, agriculture is our backlash. If so, it's not visionary and intentional to abandon the life of ice-age hunters and start creating the modern world, but just a fluke, because we personally created an ecological disaster thousands of years ago.
Writing: Nick Longrich (Senior Lecturer in Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Bath) Original titled \"Howtheextinctionoficeagemammalsmayhaveforcedustoinventcivilisation \", first published on December 20,2019 in The Conversation, original link: https:\/\/\/how-the-extraction-of-ice-age-mammals-may-have-forced-us-to-invent-civiation-128799, Chinese content for reference only, all in the original text.