Plant domestication, which led to agriculture, arguably has had among the deepest or most profound impacts on modern societies relative to all other human innovations. Not only did it lead to greater availability of food, allowing societies to grow in population, but it enabled a large labor force to be freed to pursue other specialties. Additionally, technologies related to agriculture, even today, continue to have profound consequences on all societies, for better and worse. Finally, with domestication, the plant’s environment has also profoundly changed.
Plant domestication was initially thought to have first appeared in the Fertile Crescent, with later societies in the Nile, Yellow River, and Indus valleys also adopting domesticated plants. However, now it has become evident that various societies have independently discovered how to domesticate given plants for food production. These plant staples have included wheat, barley, rice, lintels, beans, millet, corn/maize, and others (Figure 1).
Several results ultimately developed with the domestication of these plants. First, the benefits of plant domestication was to increase food supplies and make them more predictable. Although plants, as they become domesticate, are susceptible to disease and other detrimental results, over time genetics of plants begin to alter. For wheat, barley, and other grains, these developments can take hundreds of years before fully domesticated varieties form. However, once domesticated varieties form, they now require societies to more fully invest in them. This includes removing weeds, providing fertilizer, and harvesting at appropriate times so that yields are not lost. Thus, one of the first major impacts of domesticated plants is how they required societies to be settled, where labor began to focus on the care of grain production and other domesticated plants. Greater dependence on plant domestication ultimately makes societies live in villages, towns, and even cities. This change led to a change in gender roles, often leading to the emphasis of men being more focused on production and creation of food resources, while women became caretakers of the home. Previously, women likely spend much of their time collecting food for human societies. In effect, domestication led to a major cultural evolution and not just a new mode in obtaining food.
Categories: History of Food