Sunday, October 14, 2007

Did farming originate with the need for fibre NOT food?

The development of farming in prehistory is commonly believed to be driven by the domestication of plants for food, thought to have taken place in the fertile triangle of the Middle East. Plant domestication has also occurred in other areas, especially if one looks outside the traditional cereal crops. Some argue that facts do not always fit the theory, and that other causes may have driven plant domestication.

A recent article argues very cogently that the need for fibre NOT food, brought the development of cropping / farming and plant domestication.

See and make your own conclusions.

People turned to farming to grow fibre for clothing, and not to provide food, says the author who challenges conventional ideas about the origins of agriculture.

Ian Gilligan, a postgraduate researcher from the Australian National University, says his theory also explains why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers. Gilligan says they did not need fibre for clothing, so had no reason to grow fibre crops like cotton. He argues his case in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association.

"Conventional thinking assumes that the transition to farming was related to people's need to find new ways of getting food," says Gilligan. "That doesn't really make sense for a number of reasons."

Gilligan says it doesn't explain why cultivating plants and domesticating animals only started 10,000 years ago in some areas of the world. He says a better explanation is climate. Cold winds, in the northern hemisphere during the last ice age when was 12-15ÂșC cooler than today, led hunters and gatherers to develop sophisticated forms of clothing.

This included tailored and multilayered clothes, including underclothes, to keep out the cold winds, says Gilligan. Animal hides and furs from hunted animals provided the most suitable warm clothing, he says. But once the climate warmed, humans wanted lighter and more breathable clothing. Textiles based on fibre crops such as cotton, linen and hemp and woolly animals like sheep and goats did the job. At the same time, says Gilligan, clothing became important as a form of display and decoration.

This issue has long been a consideration for those involved with agricultural science, especially in the areas of plant domestication, plant genetic conservation and related areas. The paper is a well argued thesis and does definitely pose some issues to consider. Even a few eminent agricultural scientists including Dr Lindsay Falvey [ ex Melbourne Uni Professor of Agriculture] tend to agree with the concept.

We will probably never know, but this paper certainly creates some new thinking, and opens up a range of options to reconsider.

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