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The Transition to Agriculture: Climate Reversals, Population Density, and Technical Change

Gregory Dow, Nancy Olewiler () and Clyde Reed ()
Additional contact information
Nancy Olewiler: Simon Fraser University, http://www.econ.sfu.ca/faculty/nancy_olewiler.html
Clyde Reed: Simon Fraser University, http://www.econ.sfu.ca/faculty/clyde_reed.html

Discussion Papers from Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University

Abstract: Until about 13,000 years ago all humans obtained their food through hunting and gathering, but thereafter people in some parts of the world began a transition to agriculture. Recent data strongly implicate climate change as the driving force behind the transition in southwest Asia. We propose a model of this process in which population and technology respond endogenously to climate. After a period of favorable environmental conditions during which regional population grew, an abrupt climate reversal forced people to take refuge at a few favored sites. The resulting spike in local population density reduced the marginal product of labor in foraging and made agriculture attractive. Once agriculture was initiated, rapid technological progress through artificial selection led to domesticated plants. Farming became a permanent part of the regional economy when this productivity growth was combined with climate recovery. The available data on cases of transition and non-transition are consistent with this model but are often inconsistent with rival explanations.

Keywords: agriculture; foraging; hunting and gathering; climate; technology; population density; archaeology; economic anthropology; economic prehistory (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N50 O13 O30 Q10 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2005-01
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