Views on the Effects of the Advent of Agriculture

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Views on the Effects of the Advent of Agriculture


4,000 BC:

Today, I awoke when the sun was just over the treetops. It was wonderful to be
able to sleep in again. Our last hunt was so successful, we've had enough meat to feed the entire tribe for three days, now, and we feel that it will suffice until tomorrow, when we'll go out again. The big game is everywhere, lately. Later on this afternoon, I plan on taking our tribe's oldest son out into the wilderness to help him with his spear-throwing technique. I slept with one of the women of our tribe last night. My cousin will lay with her tonight, and her sister has asked me to lay with her . For some reason, the rythm of the furs seems to be most passionate just before a hunt. Perhaps it's the beat of the drums of the Ceremony of the Hunt; the dancing of the bon-fire flames; the voices of men and women shouting the invocations of the Bison-gods, again thanking them for the sucess of the last hunt. We praise them for the abundance they provide. So tomorrow, we will again set out to find another herd of large game which will hopefully feed us for another three or four days. We follow the game. No two more than four or five nights are ever spent in the same place. It is the dynamic nature of our people. If we stay too long in one place, the Earth will not provide for us. We must move on. Nothing is more refreshing than seeing the dawn in an entirely new surrounding (except, perhaps, not seeing the dawn at all, because the previous evening was so good).

1,500 BC:

I killed my brother yesterday. He fornicated with my woman. I came home from
my days work, harvesting the potatoes, and found him mounting her in my own house. It
was my right to take his life. The rest of the village was pleased with my actions. I was protecting my possessions. When I first caught the two of them, I called two of my cousins to help detain my brother. That evening, we held a meeting with the chief and all the wise men of the village. It was decreed that I was to take his life in full view of the whole village. The only time such things are allowed is during the Fertility Dances which take place only once a year, and whose time is dictated by the chief.

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Otherwise, that woman is mine, and mine alone. So, with a ceremonial obsidian dagger, I carved a circle in his throat, and allowed him to drown in his own blood. My wife has been shunned by the village, and so I must agree with them that she be exiled. After I am finished with my work today, I will go to the northern most edge of the village, where we will scar her arm with a stone cutting tool, and send her out into the mountains. Although I must agree with the decisions of my Elders, I do not wish to be without her. Alas, I still have my work to keep busy my mind. Perhaps, out of pity for my loneliness, the Elders will see fit to replace her for me. There are quite a few young girls who have just recently first bled. They would make wonderful wives. We shall see. I will leave it up to the wisdom of the Elders and the Chief.

These two fictional, "first-hand" accounts describe two very different lifestyles and societies. Their harsh contrasts show how drastically the human experience was altered in the prehistoric world by the advent of an agricultural, more sedentary way of life. Using some artistic license, the two passages above focus on the aspect of sexual
expression as a means of viewing the values of the two cultures.

The first is an account of the hunter/gatherer way of life of 6,000 years ago. As
far as modern archaeologists and anthropologists can surmise from the material culture
that has survived from this period of time, these were an egalitarian people. Plato's
Atlantis, and all other Utopian societies only dreamt about by modern humans were all
encompassed in the ways of the hunter/gatherer.

All of the needs of the hunter/gatherer were met with a minimal amount of
work. Modern Archaeologists estimate that the hunter/gatherer worked an average of
twenty hours a week, (Isbell, 262) at chores of hunting, food preparation, tool making and the gathering of wild plants. Most of the time was spent just waiting for the next hunt. It was a very existential way of life. Individuals interacted directly with the group on a whole.

The second account shows the perspective of a prehistoric agriculturalist. With
the advent of agriculture came a more sedentary, complex society of chiefs who were
seen as omnipotent and elders as advisors to those chiefs. The reasons for this social
change was an increasing need for social order.

One of the side effects of an agricultural society, is an increase in population.
When a village contains an excess of 1,000 people, things need to be regulated. Someone
must decide when to plant, when to harvest, etc. When people begin to take on such
powers, it is not uncommon for them to assume others on top of those. This is when things may get out of hand, as illustrated by the second "first hand" account. The chief is not disputed in any way. His decision to banish the wife, his power over the festivals, etc. are all examples of the beginnings of "the economic conditions which form the material basis of the present struggles between classes and nations." (Marx, 1)

These fictional accounts also show two very different approaches to sex and women. In the first one, the women were not treated as possessions, nor were men. However, in the second, that was definetly not the case. Now, it is possible that this is a completely false representation of the actual past, but it serves to illustrate the point that possession of property was now an issue. When a society becomes divided into classes,
what easier way to distinguish between a member of one caste from one of another than
how many tools he owns, how much jewelery he wears in his ears or how beautiful his
woman is?

Now, it is appropriate to note that nothing done is done without a certain amount of underlying political agendas.(Isbell, 125) This is also present in modern archaeology, modern classrooms, as well as this very essay. Although the physical evidence of the material culture of these times does strongly suggest the implications covered herein, one must always understand who is looking at this evidence. It is probable that the hunters/gatherers were egalitarian, and that the rise of agriculture was the beginning of all complex societies. Whether or not this was a detrimental change, socially, remains entirely up to the observer looking at the evidence through the eyes of his own culture, as well as his own particular place therein.

Works Cited

Binghamton, Isbell, William, Anthropology 262, “Lecture Notes”, 1999

Binghamton, Isbell, William, Anthropology 125, “Lecture Notes”, 1999

New York, Marx, Karl, Wage-Labour and Capital/ Value, Price and Profit, International Publishers, 1995


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