Macalester Reviews in Biogeography


Ranging between 11,000 and 4,000 years ago, several independent origins of agriculture appeared, though scholars disagree on exactly how many. This period, known as the “Neolithic Revolution” or the “Origins of Agriculture,” marks the initial emergence of food production economies. Archaeologists and biologists have worked alongside one another, often using a biogeographical approach, to investigate the origins of useful species, their range expansion, and genetic evolution through analyzing remains found at excavation sites around the world. Plant communities influence patterns in human behaviors and by understanding trends in biogeography we can begin to answer questions such as: Why did plant domestication occur where and when it did? Or, what sorts of evolution and dispersal of domesticates occurred? Understanding patterns of plant domestication is important in understanding distribution patterns in today’s society because it marks the beginning of the most significant developments in human history. Factors such as warmer climates, emergence of seasonality, and physical geography shaped the differences in threatened food security at the turn of the Pleistocene- Holocene. Hunter-gatherer societies turned to crop domestication in order to control their food supplies in a variety of ways. Regional differences in physical geography, soil fertility and local climate variations explain the emergence of different origins around the globe. This paper is a broad review of current and past literature that has shaped our understanding of plant domestication. The research I focus on attempts to answer the question of why agriculture emerged where and when it did, and how plant domesticates subsequently evolved and dispersed. I will discuss the significance of this type of research, review some methodologies, explore incongruities in the field with regard to conceptualizations, outline the biogeography of the independent origins of agriculture, and finally the discuss the human ecology of agricultural societies.