Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew. That, in his view, might explain why human societies apparently accomplished so little for so long. "If human societies of the early Upper Paleolithic had this new capacity for innovation and creativity which notionally accompanies our species, why do we not hear more about them?" he asks. There is a 45,000-year delay between the time of the ancestral human population and the first great urban civilizations, such as those of Babylon, Egypt, the Harap pan cultures of India and the Shang period of China. If "behaviorally modern" humans evolved 50,000 years ago, why did it take so long for this modernity to be put into practice? Renfrew calls this gap the "sapient paradox." One possibility is that some evolutionary adaptation had first to occur in human social behavior. That would explain why it took so many generations for people to settle down. The adaptation, probably mediated by a suite of genetic changes, would have been new behaviors, perhaps ones that made people readier to live together in larger groups, to coexist without constant fighting and to accept the imposition of chieftains and hierarchy. This first change, of lesser aggressiveness, would have created the novel environment of a settled society, which in turn prompted a sequence of further adaptations, including perhaps the different set of intellectual capacities that is rewarded by the institution of property.
A striking change that preceded settlement is a worldwide thinning or gracilization of the human skull. This change, discussed further in the next chapter, was probably accompanied by a taming or greater sociability, doubtless a necessary step toward settling down in larger groups.
If such a change occurred, it evidently evolved independently in different regions of the world, just as have other human adaptations like pygmy stature and lactose tolerance. Direct evidence for such a change may emerge in time from the human genome once the genes that influence human social organization are identified.
Once people were settled, many new opportunities for human innovation were opened up in technology, trade, warfare and political organization. A salient new technology was that of agriculture, which was invented before the end of the Pleistocene ice age and took off as soon as the climate started to warm up in the Neolithic. The reason for agriculture's rapid spread, archaeologists believe, was that societies of the Near East had preadapted to it, primarily by sedentism but also with efforts to intensify production by seeding wild grasses.^54 Many previous theories about the invention of agriculture have invoked external forces that allegedly pushed a passive human society into taking up cultivation. None is well supported. One thesis holds that population pressure drove people to agriculture. But the archaeological evidence is that human populations grew after the advent of agriculture, not before it. Another proposal is that the warming of the climate after the end of the Pleistocene ice age was the driving force. But climate improvement was much the same everywhere, yet agriculture emerges at very different times in different regions of the world.
"It is important to realize," write Akkermans and Schwartz, "that farming was neither the production of food according to an economic rationale nor an inevitability imposed on early Neolithic communities by large-scale events beyond their control. Instead, the adoption of agriculture was part of the profound transformation of the entire forager society and an adjustment to a wholly different set of societal values and meanings."155 Sustenance is not the only reason for agriculture. One advantage enjoyed by settled societies, and denied to foragers, is the ability to generate and store surpluses. Surpluses form the basis for trade. They can be exchanged for things considerably more vital than extra food, like weapons, or alliances, or prestige.
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