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Why did our ancestors become farmers?

2 Jun 2014
Description

Ten thousand years ago most people on the globe lived by hunting and gathering, so why did our ancestors become farmers?

Overview

The Golson Lecture was delivered at ANU by Professor Graeme Barker (Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge) on the 21st May, 2014.

Jack Golson's excavations at Kuk in New Guinea have been a fundamental contribution to one of the greatest research problems in archaeology: why did our ancestors become farmers? Ten thousand years ago most people on the globe lived by hunting and gathering. Five thousand years ago most people lived by farming, or by combining farming with hunting and gathering. Today most of the world's population depends for their food on half a dozen plants and, if they are rich enough, on the products of half a dozen animals. So why did our ancestors first become farmers? Did people choose to experiment with domesticating plants and animals, and if so why? Were they pushed into becoming farmers by forces beyond their control like climate change or population pressure? How important were hard-to-study things like ritual, ideology and religion? The lecture will take a global perspective, showing how our understanding has been transformed in recent decades by new scientific approaches, new archaeological theories, and unexpected discoveries, findings increasingly relevant for the sustainability of the present-day agricultural systems on which we depend

Graeme Barker is Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, and Professorial Fellow at St John's College Cambridge. After training in archaeology at Cambridge his career took him to the University of Sheffield, the British School at Rome and the University of Leicester, before he returned to Cambridge in 2004. He has researched extensively on the long-term interactions between people and landscape, and on the lessons of the past for present and future sustainability, a theme he has investigated through major field projects in arid, semi-arid and tropical landscapes (he is currently working in Borneo, Libya and Iraqi Kurdistan). He has published more than 30 books and 250 papers.

 

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2014
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