The ‘Neolithic Revolution’ in the ninth millennium in Mesopotamia and Syria saw a fundamental shift in mode of production from hunter-gatherer to semi-settled agriculture. The mutual domestication of human beings, plants, and animals (goats first, then sheep, and later cattle and pigs) produced very different approaches to and perceptions of these relations, as with the foodstuffs eaten and nature of life. But was it a great leap forward, from nature to culture?

Not in all respects, for any new mode of production brings with it blessings and curses. The transition from the ease of hunter-gatherer existence to the hard work of agriculture introduced new diseases that relied on the human beings and animals for the life cycle of organisms, such as worms and tuberculosis. Droughts and famines had more catastrophic consequences, while the increasingly temperate climate encouraged from the wetlands malaria, hookworm, tetanus, and schistosomiasis. More permanent settlements with their refuse encouraged flies, fleas, mosquitoes, rats, wild dogs, and wild cats, all potential disease carriers. Also found in skeletal remains are signs of malnutrition from a more limited diet, deformities in the vertebrae, lower back, knees, toes, and wrists, developed from carrying heavy loads, incessant seeding, nurturing, harvesting, and threshing of grains, as well as loss of teeth, ground down from the course diet (which was relieved only with the introduction of cooking in pottery vessels late in the Neolithic period). Life expectancy was between twenty-five to thirty, with only 50-60% of children attaining maturity.

Advertisements