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Domestication Across Regions: History, Paths & Patterns

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  • 1:17 Different Paths
  • 2:38 Innovation Around the World
  • 3:55 Different Patterns
  • 5:15 Resulting Expansion
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, we look at patterns of how communities have domesticated plants and animals. We'll also consider why some communities stayed nomadic or returned to being nomadic.

Central-Place Theory

It's a tough time to be a Natufian settler. It's about 9500 BCE and for generations the people of this ancient culture of the Eastern Mediterranean have been able to live as hunter-gatherers in base camps because of plentiful wild game and wild wheat and barley. The population of the community has grown as a result, and there are plenty of people to feed. Yet a climate fluctuation is altering their way of life with drier conditions limiting what plants and animals will flourish in the wild.

Experts believe that Natufian settlers had to ask themselves some tough questions in order to survive. They had to decide whether to return to a more nomadic way of life - moving from place to place with the food available - or to continue their settlements and start to water the plants themselves, becoming some of the earliest farmers on Earth.

This lesson looks at what influenced people in certain regions to begin domesticating plants and animals, what different paths were available to them, and what patterns emerged as a result.

Different Paths

What is the smartest thing that a Natufian settler can do, given their circumstances? The answer depends on the particular area in which they lived. For instance, domesticating plants and animals in the new, drier climate made sense for those living near bodies of water. They were likely to stay and cultivate the plants and animals in that area. On the other hand, if a settler was farther from water sources, the best choice was to return to a nomadic lifestyle as hunter-gatherers.

People of the other regions of the world had to respond to their own unique circumstances. These shifts would happen over a long period of time. Groups of humans chose different paths depending on their own geographic features, like bodies of water; the climate changes they were experiencing, like wetter or drier conditions; the plants and animals native to their lands; and the cultural perspective of the people. The differences in regions help explain why some groups chose to pursue domestication in the first place. These differences also explain why certain areas were more likely to domesticate certain plants and animals compared with others.

Innovation Around the World

The spread of information among their communities influenced what developments were made by groups of people. As a group met with success with domestication efforts, their methods were shared among people, leading to many local and regional groups becoming able to domesticate the same plants and animals in their area.

However, it's important to note that plant and animal domestication was not an innovation that developed among one group of humans and was shared throughout the rest of the world. Domestication occurred in various regions of the world, independently of one another. From this point, techniques and approaches could be shared, but many regions had developed the movement toward domestication without interacting with other parts of the world.

The Middle East was the first region of people to pursue domestication 10,000 years ago, or 8000 BCE, including wheat and barley, sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. Meanwhile, other regions of the world began their own process of domesticating individualized sets of living organisms. China, for instance, also cultivated pigs, separately from those in the Middle East.

Different Patterns

Humans settling down into towns is known as sedentism. Sedentism often coincided with planting crops and breeding animals. Greater plant and animal domestication generally meant a greater likelihood of many settlers being able to live in one area.

In other cases, a culture might have domesticated a plant or animal long before they became more sedentary. For instance, in the area of what is now Mexico, people had domesticated plants like beans, squash, and maize well before creating settlements.

Sometimes circumstances might lead a community to continue nomadic activities, even after experiencing a more sedentary lifestyle, as in the example of some of the Natufian hunter-gatherers who had to uproot their lives since they could no longer survive in settlements in the drier climate.

These different patterns also influenced which human beings and regions accumulated more wealth. Farmers who created large surpluses could pass along this abundance to children. This led to greater inequalities, such as some individuals and families having more than others. Even certain societies could become wealthier than others due to these geographic differences.

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