What part of the transition from hunting and gathering to a settled, agricultural society would have improved most people's lives, and what parts of the transition would have decreased the quality...

What part of the transition from hunting and gathering to a settled, agricultural society would have improved most people's lives, and what parts of the transition would have decreased the quality of life?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although you do not mention this book in your question, this looks like a question from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.  I will answer the question using evidence from his book (Chapter 6, in particular).  If this is not a question about Guns, Germs, and Steel, please be sure to check your textbook to see if its author agrees with Diamond.

Diamond says that the transition from hunting and gathering to farming would have actually been mostly bad for the people who lived through it.  The real benefits of the transition did not appear (at least for the average person) until long after the transition.  Diamond says that the transition would have had the following negative effects:

  • Farmers tend to spend more hours per day at work than hunter-gatherers do.
  • The first farmers in many places in the world were smaller than their hunter-gatherer ancestors.
  • Many of these first farmers were less well-nourished than the hunter-gatherers.
  • Many of them also had more serious diseases.
  • Finally, they tended to die at younger ages.

The bad part of the transition, then, was that it forced people to work harder (farming is hard work) and to live harder lives because food was less abundant than it had been and diseases were more prevalent.

So what was the good part of the transition?  Diamond does not address this as explicitly in this chapter.  However, elsewhere in the book he says that people would have had access to more technology.  They would have been able to settle down in one place and keep more goods because they did not have to carry everything with them as they migrated.  These facts might have meant that they lived more comfortable lives because they could have more technology and more possessions.

In the long run, of course, the transition to farming has greatly improved our quality of life.  We do not do as much hard, physical labor as we once did.  We live in great comfort and have long lifespans.  The transition has benefitted us tremendously, but evidence shows (Diamond says) that the earliest farmers were not necessarily better off than they would have been if they had continued to live as hunter-gatherers.

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