Why is the beginning of cultivation regarded as a landmark in the history of human progress?

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Cultivation is considered by many to be the very origin of civilization itself. Prior to cultivation, humans were hunter-gatherers. This meant they were nomadic, following herds of animals or available plants that hadn’t been picked over, and they were at the mercy of the environment and the availability of food.

Cultivation changed that and, for the first time in history, gave humans an opportunity to exert some form of control over nature and the surrounding environment. With food being grown intentionally, people could settle and congregate. They could build permanent structures and settlements, leading to the first cities. Additionally, cultivation led to a surplus of food, which meant that livestock could be kept and people could focus their efforts on other pursuits, such as building, warfare, and creativity. Without cultivation, civilizations wouldn’t have the opportunities or free time to ponder life, observe patterns, and create math and science.

Additionally, cultivation created a need for a calendar system. Knowing how to measure the days and years was crucial to understanding the growing and reaping seasons. This need led to the development of historical record-keeping, advanced mathematics, astronomy, and many other sciences.

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Before humans began cultivating grains such as wheat and barley, they relied on being hunter-gathers. That meant they derived their food from animals they hunted and wild berries, nuts, grains, and vegetables they foraged. They could preserve some food but mostly they ate what they had and lived nomadically, following their food sources. They were limited to relatively small populations by the amount of calories they had available.

Once, however, humans learned how to cultivate and grow grains, they could stay in one place, and they could produce and store much more food than they could eat at once. This allowed their populations to grow. This also meant there was a surplus in wealth. This surplus allowed for the development of leisure classes who could devote themselves to learning and the arts. The surplus also allowed for large building projects, such as the pyramids in Egypt, and to the growth of densely populated urban areas.

All of this was a landmark that changed how humankind lived in fundamental ways. Scholars argue over whether these changes were for the better or the worse. On the plus side, arts, science, and knowledge flourished, but on the negative side social stratification developed and formerly equal societies become very unequal, with some living as slaves while others led very privileged lives.

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