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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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Discussion Topic

The development and spread of food production in Guns, Germs, and Steel

Summary:

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, the development and spread of food production are key factors in the rise of civilizations. The transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural ones allowed for population growth, technological advancements, and complex social structures. Geographic and environmental factors played crucial roles in determining where and how quickly food production spread, influencing historical trajectories of different societies.

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How did food production spread according to Chapter 5 of Guns, Germs, and Steel?

At the end of Chapter 5, Diamond tells us about two ways in which food production spread.  He says that "founder crops" were passed from one place to another, causing food production to spread.  Diamond asserts that there were two ways in which this could happen.  First, he says, local people adopted the idea of farming from their neighbors.  He says this is how Egypt developed farming.  Second, the "founder package" could have been brought by invaders who replaced the local population.  This is what happened in places like Indonesia and the Philippines.

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Where did food production develop independently according to Guns, Germs, and Steel?

For Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, one of the most important causes in the different amounts of "cargo" produced by different cultures traced back to the neolithic revolution in food production. Essentially, if cultures can produce surplus food, then they are in a position to allow for division of labor, in which artisans devote time to developing crafts or technologies which they can trade for surplus food. Without this surplus, everyone in the community needs to focus exclusively on finding food. 

As mentioned in the previous answer, Diamond identifies five places where food production (as opposed to hunting and gathering) arose independently: in Southwest Asia, China, Mesoamerica, Andes and Amazonia, and Eastern United States. Although other places developed food production, it is impossible to tell if they did so independently or borrowed the ideas from other nearby areas. 

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Where did food production develop independently according to Guns, Germs, and Steel?

The answer to this can be found in graphic form in Table 5.1.  This table gives five places in which food production arose independently as well as a number of places where "founder crops" came from elsewhere and allowed food production to start.  The five places in which it is certain that food production arose independently were:

  • Southwest Asia around 8500 BC.
  • China by 7500 BC.
  • Mesoamerica by 3500 BC
  • Andes and Amazonia by 3500 BC
  • Eastern United States by 2500 BC.

Diamond lists other places where food production might have arisen independently, but these five are the only ones that are certain.

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Where did food production develop independently according to Guns, Germs, and Steel?

You can answer this by looking in Chapter 10.  There, Diamond tells us that food production tended to spread by diffusion.  What this means is that people did not independently discover food production in a whole bunch of different places.  Instead, the idea of food production spread from a group that was farming to its neighbors.  This process of borrowing continued to happen until almost all groups who could farm were farming.  This process of diffusion happened much more easily in Eurasia, with its long east-west axis, than in other continents that had north-south axes.

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