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Grasses and the Culture History of Man

J. M. J. DeWet
Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Vol. 68, No. 1 (1981), pp. 87-104
DOI: 10.2307/2398812
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2398812
Page Count: 18
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Grasses and the Culture History of Man
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Abstract

The beginnings of plant and animal husbandry are lost in antiquity. It is not possible to determine from the available archaeological record when plant domestication was initiated. Changes in phenotype, however, known to be associated with cereal species under domestication, and preserved in the archaeological record indicate that growing crops was an established way of life some 10,000 years ago. There are four major domesticated cereal complexes. Three evolved in the Old World and one in the New World. Wheat, barley, rye and oats are Near Eastern cereals, and spread across Eurasia early during the history of agriculture. Rice is the principal cereal of South Asia, sorghum and pearl millet the major cereals of the African savanna, and maize is a domesticate of Mesoamerica. Why the shift from hunter-gatherer to settled agriculturist occurred during the culture history of man is not known. Food production may have been initiated when man was faced with a gradual reduction in productivity of effort required to maintain accepted standards of living, traditional group size, and social organization. Once initiated, population pressures in particular will tend to demand agriculture. Hunter-gatherers live in equilibrium with the environment and have little lasting effects on nature. Farming, by its very nature, destroys the natural environment. Habitats are permanently altered, and a return to hunting and food gathering becomes impossible. Survival of civilized man has become absolutely dependent on cereal agriculture. Overpopulation, depletion of resources, planetary pollution, and the social ills of cities are penalties we have to pay for the pleasures of an abundant and stable food supply.

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