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Did farming arise from a misapplication of social intelligence?

By S. Mithen


The origins of farming is the defining event of human history-the one turning point that has resulted in modern humans having a quite different type of lifestyle and cognition to all other animals and past types of humans. With the economic basis provided by farming, human individuals and societies have developed types of material culture that greatly augment powers of memory and computation, extending the human mental capacity far beyond that which the brain alone can provide. Archaeologists have long debated and discussed why people began living in settled communities and became dependent on cultivated plants and animals, which soon evolved into domesticated forms. One of the most intriguing explanations was proposed more than 20 years ago not by an archaeologist but by a psychologist: Nicholas Humphrey suggested that farming arose from the 'misapplication of social intelligence'. I explore this idea in relation to recent discoveries and archaeological interpretations in the Near East, arguing that social intelligence has indeed played a key role in the origin of farming and hence the emergence of the modern world

Year: 2007
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