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Top Story

On the origins of agriculture, researchers uncover new clues

The invention of agriculture changed humans and the environment forever and over several thousand years, the practice originated independently in a least a dozen different places. But why did agriculture begin in those places, at those particular times in human history? Using a new methodological approach, researchers have uncovered evidence that underscores one long-debated theory: that agriculture arose out of moments of surplus, when environmental conditions were improving, and populations lived in greater densities. The first-of-its-kind study lends support to existing ideas about the origins of human agriculture. In contrast, the researchers found little support for two other longstanding theories: One, that during desperate times, when environmental conditions worsened and populations lived at lower densities, agriculture was born out of necessity, as people needed a new way of getting food. And two, that no general pattern exists, but instead the story of agriculture's origins is tied to unique social and environmental conditions in each place.

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