Off the Record Seminar 13/03/2019: Prof. Dorian Fuller

Prof. Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology will be presenting two lectures on early agriculture.

The first lecture, entitled ‘Domestication, Demography and Settlement: Alternative Mathematics for Early Agriculture’ will be presented on Tuesday 5th March in Room 410 at 1pm.

The second talk will be on the subject of ‘From sustainability to investment agriculture: logics of productive consumption and disparity’, and will be held on Wednesday 13th March in Room 612 at 1pm.

All are welcome to attend, and feel free to bring your lunch with you. This promises to be a fascinating pair of talks, and a great way to round off this term’s Off the Record Seminar series.

Lecture 1: Domestication, Demography and Settlement: Alternative Mathematics for Early Agriculture

In this lecture we reconsider the origins of agriculture based on recent empirical evidence that tells us both how grain crops were domesticated and how slowly this process unfolded, in West Asia, East Asia, parts of Africa and India. Archaeobotany is providing a growing evidence base for the ways in which plants became adapted as crops through morphological changes, which were in turn tied to shifts in human practices. The co-evolution was slow, however, and it will be argued that the more revolutionary shift towards agricultural economies was substantially later (a few millennia) than the start of domestication itself. Agricultural economies can be defined as those systems in which wild foraging came to make a much reduced or even marginal caloric contribution to diet, and efforts at food production began to take place at a landscape scale. Different regional trajectories, however, differed in terms of the nature of landuse due to fundamental differences in the potential of crop yields, and the diversity of the initial crop package. This meant that some regions, such as West Asia based on wheat, barley and pulses or the Yangtze based on flooded rice and fish, were able to sustain denser populations, while other regions, like savannas in Africa or India or the northern Chinese steppe were more prone to agricultural expansion through population dispersal and regional infilling. Thus from the starting point of domestication we can trace variations in productive capacity that underpinned the demographic processes that led to the emergence of cities across parts of the Old World.

Lecture 2: From sustainability to investment agriculture: logics of productive consumption and disparity

Between the Neolithic origins of agriculture and the establishment of hierarchical, urban societies, key agricultural transformations took place. These included both the expanded production of staple grains, underpinned by innovations in agriculture, and the development of additional domesticated crops, especially perennial trees and shrubs. Innovations varied across Old World regions, but included the deployment of animal labour in tillage (in West Asia), control of water (in Yangtze China), new crop combinations and rotations that improved maintenance of soil fertility (in North China), but also interdependent specialization in pastoral versus crop production (in parts of Africa). Post-Neolithic agricultural innovation also included the domestication of perennial tree fruits and vines, from olives, grapes and dates in the West, to peaches and jujube in the East, to cotton, mango and citron in India. These new perennial crops required a new time perspective, investment for yields 5, 10 or 20 years in the future, and with nothing like the caloric return of grains. This only became possible through the development of secure, longer term land tenure, and made sense in terms of a logic of production for trade, as agricultural produce became part of the emerging commodification that was early cities. This overall trajectory was one of a shift from a Neolithic emphasis on sustainability of food supply and land use towards investment agriculture for longer-term wealth generation from the land. The varied potential of land to return investment contributed to disparity between landholders and across regions.

OTR Dorian Fuller.jpg





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