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The Tangled Roots of Agriculture

Science  22 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5964, pp. 404-406
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5964.404

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Summary

About 13,000 years ago, a sharp, 1300-year-long cold and dry spell called the Younger Dryas reversed the warming that had followed the last ice age. According to a once-popular hypothesis, the Younger Dryas created an environmental crisis that forced the Natufians, hunter-gatherers who roamed the largely treeless steppes of the eastern Mediterranean region, to begin domesticating plants and animals to ensure that they had enough to eat, thus spurring the world's first experiments with agriculture. Back in 1989, when archaeologists convened the world's leading Natufian experts for a meeting, the Younger Dryas model was well on its way to becoming a leading paradigm for agricultural origins. But when the Natufian mavens got back together for a meeting in Paris last fall, opinions had shifted. In talks and recent journal articles, many researchers rejected the idea that the Younger Dryas forced Near Eastern hunter-gatherers to become farmers—or that the Natufians themselves were precocious farmers, as some had suggested.