IN cultural anthropology, sedentism (sometimes called sedentariness; compare sedentarism) simply refers to the practice of living in one place for a long time. As of 2017 the majority of people belong to sedentary cultures.

For thousands of years Homo sapiens roamed the Earth as hunter gatherers during the Archaic period which ended in roughly 2000 BC. These small bands constantly moved from one place to another to find more food and fresh water but in return had little material possessions to carry with them, resulting in a time frame that is relatively void of any archaeological evidence. What, then, compelled these people to settle down into villages and assume the life of a farmer?

Simply because there are over 60,000-70,000 years of human history we have little evidence of, doesn’t mean to say that we should dismiss it. There may have been emperors whose empire spanned the size of the Euro-Asia, or great storytellers to rival those of Shakespeare and Tolkien but without the necessary evidence we cannot even be sure these events occurred. Anthropologists must therefore ask questions that do not have an answer simply to excuse the notion that those early humans did little with their lives. [1]

One question raised is why the hunter gatherers decided to settle in villages and take up trade. Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” argues the plants we cultivated actually domesticated us and not the other way around. He suggests that the crops such as wheat ‘manipulated’ the Homo sapiens into putting more and more effort into its cultivation and livelihood. The hardships wheat faced to grow such as thirst meant that Homo sapiens had to build extensive irrigation systems or carry heavy buckets of water from the river to the wheat. Our biological bodies had not evolved to carry buckets and this brought with it a whole host of problems such as slipped disks and hernias. It also meant that the Homo sapiens had to live near the wheat and so settled in houses so it is from this that Harari bases his claim.

Whilst Harari makes some claims that are rather rash about casual connections, [2] (and wheat can be classified as an inanimate object so cannot domesticate) it could still be said trap agriculture was the reason why Homo sapiens settled into villages.

We cannot think of this as a quick transition where a band of hunter gatherers decided one day to settle and cultivate a field.; the transition was over hundreds of thousands of years and took place in stages with only a small chang to everyday life. The Agricultural Revolution also wasn’t some great improvement as we would expect it to be, as Harari explains in his book, but it enabled more food to be grown per square kilometre than ever before but there was increasingly less security by doing this because if the crops failed one year, they starved. Harari explains, but should be taken with a pinch of salt, how the “essence of the Agricultural revolution was the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions”. [3]

In the next part I will explain the social consequences of the Agricultural Revolution and impending Sedentism.



[1] pg.69 (Harari,2011)

[2] (Strawson,2014)

[3]pg. 94 (Harari, 2011)