Hunter-Gatherer vs. Agricultural Society
Man lived the life of the hunter-gatherer for millions of years. Human beings survived and spread over the earth even during such harsh climatic times as ice ages. It has been argued that human society as a hunter-gatherer was far more beneficial to the individual than our modern life. These hunting societies were so successful that they managed to drive many prey species to extinction using only stone spears as weapons.
When agriculture came on the scene, it allowed people to give up the nomadic life and settle in one location. People often congregated around a reliable source of food, such as a river with spawning salmon. These areas were some of the first that were cultivated. It takes a lot of work to prepare the soil for planting and tend crops. Along with the extra work comes a surplus of food that can provide for larger populations. Cities developed which relied on the growing of various foods to supply them with energy. Labor was done by hand, and there developed a class system with people stratifying into leaders and followers.
Hunter-gatherer societies still survive in isolated regions of the earth inhabited by tribal peoples. These people often live in forest regions that are rich in game and forageable foods. Hunter-gatherers do not live in high concentrations in these areas. It takes a large area of land to support a human being. Often, these people engage in tribal wars for territory or other necessities of life. People lived this way for millions of years. Language was developed in such societies. Primitive peoples also engaged in artistic activities like cave painting and singing and dancing.
Agriculture allowed a ruling class to develop. Agricultural societies were some of the first to employ slaves to do the backbreaking work of planting and harvesting. These societies developed permanent structures, water distribution systems, governments, and armies. Modern society is the result of ten thousand years of agriculture. Farming is the bedrock on which our modern world is built.
Farmers did not just grow plants for sustenance. Agricultural societies developed domesticated animals as a ready source of meat. Land that was in grass could be used to grow sheep for wool and meat. People were no longer reliant on an unsteady supply of game from disappearing wild stocks for high-quality food. Animals also provided milk and eggs, good sources of protein. The animal wastes from the farms were applied to the fields as fertilizer to increase yields long before people understood the scientific reasons behind the use of fertilizer.
Some people think it is the organization of people into states and the construction of cities that led to civilization. None of this would have been possible without the farmers to feed all these people. It is agriculture that allowed some people to lead lives of leisure and develop writing and science. Society was built on the work of the poor people, often held in slavery. Human beings developed a heirarchical society in which a privileged upper class controlled the lower classes that were doing the actual work. Even animals were pressed into service as a source of mechanical energy for the plowing of fields and the threshing of grain.
Today, modern society does not rely on slave labor. People have become intelligent enough to devise machines to do the hard labor of plowing and planting. Our machines run on energy derived from petroleum, coal, nuclear, or hydro power. The earth is home to over six billion people now. We need the power of machines to plant and harvest our crops. We live in buildings with water supplied by pumps and convenient toilet facilities. Our words can be published for the world to read at the click of a virtual button. There are many advantages to living in the modern world. We have health care that goes far beyond what our ancestors could have imagined. We can travel great distances in comfort. All of this is made possible by agriculture, which supplies food for the billions of people on earth.