The Economic History Review

The Neolithic Revolution in the Middle East: A survey and speculation article for the Economic History Review

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Authors: Robert C. Allen
Published online: January 8, 2024DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13307

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This paper investigates the causes and the consequences of the emergence of agriculture in the Middle East. Agriculture has emerged in many parts of the world since the end of the last Ice Age about 15 000 years ago. The paper first surveys the Palaeolithic Period to understand why agriculture did not emerge earlier. Then the paper considers the processes that led to the emergence of agriculture in the Middle East. The question is approached as a problem in economic history, and the archaeological record is understood in terms of changes in labour productivity, as measured by calories produced per hour of work, and in the size of the associated agricultural surplus (the difference between the calories produced by a food procurement system and the calories required to sustain the people trying to support themselves with that system). The shift from foraging to the cultivation of wild seeds and the later impact of the emergence of domestic seed and improvements in tool design are assessed in this framework. It is also used to analyse the impact of agriculture on human wellbeing, the origin of manufacturing (e.g. pottery), and the emergence of inequality, states, and warfare.

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