The Adoption Of Agriculture: Some Theoretical And Empirical Evidence

Document Type


Publication Date


Published In

American Anthropologist


Using the standard cross-cultural sample, I show that the presence of agriculture in precapitalist societies is only weakly related to the richness of the environment and climate, but is more highly related to the population density. However, the density argument, which is based on the presence of diminishing returns in gathering and hunting, allows many exceptions. A series of other explanations for engaging in agriculture, particularly related to the reduction of risk occurring in the overreliance on other food production modes, are explored. Such an approach forces us to address a somewhat different question: Why haven't all societies adopted agriculture, at least to supply a small portion of their nourishment? Several societies are examined which, by any conventional theory including those proposed in this article, should be engaged in at least some agriculture; but they are not. If this puzzle of the obsence of agriculture is solved, we will be considerably further in understanding the nature of the transition to agriculture.