The nature of food production. How can Australasian evidence contribute to our understanding of the origins of this process and its global adoption by human societies?

Gonzalo Linares Matás

BA Archaeology and Anthropology student at St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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Dig It: The Journal of the Flinders Archaeological Society

Volume 3, May 2016

Print: ISSN 1440-2475
Online: ISSN 2203-1898


While food consumption is a basic need, why would anyone engage in the labour-intensive process of food production, when resources capable of satisfying those same needs are naturally available through hunting, gathering and/or fishing? The archaeological record of Australasia, including New Guinea, Melanesia and Australia, offers different perspectives on the processes and the consequences of the adoption of food-producing strategies by human societies. In this paper, I explore the concepts of domestication and cultivation through Australasian evidence, and comparatively with examples from other regions of the world, in order to illustrate the diversity of human relationships with their living and geological environment. I argue that the dependence upon food-producing strategies was the unintended result of a prolonged process, involving a series of conscious decisions by human agents. These decisions were almost surely consistent with the socio-economic context in which they were taken, and it is likely that they pursued the preservation of their former lifestyles rather than socio-cultural change. I further argue that the impact of food production strategies on human communities, within the co-evolutionary context of domestication and cultivation, is particularly relevant for understanding the potential of human adaptive capabilities.


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