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Published January 06, 2014, 11:37 AM

Rosmann: Hunting, fishing played important role in development of agriculture

Our earlier human predecessors relied on hunting, fishing and gathering other edibles, such as seeds, fruits and tubers, until they began to grow crops some 13,000 to 15,000 years ago.

By: Mike Rosmann, INFORUM

Our earlier human predecessors relied on hunting, fishing and gathering other edibles, such as seeds, fruits and tubers, until they began to grow crops some 13,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Archeological evidence indicates farming was first undertaken in what was the fertile crescent of southwestern Asia, which encompasses parts of present-day Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

Crop cultivation was independently initiated in southeastern Asia (China and the Indochina peninsula) some 3,000 to 5,000 years later, and in Central and South America another 3,000 years after that. Domestication of livestock is also believed to have begun in southwestern Asia with sheep and goats about 10,000 years ago. Chickens and pigs were domesticated in southeastern Asia about 8,000 years ago, and llamas in Peru some 4,000 years ago.

Hunting and fishing were important precursors to people developing the techniques for crop and livestock production.

Although hunting and fishing are no longer undertaken by most people as they once were – and are repelled by some – latent urges to hunt and fish are part of our genetic background because they had survival value for humans in past eras. After all, those who lacked these capabilities succumbed in the competition for life.

Like dogs and many other animal species that have been domesticated for hundreds of centuries, most of us today can call upon inclinations to hunt and fish in case of necessity. Hunting and fishing for subsistence (and fun) spring from the urge to obtain food and materials for clothing and shelter.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the USDA even classify hunting and fishing as agricultural occupations.

Hunters, fishers and professional guides in these endeavors are considered agricultural producers.

Precursor skills to agriculture brought by hunters and fishers to the continents of Asia, Europe and the Americas from African progenitors likely included tool-making and systematic observation. Tool-making may have included metal refining, as well as shaping stone implements.

There is evidence that the earliest iron smelting occurred in central Africa, but much of the evidence has disintegrated because warm, moist conditions oxidized the remnants.

Likely, humans who migrated from Africa brought rudimentary knowledge of metallurgy with them that were building-blocks for early farmers to make the tools they needed for farming.

Careful systematic comparisons of plants that offered the most nutritious and best-tasting seeds were another precursor skill that migrating human predecessors brought with them from Africa as hunter and gatherers. They selected grains (barley and wheat first) and pulses (legumes that were consumable, such as lentils and beans).

Interestingly, early agriculturists in Asia and the Americas both scavenged and domesticated similar nutritious members of the grass and pulse families. Even maize, the forerunner to corn, is a member of the grass family.

When these keen observers figured out they could grow grains and pulses they preferred, they did not have to rely solely on their skills as hunters, fishers and gatherers for food. Hunting and fishing became less necessary but not forgotten.

A variety of occupations related to hunting and fishing have developed. Besides fishing and hunting for sport and food, wildlife habitat management and trophy procurement on managed environments are rapidly growing agricultural industries.

The economic impact of wildlife habitat management and professionally guided hunting and fishing activities are estimated to generate more $60 billion each year in the U.S. alone.

Breeding wild animals, such as deer and elk for their trophy racks as well as for meat and skins, is a new industry.

We’ve come a long way since our days of relying solely on hunting, fishing and scavenging for essentials to live; these precursor activities contribute to our capabilities to farm.

I wonder, is my tying of fishing flies an agricultural occupation? I suppose not, just like manufacturing agricultural equipment isn’t considered an agricultural occupation, but I will continue to tie flies!

Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact him, go to www.agbehavioralhealth.com.