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Who Domesticated Who?
Researchers are working to learn more about the history of agriculture and how humans and our preferred crops coevolved.
The domestication of plants and animals is said to have taken place around 10,000 years ago. With this, a new era of humanity was inaugurated, enabling the development of civilization and our contemporary society as well as the eventual explosion of our population.
Some prominent scholars contend that certain plants domesticated humans. Yuval Noah Harari, for instance, contends that the Agricultural Revolution was a lie. According to him, Homo sapiens were domesticated by plants like rice, wheat, and potatoes rather than the other way around. Since Harari's book lacks scientific data, it has been extensively criticized.
Ultimately, both conceptualizations of domestication are simplistic. Plants and humans were not exclusively domesticated by one another. Throughout time, a relationship that is advantageous to both organisms involved evolved… In other words, we most likely domesticated each other.
A mechanism to test this notion is provided by recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE1. The Human-Plant Coevolution (HPC) model, put forth by the researchers behind this work, generates a wide variety of simulated paths and end-states that could aid in explaining how agriculture developed across a number of distinct scenarios. Since many experts concur that agriculture emerged among humans numerous times independently, the authors expect that this model can be used to explain specific real-world examples that can become very intricate.
The use of modeling and simulation has emerged as an effective alternative for testing hypotheses and developing theory in a field like domestication and the origins of agriculture where the archaeological record is unreliable in terms of both space and time and realistic field experiments are unreliable. Coevolution has rarely been taken into account in simulation models as the primary mechanism causing changes in both plants and people.
Although this field of study, according to the authors in PLOS ONE, "still lacks a unifying theoretical framework," they seek to address this problem by proposing a flexible model that can test numerous theories. The goal of this study was not, and it is by no means, conclusive. Instead, the HPC model acts as a tool that others can use to separate rumor from reality.
The majority of origins of agriculture ideas presuppose intentionality. Or, to put it another way, humans intended to create corn or wheat cultivars that highlight nutritional benefits. However, as a 2021 publication in the journal New Phytologist2 stated, the evidence for either scenario is still lacking. It might have alternatively developed inadvertently. Perhaps further study is required of coevolution.
We'll never know for sure when and why prehistoric ancestors decided to cultivate their own plants rather than go hunting and gathering for food.
Although some ideas are more compelling than others, the Human-Plant Coevolution model provides for better control over factors that may have aided in the development of agriculture.
Angourakis, A., Alcaina-Mateos, J., Madella, M., & Zurro, D. (2022). Human-Plant Coevolution: A modelling framework for theory-building on the origins of agriculture. PloS One, 17(9), e0260904. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260904
Fernandez, A. R., Sáez, A., Quintero, C., Gleiser, G., & Aizen, M. A. (2021). Intentional and unintentional selection during plant domestication: herbivore damage, plant defensive traits and nutritional quality of fruit and seed crops. The New Phytologist, 231(4), 1586–1598. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17452