Institute of Archaeology


Economics Meets Archaeology: The Origins of Agriculture

31 January 2019, 6:00 pm

UCL Institute of Archaeology

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Room 410, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Gregory K. Dow and Clyde G. Reed (Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University) will give the first of three talks at the UCL Institute of Archaeology on 31 January.


The transition to agriculture is generally acknowledged to be the economic foundation for modern civilization. We focus on the shift from foraging to cultivation in southwest Asia around 12,000 years ago and propose an economic model of this process. Our hypothesis is that a large negative climate shock (the Younger Dryas) led to greater aridity, and caused a large pre-existing regional population to migrate toward a few sites having good access to surface water (such as Abu Hureyra). These migration effects led to a decline in the marginal product of foraging labor at the refuge sites, which in turn led to initial cultivation. In the long run, Malthusian population dynamics tended to push the system back toward foraging, while technical progress in cultivation tended to make the transition to agriculture permanent. For southwest Asia, technical change won the race, and agriculture spread across the region in the Holocene. We suggest that similar causal mechanisms may have been at work for some other pristine agricultural transitions.

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All welcome. Any enquiries about these events may be directed to Stephen Shennan.