The Advent of Agriculture and the Beginning of Settlement

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

As hominids evolved and gained more knowledge and experience with their habitat, they began to experiment with growing their own food and agriculture was initiated. (P. 22, Russell) The first indication of agricultural practices dates back more than 20,000 years. It has been previously thought that agriculture was only about 10,000 years old but more recent archeological finds indicate evidence of farming at over 20,000 years ago and evidence of advanced settlements with large permanent structures, sophisticated tools and art. The first attempts to increase their food supply was to encourage increased output of desired plants in the wild by pruning, clearing competing plants away, some primitive forms of irrigation when needed, burning foliage to encourage new growth by enriching the soil and other forms of cultivation.

Farming did not occur as a conscious choice as there was no farming in nature to imitate. It was much more experimental in nature and developed through observation of how plants grew and replicated themselves. Some early humans did not desire to employ farming and remained hunters and gatherers but did some trading with farming tribes to supplement their food supply. Others experimented and traded seeds and methods, which helped spread the practice of agriculture across the continents. Over a long period of time involving thousands of years, agriculture eventually became the primary way of obtaining nutrition from the environment.

The shift to farming and domesticating animals that followed agriculture has been described as a piecemeal set of circumstances. Some theorists suggest climate changes and other factors made foraging more difficult. Some animals were hunted to extinction and certain flora, were also over utilized such that gathering became more difficult. In some regions, however, flora became more prolific and encouraged a shift towards a fruit, grain and vegetable-oriented diet. Agriculture and hunting and gathering became competing sources of food procurement that shifted back and forth as different types of food sources became more available. Thus, there was no clear or definitive pattern for the change from foraging to farming but as natural food resources became depleted due to population growth and increased nutritional intake, the shift towards agriculture became more apparent and eventually superseded hunting and gathering.

Other factors apply as well. Nomadic life had its own set of problems such as the ability to find suitable shelter, water, food and other resources as well as safety issues from animals and environmental conditions. Constantly moving large numbers of individuals presented arduous logistical tasks as well. The ability to cultivate plants reduced the need to migrate to hunt and gather and more permanent settlement became possible. Also, more food could be obtained by farming than by hunting and farmed products could be stored for future use as well.

It is commonly thought that hunter-gatherers were children of the earth, were connected to its ebb and flow, had respect for the totality of life and considered the Earth to be their home. This portrayal is predicated on the fact that early humans have left evidence that they did conserve resources, tended to hunt and gather for food as needed, utilized available resources pragmatically and valued leisure time to devote to family, ceremonies and religious rituals. This notion has also been exaggerated to some extent to rebuke the destruction of nature by modern man and to give preference to their lifestyle as an example of where we went wrong.

Many scientists and historians however, think that early humans did what was necessary to survive, without either a motive for conquest or adequate knowledge of safe environmental practices.

Given their small initial populations, it is unlikely that extensive deterioration of the environment could have been caused by mere agriculture and grazing, although it is suspected that some such damage was indeed rendered, especially with the use of fire to clear land for farming. Despite a lack of concrete historical evidence, I believe that a mixture of survival needs and connection with their habitat provided the impetus for their decisions and actions. I feel strongly about this because numerous primitive indigenous cultures that still exist today tend to maintain a healthy relationship with their surroundings and have been noted to employ sustainable living as a practice of their culture. Eastern societies have also been historically more oriented towards environmentally responsible practices and feeling connected with the Earth.

Agriculture was a significant advancement as populations could now search for more suitable or preferred habitats and create permanent settlements. This arrangement allowed for the designing and construction of more sophisticated and safer shelters that could accommodate large populations in a communal setting. This, in turn, led to increased interaction, communication and the learning and sharing of information that speeded up cultural development. This process continued and eventually resulted in the formation of more and more complex societies that comprised governing bodies, armies, social structures, religions and simple economic systems. This encouraged communication, learning, education, the development of societal norms and mores, religion, art, philosophy, science, psychology, medicine, technology and economics. As learning and knowledge continued to increase, all the mentioned factors advanced the standards of living and more time could be devoted to family and cultural endeavors as well.

Agriculture, thus initiated the practice of utilizing the environment to maintain an adequate food supply for growing populations. This resulted in an incremental increase in environmental degradation that became proportional to the rise in population and consequent agricultural activities. Slash and burn techniques caused deforestation, erosion of valuable topsoil and the vanishing of available land for farming. Eventually, the practice of repeatedly using the same plots of land was employed but keeping the soil replenished was difficult without modern fertilizers and domesticated animals did not provide enough manure to provide adequate fertilization either.

Agriculture also introduced a new concept: ownership of the land, food and animals by individuals and their respective tribes, societies and organizations. The act of tending to crops and herding animals gave humans the impression that their efforts and labor entitled them to take possession of the Earth’s resources for their own interests. This attitude led to land ownership disputes and much conflict as fertile farming land became scarce due to the amount of food needed by a given group of people. Intense battles over land acquisition became prevalent and the need for a developed military system to procure land and resources became a new pattern of behavior. This change, utilizing aggression to acquire natural resources, has led to the rise and fall of many cultures, large and small, throughout history and is still a prevalent practice of modern societies.

Specialization also began to occur with some of the population engaging in religion, government, the manufacture of tools and weapons and the establishment of military bodies. These developments resulted in an ever-increasing negative impact on local ecosystems. In addition to what has just been mentioned, a change in attitudes ensued, from one of dependence on nature to one of significantly more independence and the impression that the environment could be managed and manipulated primarily for the proliferation of the human species without regard for degradation to their habitat.

When settlements became significantly large, farming, the building of living structures, the use of fire for cooking, and heating and making tools and weapons depleted the local forests. The damaged forests allowed erosion to occur and the valuable topsoil eroded or blew away. This also affected the water table and caused the land to become arid. So, overshoot and using natural resources without adequate knowledge of how local ecosystems function led to significant environmental degradation. All these factors eventually caused the failure of almost all civilizations throughout history and this phenomenon is still a looming danger to our modern societies as well. 

In summary, agriculture had a profound effect upon the way humanity developed into complex civilizations as well as being instrumental in determining their lifestyles, politics, economics, ideologies and their interactions with their environment. Unfortunately, the means humans employed to feed themselves has resulted in significant habitat degradation throughout history and continues to be one of the most difficult problems modern societies face today.


Russell, Peter. Waking up in Time, Levers for the Mind, p. 22. Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA  94945, Copyright 1992 by Peter Russell.

Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance, Ecology and the Human Spirit, Seeds of Privation, pp.126-127. © by al Gore 1992, Rodale Inc.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel, To Farm or Not to Farm, pp. 104-113. W. W. Norton and Company, NY and London, 1997.

Oosthoek, K. Jan. “Environmental History – Between Science and Philosophy.” Environmental History Resources, Accessed 31 May 2020.

Devall, Bill and Sessions, George. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered, The Minority Tradition and Direct Action, p. 21.1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc.

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World, Ninety-nine Per Cent of Human History, pp. 19-20, 53-54, 68-69. 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY.

The Arrival of the Hominid

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Homo erectus was the beginning of the development of the more human-like species that evolved into what we have become today. There are many classifications for early hominids based upon their ancestry and developmental traits, the last of which are known as Homo sapiens or modern humans. Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years and behavioral modernity began approximately 50,000 years ago.

The arrival of Homo erectus marked a significant advance in the ability of a species to interact with its environment. They were primarily hunters and gatherers that had learned how to make and use stone tools and utilize fire. They did not yet have a well-developed language but did have a means of communication that was more sophisticated than that of chimpanzees, bonobos or other primates.

When their ability to walk upright on two legs developed, the elevated perspective allowed a wider and farther view of the terrain and freed up their hands to function as tools. Advantages included better navigation, advance notice of danger and the ability to carry, throw, climb, hold, grasp, pull, pound, manipulate and build things such as tools and primitive shelters. Gathering food and other resources became easier and more efficient. Making weapons was not a primary development to kill animals as has been previously thought. Most human endeavors centered around gathering and processing plants and seeds for nutrition and other needs.

The upright posture also had social implications. It allowed for more physical intimate contact among individuals, as their limbs were now free to hold and embrace each other more readily. This also allowed mothers to be more intimate with their children and to provide more nurturance and affection. This promoted positive social relationships, collaboration and cooperation.

Men and women shared responsibilities, maintained equality in status and functioned in a collaborative manner. Children were parented by any or all of the adults and lineage issues were considered unimportant. Sexual behavior was typically non-monogamous, open-ended and served to bond all members of the tribe, thereby fulfilling vital intimacy needs. 

Hunters and gatherers lived in close proximity to the land and felt connected to their habitat. The Earth’s ecosystems in the semi-tropical and tropical regions where humanity evolved were abundant in flora and fauna and made the hunter and gatherer lifestyle viable.

The common view of their early lifestyles was that it was unpleasant, dangerous and short but more recent research has found evidence that this is not necessarily so. Hunting was indeed dangerous if large mammals were sought but the kill rate was quite low at about ten percent. Foraging for fruits, nuts, seeds and plants was the principal diet that provided more than adequate nutritional value and was about a third higher in protein than our modern diets. It has been estimated that only several days a week were devoted to subsistence activities and that much time was spent in leisurely and social pursuits, certainly more than is customary in modern society. Because resources were plentiful and populations were small, competition for available resources was extremely low or non-existent. Thus, we find little or no evidence of pilfering, hoarding or warfare. Aggressive behavior became prevalent only after human populations increased greatly in number, developed much larger settlements than tribes and became decidedly agricultural.

We also find little or no evidence of aggressive or warlike behavior as an intrinsic part of human nature and development. Skeletal remains show few signs of broken or damaged bones from spears, knives or stones. It is believed that humans were overall peaceful creatures that lived egalitarian, cooperative and collaborative lives from about 3.5 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago. Settlement and the shift to agriculture changed this disposition to one that became patriarchal and aggressive and has persisted to this day.

Early humans lived in small tribes of about 25-50 individuals. They were nomadic and literally followed their food supply as it migrated, such as with herds of large animals or followed the progression of ripening plants, fruits, nuts and seeds. Given the abundance of natural resources and the process of learning through experience with their environment, hominids were able to, over time, adapt to habitats with more fluctuations in climate and topography and slowly distributed their numbers throughout the planet’s biomes and ecosystems. The foraging way of life tied the first hominids to their surroundings in an intimate and instinctual manner that persisted successfully for a very long time. 

Life for early hominids also presented some interesting challenges. Hunting for food involved confrontations with many dangerous animals and survival depended upon the ability to find adequate food and shelter. The environment presented other dangers as well. The Earth was in a tumultuous stage of development and natural catastrophes were ever present. These included, cosmic events, meteors, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones, floods, drought, fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, violent thunderstorms, tsunamis, disease, famine and possibly other disasters we are unaware of. These events were extremely frightening and have been viewed by some anthropologists and psychologists as the first traumatic events to influence the early psyche. It has even been suggested that this was the beginning of what we now refer to as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Hominids felt insignificant and vulnerable in their perplexing world and searched for ways to reduce their traumatic experiences and increase their security.


Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade, Memories of a Lost Age, Harper San Francisco, pages 59-77.

Ryan, Christopher and Jethra, Cacilda. Sex at Dawn, The Never-Ending Battle Over Prehistoric War. Harper Perennial, 2010, pages 182-199.

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World, Ninety-nine Per Cent of Human History. 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY, pages 18-36.

French, Marilyn. Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals. Chapter One: The Long View Back, 1985, Belles-Lettres, Inc, Published by Summit Books, pages 25-49.

Edited by Roszak, Theodore, Gomes, Mary E. and. Kanner, Allen D. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, Sierra Club Books, 1995, pages 6-63.

Relationship Styles to Consider Before Making a Time-limited or Lifetime Commitment to a Particular Person

This article is not part of my book, The Passionate Earth, but is a separate article on relationship styles that I am including on this site to illuminate some of my concerns regarding the frequent choice of monogamy in interpersonal relationships. Monogamy includes some of the negative aspects of patriarchy inherent in its formulation and practice. The following article describes the commonly practiced relationship styles noting their positive and negative attributes.

Relationships are the most sought-after unions the human species engages in. Almost all individuals have various types of friendships and many eventually come to partner with someone they consider special and important. Some people have committed relationships and many others engage in marital partnerships of some kind. There are many configurations for relationships and their underpinnings will be the discourse of this article.

The reason I am writing about this subject is because I have been a marriage and family counselor for over thirty years and I have learned a great deal about relationship dynamics from the families and couples I have worked with. I would like to share with you what I have learned in the thousands of hours I have spent talking to people with relationship concerns and difficulties.

I have been aware of how many couples fail to remain together for very long and why this happens so often. I am also aware of the specific difficulties that being in a partnership entails and how to avoid the many pitfalls that are encountered in our daily lives that effect how we function in our intimate relationships.

Let’s take a look at the most common relationships, define them properly and then set out to explore their merits and deficits. From this information, one should be able to decide on a relationship style that fits his or her particular lifestyle and needs.

Definitions: Monogamy


Monogamy is a form of relationship in which an individual has only one partner during their lifetime — alternately, only one partner at any one time (serial monogamy) — as compared to non-monogamy (e.g., polygamy or polyamory).

Serial Monogamy

Serial monogamy is a form of monogamy characterized by several or many successive, short-term marriages over the course of a lifetime. This means that a person moves from one relationship to another but practices monogamy with each individual relationship. One could easily argue that this is really not monogamy at all since the person is changing partners multiple times as opposed to remaining faithful to one partner.

Serial Monogamous Dating

There is also serial monogamous dating in which individuals date various people sequentially and are monogamous in each relationship. This can also become a pattern in which dating replaces marriage by the practice of continuous dating that doesn’t lead to a solid friendship, marital union or a committed relationship.

Serial Dating

Some individuals date several persons simultaneously that can be expressed by commitment or a casual disposition. This type of relationship may include sexual intimacy or be platonic.

Types of Non-monogamy

Casual Relationships

Casual relationships are physical and emotional relationships between two unmarried people who may have a plutonic or sexual affiliation.


An individual has sex with other persons without consent from their partner or partners or purposely excludes certain partners from sex.

Group Sex or Orgies

This type of arrangement involves more than two individuals having sex together.


Involved persons have multiple partners but only have sex with a particular group of people.

Group Marriage

Several or more people form a single-family unit with each person acting as if they are married to one another.

Line Families

Line families are a form of group marriage intended to outlive its original members by ongoing addition of new spouses.

Open Relationship or Open Marriage

One or both members of a committed or married relationship have the freedom to become sexually involved with others. Despite the condition of sexual freedom with others, often times there are rules or conditions regarding sexual behavior and emotional intimacy may not be encouraged or allowed.

Menage a Trois

Menage a Trois is a sexual relationship involving three individuals.


Polygamy is a relationship style in which a man or woman can have more than one spouse at a time and the configuration can be multiple spouses or multiple marriages, not husbands and wives in particular.


Polyandry is a relationship style in which a woman has multiple husbands.


Polygyny is a relationship style in which a man can have multiple wives.

Relationship Anarchy

Partners are not bound by any set agreements.


Similar to open type relationships but conducted as an organized social activity often involving some form of group sex.


Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”. Polyamory addresses the need for novelty and variety in romantic relationships. Poly families are similar to the group marriage configuration but some participants may not consider themselves married to all the other members.

Non-monogamy or consensual non-monogamy or (CNM) is an umbrella terminology for every practice or philosophy of an intimate relationship that does not conform to the standards of monogamy, particularly that of having only one person with whom to exchange sex, love, and affection. A particular and important feature of nonmonogamy is that exclusivity of sexual involvement is eliminated and individuals may be freely involved in multiple and simultaneous sexual or romantic bonds.

Other Configurations

There are also people who have to be in some form of relationship all the time and are always looking for another partner when their present one ends. This can be due to neediness and insecurity, not wanting to be alone or those who just play the field as the saying goes. Some individuals desire commitment and others would rather have more casual or recreational affiliations. The above-mentioned configurations are the most common in Western cultures. Polyamory and Polygamy are alternative relationship styles that are more common in non-Western nations.