THE INVENTION OF AGRICULTURE
AT THE beginning of the city was the Flood.
We customarily think of man as being the mammal that concentrates in throngs of millions in many places of this earth. But this is a quite recent development. For thousands of centuries man lost himself in the expanse of the land. Some 20,000 years ago perhaps a dozen tribes, numbering in all only several hundred people, roamed the territory that today is France. It was the masses of animal herds, rather than groups of men, that dominated the earth.
North America (excluding Mexico), where now approximately 200 million people live, was inhabited by close to one million Indians when it was discovered by Columbus. Actually, during the first 590,000 of mankind's estimated 600,000 years, hardly more than ten million human beings can have existed -- less than there are now in the greater New York City area -- and during the first half-million years there were possibly not more than a few thousand people living on this earth. The great increase in population, and with it the advent of culture, occurred only during the last 10,000 years. The American zoologist Marston Bates arrived at this estimate through simple arithmetic: The earth's land area is 51 million square miles; approximately 35 million square miles are habitable according to today's standards, but only 19 million square miles at most are fertile land. At least two square miles are necessary for a man to feed himself, if he depends on hunting and gathering his food; this is proved by our knowledge of the still existing primitive peoples.
Only after the 590,000 years, during which man fed upon animals he hunted, and fruit, berries, and roots he gathered, did that revolution begin which, steam engine and atomic energy notwithstanding, may be called the most momentous in the history of mankind -- the invention of agriculture.
Great changes do not happen in a day. From the first machine of the Frenchman Papin to the high-powered steam engine of the Englishman Watt almost one hundred years elapsed. From the first attempts to grow a plant to the first wheat fields swaying in the breeze more than five thousand years must have passed.