Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2017



The growth and significance of scientific research into the origins of agriculture in China calls for fresh examination at scales large enough to facilitate explanation of cultural evolutionary processes. The Paleolithic to Neolithic transition (PNT) is not yet well-understood because most archaeological research on early agriculture cites data from the more conspicuous and common early Neolithic sites. In this, the first of two papers, we synthesize a broad range of early Neolithic archaeological data, including diagnostic artifacts, settlement patterns, site structure, and biological remains, to consider agriculture as a system-level adaptive phenomenon. Although farming by this period was already well-established in much of North China and the middle Yangtze River basin, echoes of the foraging past can be found in the persistence of hunting-related artifacts in North China’s Loess Plateau and aquatic-based intensification and vegeculture in South China. Our analysis of the growing body of Chinese data and projections using Binford’s hunting and gathering database indicate that agriculture was differentially developed, adopted, or resisted by foragers according to measurable, predictable initial conditions of habitat that influenced diet breadth. In a subsequent paper (Journal of Anthropological Research 73(3), 2017, doi: 10.1086/692660), we will use these findings as a platform for a deeper consideration of the emerging archaeological record of the PNT, and to develop hypotheses for the last foraging and first farming adaptations in China.

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This document was originally published by University of Chicago Press in Journal of Anthropological Research. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1086/692104

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