Origins and Revolutions? The Emergence of Agriculture: A Global View

Module code: AR3078

The emergence of agriculture is traditionally seen in archaeology as one of the great dividing points in the past, where people moved from a life in harmony with the world around them to one based around the domination of nature. In this module we will explore how such ideas are not only problematic, they completely obscure our ability to understand the way in which new ways of living come into being and the consequences they had.

Rather than attempting to generalise pan-continental stories of progress and change, we will instead peel apart the complex ways in which people, plants, animals and things bring each other into being. The module is divided into three parts, in each of which you will draw on different kinds of reading to question traditional understandings of hunting and gathering, farming, and the changes between them.

In the first part we will look at the interaction of humans and plants and consider how we might understand these relationships very differently if we thought about plants in terms of their effects on humans, for example.

In part two we will look at the relationships between animals and humans. How did people and animals bring particular relationships into existence together? Why did some early farmers represent certain kinds of animals in art? Why did others bury the heads of cattle in their monuments?

Finally we will turn to the relationships between people and things. Did the turn to agriculture create new forms of material culture? Or did the new forms of material culture set the scene for the origins of farming?

Topics covered

  • Agriculture across the world
  • Anthropological approaches to people and plants
  • Animals in philosophy
  • Material culture theory
  • Archaeological case studies from East Asia, the Near East and Europe


  • 10 two-hour seminars led by student presentations each week


  • two essays: 3,000 words each (50% + 50%)