Our earlier human predecessors relied on hunting, fishing and gathering other edibles, such as seeds, fruits, tubers, and so forth, until they began to purposefully grow crops some 13-15,000 years ago.  Archeological evidence indicates farming was first undertaken in what was the fertile crescent of southwestern Asia, which encompasses parts of present-day Iran, Iraq and Turkey.

Cultivation of crops was independently initiated in southeastern Asia (China and the Indochina peninsula) some 3-5,000 thousand years later and in Central and South America another 3,000 years after that.  Insofar as is known, domestication of livestock began first in southwestern Asia also, about 10,000 years ago with sheep and goats; chickens and pigs were domesticated in southeastern Asia about 8,000 years ago and llamas in Peru some 4,000 years ago.  

Hunting and fishing were important precursors to people developing the techniques for crop and livestock production.  Attractions to hunting and fishing are stored in our inherited genetic material.

Although hunting and fishing are no longer undertaken by most people as they once were–and are repelled now by some, latent urges to hunt and fish are part of our genetic background because they had survival value for humans in past eras.  After all, those who lacked these capabilities succumbed in the competition for life.

Like dogs and many other animal species that have been domesticated for hundreds of centuries, most of us today can call upon inclinations to hunt and fish in case of necessity.  Hunting and fishing for subsistence, and fun, spring from the urge to obtain food and materials for clothing and shelter.

Are hunting and fishing agricultural occupations?  The U.S. Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the USDA say “yes.”

Hunters, fishers and professional guides in these endeavors are considered agricultural producers, as well as are operators of plant nurseries, forest managers, loggers and Christmas tree growers.  All produce food and/or fibers.

Precursor skills to agriculture brought by hunters and fishers to the continents of Asia, Europe and the Americas from African progenitors likely included tool-making and systematic observation.  Tool-making may have included metal refining, as well as shaping stone implements.

There is evidence that the earliest smelting of iron occurred in central Africa, but much of the evidence has disintegrated because warm moist climatic conditions oxidized the remnants.  The refiners figured out how to select termite mounds and use them as furnaces/forges.

The inside of a termite mound was hollowed out and charcoal and iron-bearing materials were laid on a rock with a depression on which melted iron could be caught.  The charcoal was ignited above the catchment rock and iron-containing substances were placed on top of the charcoal.  

Entrance holes to add fuel and ferrous materials to the furnace/forge were located at the bottom of the mound.  Exit holes near the top of a tall termite mound were closed or left open as needed to create a draft that could enhance or release the necessary heat to melt the iron.

When melted iron collected, grass was added to the searing fire to infuse carbon into the metallic material.  Hot iron/steel that congealed on the collecting rock was beaten into knives and other tools while still malleable.  Likely, humans who migrated from Africa brought rudimentary knowledge of metallurgy with them that were building-blocks for early farmers to make the tools they needed for farming.

Careful systematic comparisons of plants that offered the most nutritious and best-tasting seeds was another precursor skill that migrating human predecessors brought with them from Africa as hunter/gatherers.  They selected grains (barley and wheat first) and pulses (legumes that were consumable, such as lentils and beans).

Interestingly, early agriculturists in Asia and the Americas both scavenged, and domesticated, similar nutritious members of the grass and pulse families.  Even maize, the forerunner to corn, is a member of the grass family.

When these keen observers figured out they could grow the grains and pulses they preferred, they did not have to rely solely on their skills as hunters, fishers and gatherers of food.  Hunting and fishing became less necessary but not forgotten.

A variety of occupations related to hunting and fishing have developed.  Besides fishing and hunting for sport and food, wildlife habitat management and trophy procurement on managed environments are rapidly growing agricultural industries.  

The economic impact of wildlife habitat management and professionally guided hunting and fishing activities are estimated to generate over $60 billion annually in the U.S. alone.  Breeding wild animals such as deer and elk for their trophy racks, as well as for meat and skins, is a new industry.

We’ve come a long way since our days of relying solely on hunting, fishing and scavenging for essentials to live; these precursor activities contribute to our capabilities to farm.

I wonder, is my tying of fishing flies an agricultural occupation?  I suppose not, just like manufacturing agricultural equipment isn’t considered an agricultural occupation, but I will continue to tie flies!

Dr. Rosmann lives near Harlan, Iowa.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.

By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

Share your thoughts. Email Dr. Rosmann at [email protected], or visit his website at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.  You can call him at his office in Harlan, Iowa at 712-235-6100.