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Agriculture, simply defined, is the deliberate intervention in a plant’s cycle of growth for enhancing production of its nutritious elements for human consumption. There are three distinct agricultural modes tending, cultivation, and plant domestication. Each agricultural mode has its own set of benefits and complications for America’s ancient Southwest people, which ultimately, helped shape their evolutionary shift from foraging to farming.

Foraging and unintentional tending is the unconscious and beneficial human influence that enriches nutritious plant growth. Such actions may include dispersal of seed, gathering larger seeds, which may aid in genetic selection. The unintended consequences could be as basic as causing a more bountiful crop or as dramatic as inspiring the evolution of an entire new species of plant food as some suggest maize is, an ancestor of the indigenous wild grass teosinte.

Cultivation is different in that there is deliberate human purpose in beneficial behavior resulting in enhanced plant food production. Examples of cultivation include, weeding, pruning, transplanting, and sowing seed. The final stage of agricultural development is plant domestication. Domesticated plants are different in that their existence depends upon human maintenance. The beneficial aspect of domestication is that natural habitats altered to favor choice domesticated plants may increase production.

Beans squash, and, maize, were essential foods to populations that spanned from southern Canada to Argentina in ancient times. In the short span of about one hundred years, maize evolved from a common wild grass, teosinte. In five thousand years of cultivating, maize came to be the large kernelled, easy-to-grind, earlier flowering species known today. Squash cultivation prized seeds, fruit, and usefulness as containers. Beans and maize cultivation was mutually beneficial in that when eaten together, beans, rich in lysine, aids the digestions of corn protein and when grown together, beans return essential nitrogen to soil depleted by corn, helping maximize growing site fertility.

There are several theories that attempt to explain the origins of agriculture in the American Southwest. One thing that most experts agree upon is that the process involves a complex set of interactive factors. Population growth and extreme weather are explanations that make sense and are generally accepted but occlude cultural context. It appears that trading across communities played a vital role in the adoption of agricultural practices and development of social organization. Exchanges of gifts in times where important food resources such as pinons were negligible necessitated intertribal reliance. These acts were a vital tool for survival that dually provided opportunity for agricultural methods to disperse across traditional boundaries of culturally founded subsistence practices.


Works Cited

Fagan, Brian M. Ancient North America. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1991.






















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