Grain and The Evolution of Our Species

I have forever wondered where the lines are placed between lore, mystery, and history. History can either be proven absolutely or arrived at by a consensus of informed speculation. Informed speculation? That suggests that if you are famous your speculation is respected. If you are unknown chances are you will be ignored, dismissed, or even laughed to scorn, but only by those who regard themselves as famous. Ethnobotany sidesteps all of this controversy. Sometimes we see lore, at other times mystery, and who knows where in history or science ethnobotany could be wedged when no actual proof can be offered.

In order to place an imaginary line between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers we must first realize that it was probably less of an epiphany than it was a transition. Many groups, even today, might deliberately plant a few things but do not actually tend those things as one might tend a garden. Often they move on to their summer fishing and gathering grounds a great distance away and return to their plots for fall harvest. For me, it is a stretch to call this farming but illustrates perhaps how a transition between eras might have and still is taking place.

We for let’s say 150,000 years (the dates have yet to be finalized) and all our relatives that came before us for 5,000,000 years have probably always gathered and eaten grass seed or grain. We know with some certainty now that we have had fire in our lives for at least a million of those years, probably longer. Chances are we no doubt figured out how to roast that grass seed pretty early. I imagine we began grinding this seed shortly there after and soon we found our way to cooking it into mush and adding herbs and berries. Ethnobotany overflows with similar recipes, suggesting that we have been doing this for a long time as well.

But eating grain was far more problematic than one might first think. Of the innumerable species that produce edible seed virtually all of them drop their seed the minute the plant is touched. That alone made gathering it enormously difficult until the discovery of wheat, rye, barley, oat, corn, and others. They don’t drop their seed and as a consequence made perfect choices for cultivation. It was the turning point that led to the birth of the Neolithic era, and in my opinion the tragic state of the world today.

If you have read the introduction in The Compendium for Spirit Handling you know that it is my fervent belief that our beloved Earth can no longer endure the stress of foraging or even seed collecting out of the wild. A moment’s thought is convincing enough. Within a week there wouldn’t be a plant left on our planet should every man, woman, and child start foraging today. And yet we simply must reduce the amount of industrial farming and its devastating effect on the environment by growing as much high quality food in our own yards, and on our own decks, balconies, and rooftops. This can be done and it was the reason I wrote this blog. Everyone can do this, the information to get started is here, and it is free. And with regard to grain, something not always practical to grow unless a great deal of land is available, please buy organic. In doing so you can be assured that every precaution has been taken to protect the seed, the land, and the water.

Should you have an interest in the long evolution of humans and the food they ate please read the essays in Sacred First Foods.

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Responses to “Grain and The Evolution of Our Species”

  1. Angela Cheetham Wilkinson March 20th, 2014 - 9:37 pm

    It would never have occurred to me to even ask why wheat, rye, barley, oats and corn were selected for cultivation .. they don’t drop their seeds ..of course!
    I love it that you give us reasons for things we’ve ceased to question.

    • Can you imagine what a task it was to collect seed from the species that did drop their seed? Talk about patience. It certainly explains why grain was less used by hunter-gatherers before the advent of cultivation.