Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's all about location, location, location!

Let's pretend you are a realtor trying to sell a house. Part of your job is obviously selling houses, but a very important aspect is also realizing when a house will be too difficult to sell. Why is this? Well sometimes the house will need a lot of work done to make it into a product that is worth buying. But the biggest problem you will face will be location. It takes a mere minute for someone to decide if they want a house based simply on location. Likewise plants thousands of years ago prospered in certain areas because of location. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond makes a great arguement for why location is very important when thinking about our past and why certain areas prospered more than others. The Fertile Crescent is a very important place not only because it is the first birth place of plants, but because it was the perfect location for plant domestication. The reason this location was perfect was simply because of it's climate, natural biodiversity, and topographical variety.

Part of having a perfect location is also having a perfect climate. The main reason why plant domestication was made so easy in the Fertile Crescent was because of the climate. Diamond states, "One advantage of the Fertile Crescent is that it lies within a zone of so-called Mediterranean climate, a climate characterized by mild, wet winters and long, hot, dry summers.(Diamond,136)" While the differentiating climate may not sound good, the fact is that this change in climate is great for plants. This climate helped plants develope genes to last the dry summer and then continue to grow when the rains picked up. Therefore all these changes within the plants genes allowed them to become more useful to humans thousands of years ago. These plants are annual plants, that conserve lots of energy to make huge seeds edible by humans. Once humans saw the fortune that layed in eating seeds, they began to domesticate them.

Another important reason why this certain area was the first birthplace of plant domestication was because of the biology of the plants themselves. Diamond informs us," A third advantage of the Fertile Crescent flora is that it includes a high percentage of hermaphroditic "selfers"-that is, plants that usually pollinate themselves but that are occasionally cross-pollinated.(Diamond, 137)" Plants in this area were able to reproduce on their on without the help of a second plant. This is extremely beneficial because this allowed plants to keep their useful inherited traits. That is when plants got a useful mutation, when farmers tried to domesticate that plant, the trait was often lost in cross-breeding. However, because these plants were able to breed themselves those mutations were never lost, and when farmers tried domesticating the plant they got a plant with a biology that was very helpful.

The last reason why this location encouraged domestication was because of its topographical variety. That is the area was very diverse in its landscape. This allowed many different plants the ability to survive in this area. Diamond explains, "A third advantage of the Fertile Crescent's Mediterranean zone is that it provides a wide range of altitudes and topographies within a short distance.(Diamond, 140)" While this concept is very simple, it had a great impact. The reason why plant domestication was much more favorable in this area was because it had a variety of environments from which different plants could prosper. This gave the hunter gathers a variety of areas that they could use to domesticate plants.

If all this were true of the flora in Mesoamerica, then it might have been much more advanced before being "discovered" by Colombus. This might have changed the course of history. Mesoamerica could have been the leader in a sophisticated civilization for the Americas. If Mesoamerica had just the right climate, biodiversity, and a varying topography, it would be a perfect land. However, this is not true. Mesoamerica didn't have all these factors that encouraged hunter gathers to domesticate plants. However, one must realize that this was obviously not because of the humans themselves it was all about location.


  1. Interesting! I haven't read the book yet, but hope to do so soon. Do you have documentation for your photo?

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. I liked how you compared your answer with a realtor. This makes it easier to understand the concept of why plants were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. These three main factors of the Fertile Crescent facilitated domestication of plants in this area for early humans.
    I have one question for you Eduardo. Was the Fertile Crescent the birth place of plants? If so, can you give me the page number where it says so because I don’t remember reading that it was the birth place of plants (I must have skipped over it). All I remember is that it was the first place where plants were domesticated.

  3. I didn't have documentation for my photo, so I took it off. I meant to replace it with one of my personal photos of the outdoors, but couldn't find the time. But thanks for the reminder about copy rights.

    I cannot give you a page number right now. But I know that is what the book says. The reason why it was the first place where plants were domesticated easily was because that was their birthplace. The domestication was easier because the plants were in that area for so long. It had the right climate and differentiating geography that it made it a perfect location.