The rise of agricultural states came at a big cost, a new book argues | Science News

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The rise of agricultural states came at a big cost, a new book argues

Mobile groups traded health and happiness for settled societies

By
2:00pm, October 3, 2017
Egyptian agricultural mural

BITTER HARVEST  Early agricultural states that formed in Egypt and elsewhere were fragile creations, not least because of crowding, epidemics, droughts and popular resistance to taxation and conscription into armies, contends political anthropologist James C. Scott in his new book.

Against the Grain
James C. Scott
Yale Univ., $26

Contrary to popular opinion, humans didn’t shed a harsh existence as hunter-gatherers and herders for the good life of stay-in-place farming. Year-round farming villages and early agricultural states, such as those that cropped up in Mesopotamia, exchanged mobile groups’ healthy lifestyles for the back-breaking drudgery of cultivating crops, exposure to infectious diseases, inadequate diets, taxes and conscription into armies.

In Against the Grain, political anthropologist James C. Scott offers a disturbing but enlightening defense of that position. He draws on past and recent archaeological studies indicating that the emergence of state-run societies around 6,000 years ago

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