Dr. Jiajing Wang (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford University)
The transition to agriculture, characterized by plant domestication, is one of the most consequential events in human history. In spite of more than two decades of extensive research, it remains unclear how and why rice domestication originated in the Lower Yangtze River of China. This presentation offers a new approach to explaining this transition by proposing a dialectical model of domestication. Beginning in the late Pleistocene, humans invented a diversified array of technologies such as grinding stones and pottery. While these new technologies enabled humans to exploit more resources, they also created an irreversible dependence upon these tools. In the warming climate of the early Holocene, humans in turn began “mass producing” their Pleistocene innovations in order to process newly abundant plant resources. Acorns played an outsized role in this transition by attracting hunter-gatherers to increase their production of grinding stones and pottery. The substantial material accumulation trapped and “domesticated” humans into settled communities, encouraging their initial experimentation with rice cultivation. Challenging traditional approaches that attribute the rise of agriculture to human interventions on the environment, this research instead explores how the active agencies exercised by plants and tools resulted in the domestication of humans, a process in which humans became dependent on tools and trapped into a sedentary lifestyle, thereby foreshadowing the rise of rice agriculture.