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The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplement 4

Author(s): Leslie C. Aiello

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. S4, The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New
Ideas (October 2011), pp. S161-S162
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for
Anthropological Research
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Current Anthropology Volume 52, Supplement 4, October 2011 S161

The Origins of Agriculture:

New Data, New Ideas
Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplement 4

by Leslie C. Aiello

The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas resulted from terest in the origins of agriculture and domestication. One of
a Wenner-Gren-sponsored symposium held at the Hacienda the earliest meetings organized by the Foundation in July 1960
Temozon, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, March 6–13, 2009 (fig. led to the seminal publication Courses toward Urban Life:
1). The symposium was organized by T. Douglas Price (Uni- Archaeological Considerations of Some Cultural Alternates
versity of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Aber- (Braidwood and Willey 1962). Other influential meetings in-
deen) and Ofer Bar-Yosef (Harvard University). cluded the Origins of African Plant Domestication (Harlan, De
The major aim of the symposium was to better understand Wet, and Stemler 1972) and Where the Wild Things Are Now
the origins of agriculture in light of new fieldwork, new sites, (Mullin and Cassidy 2007), which invited anthropologists
new analytical techniques, and more radiocarbon dates. The from all subfields to rethink the concept of domestication in
global nature of agricultural origins was a key theme, and a anthropology. Information on these meetings and others can
major focus of the discussions was on East Asia as well as be found on our Web site at
lesser-known regions such as Papua New Guinea, Africa, and Most recently, agricultural origins were explored in a special
eastern North America, alongside more traditional areas such issue of Current Anthropology titled Rethinking the Origins of
as the Near East and Mesoamerica. The papers presented in Agriculture introduced by Mark Cohen (Cohen 2009). The
this supplementary issue are designed to provide the latest current supplementary issue continues the discussions and
information on the antiquity of agriculture covering at least debates explored in this earlier contribution but is perhaps
10 different centers of domestication. more data rich and geographically diverse. Together these two
The organizers, Price and Bar-Yosef, note in their intro- CA issues provide an excellent contemporary overview of the
duction that emerging data point to an unexpected synchron- state of research in this exciting area of inquiry.
icity in the timing of the first domesticates around the end The Wenner-Gren Foundation is always looking for in-
of the Pleistocene. They also note that, contrary to earlier novative new directions in the field for future Foundation-
thought, the environments in which agriculture originated sponsored and organized symposia and eventual CA publi-
were not marginal and that agricultural experimentation took cation. We encourage anthropologists to contact us with their
place in areas of concentrations of populations and resources. ideas for future meetings. Information about the Wenner-
Each major area may also have included multiple loci for Gren Foundation and the Symposium program can be found
domestication. These were major areas of agreement in a on the Foundation’s Web site (
meeting that was characterized by lively debate over the va- programs/international-symposia).
riety of hypotheses proposed for agricultural origins and
whether global or more area-specific explanations were most
appropriate. As in any good meeting, there were more ques- References Cited
tions than answers, but this is the sign of a dynamic field.
The degree of collegiality and collaboration among the diverse Braidwood, Robert John, and Gordon Randolph Willey, eds. 1962.
Courses toward urban life: archaeological considerations of some cul-
symposium participants and the speed at which new data are tural alternates. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, no. 32
accumulating are good signs that our understanding of this (Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research). Chi-
important period in human adaptation will continue to evolve cago: Aldine.
rapidly. Cohen, Mark Nathan. 2009. Introduction: rethinking the origins of
The Wenner-Gren Foundation has had a long-standing in- agriculture. Current Anthropology 50:591–595.
Harlan, Jack R., Jan M. J. De Wet, and Ann B. L. Stemler, eds. 1976.
Origins of African plant domestication. World Anthropology Series.
The Hague: Mouton.
Leslie C. Aiello is President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Mullin, Molly, and Rebecca Cassidy, eds. 2007. Where the wild things
Anthropological Research (470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor North, are now. Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series. Oxford:
New York, New York 10016, U.S.A.). Berg.

䉷 2011 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2011/52S4-0001$10.00. DOI: 10.1086/660154

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Figure 1. Participants in the symposium “The Origins of Agriculture:
New Data, New Ideas.” Front row from left: Laurie Obbink (Wenner-
Gren staff), Carolyn Freiwald (monitor), Leslie Aiello, Fiona Marshall,
Ofer Bar-Yosef, Gyoung-Ah Lee, Ehud Weiss, Anna Belfer-Cohen. Middle
row from left: Tim Denham, Peter Bellwood, Melinda A. Zeder, Dolores
R. Piperno, Greger Larson, Richard H. Meadow, Jean-Denis Vigne, Meh-
met Özdoğan, Peter Rowley-Conwy. Back row from left: David Joel Co-
hen, Zhao Zhijun (“Jimmy”), Dorian Q Fuller, Bruce D. Smith, Gary W.
Crawford, T. Douglas Price, Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel, A. Nigel Goring-
Morris. A color version of this photo appears in the online edition of
Current Anthropology.

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