13 Historical Facts We Should Know In Order To Better Understand Our Health

In order to understand our current health situation, we need to look back in time to see how we came to the state that 7 out of every 10 people die from chronic diseases and 50% of the global population, on average, take medications on a daily basis.

Below are 13 Historical Facts that can help us to better understand our current health situation.

We see the first evidence of agriculture 12,000 years ago in North East Africa and Israel.

1. The first foods chosen to be grown through agriculture were grains, pointing to the importance of these foods in the human diet before agriculture, during the hunting-gathering period. Following shortly afterward came the domestication of barley and peas, also very dominant foods during the hunter-gatherer era of our species.

Grains and legumes were easily domesticated from their wild ancestors because their primitive predecessors required a slight genetic change to convert them into a domesticated crop. Wild grains and legumes were found in an edible and productive form in the wild, so they were easily grown by ancient farmers, merely by sowing or planting. Grains and legumes grew rapidly and could be harvested within a few months of planting, a significant advantage to people still on the borderline between being nomadic hunter-gatherers and settled villagers. They could be readily stored and were mostly self-pollinating.

The domestication of crops is one of the first steps in moving towards a full-fledged agricultural economy. More plants became domesticated, and their native characteristics were altered in a manner that they could not grow and reproduce without human intervention. A symbiotic relationship between the plants and humans developed, called co-evolution because plants and human behavior’s evolved to suit one another. In the simplest form of co-evolution, humans harvest a given plant selectively, based on preferred characteristics such as the largest, prettiest fruits, and reuse the seeds from the most abundant fruits to plant for next year.

About 9000 years ago, agriculture completely replaced the hunting-gathering lifestyle. Domesticating crops provided a reliable food source to feed the growing population. The nomadic hunting-gathering lifestyle could no longer feed such a large and grow human population.

In China 9000 years ago, humans began to farm rice and millet.  At this time there is also evidence of harvesting wild grasses in Asian Turkey and its surrounding area.

By 8000 BC, thoroughly domesticated versions of einkorn wheat, barley, and chickpeas were grown, as well as the first evidence of domestication of animals.

Beans were first domesticated in eastern Mediterranean countries 7,000 years ago, and squash, beans, and peppers were domesticated in America 6,000 years ago. Soybeans, rice, wheat, barley, and millet were grown in China 4,000 years ago, and olives and fruits were cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean area 3,000 years ago.

Crops were now farmed to meet the demands of the growing local populations which began rising dramatically.

2. The first domesticated animals were dogs, descendants of wild wolves, which helped keep predators away, and as agriculture began they helped farmers control and guard the land. Sheep, goat, cattle, and pigs were soon to follow. They were first domesticated in the Zagros Mountains in Western Iran and spread outward from there over the next thousand years. Domesticated animals were at first used for riding, transportation, pulling plows, and when the animals aged, for food.

3. The first domesticated animals to be used for meat as a food source were mouflon that was domesticated into modern sheep about 5500 years ago. Wild boars then became domesticated farm pigs, and aurochs became domesticated cows which were used for meat. (214) At first keeping domesticated animals required moving around a lot since the herds always needed fresh grass to feed on.

4. Over time, humans used agriculture to change the diets of domesticated animals into grains instead of grasses, which were grown to feed humans as well as animals about 3,000 years ago. At first, this seemed like a perfect solution, and it was adopted by almost all human communities globally. However, there were many consequences to the domestication of animals that were not recognized at the time.

5. The introduction of domesticated animals for meat resulted in increased meat consumption, far beyond what had previously been consumed in hunter-gatherer societies. These cultures ate meat sparsely, according to availability, and it is estimated that less than 15% of the hunting expeditions were successful.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, says: “According to the evidence no one ate meat all that often, except in the Arctic.”

6. Although grains and root crops were domesticated and cultivated in all the habitable continents, animals were only domesticated in a few areas on earth, principally in Western Asia where the earliest evidence was found for the domestication of sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle, followed later by donkeys, horses, and camels. Some forms of cattle and pigs, as well as chickens, were then domesticated also in south and east Asia, and cattle and pigs were domesticated independently in Europe. Very few animals were bred in America including turkeys and llamas, alpaca, and guinea pigs. Animals were not domesticated at all in tropical Africa or Australia! This is probably due to the abundance of grains, legumes and vegetables naturally found there which may have reduced the need to domesticate animals for food.

7. All of the farm animals and pets that are tame today, including dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, camels, geese, horses, and pigs, started out as wild animals but were transformed over millennia into the tamer, more sedentary and overall fatter animals.

What about human life expectancy?

8. After the beginning of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic era, life expectancy dropped to twenty years, and for those surviving up to the age of ten years, life expectancy was then only an additional thirty-five to thirty-seven years (to bring the total life expectancy age to between forty-five and forty-seven years). (234) But why did life expectancy decrease so much during this period?

9. There are a few reasons to explain this drop.

Firstly, man’s eating habits changed dramatically. Animal breeding allowed him to consume meat on a regular basis, although not the same kind of meat as he was eating during the previous hunter-gatherer period which was very lean pieces of meat from animals surviving naturally in nature. Domesticated animals have higher fat levels partly due to their sedentary nature.

10. The development of agriculture allowed humans to plant their own food. But farmers considerably reduced the variety of the foods they ate from the time they were hunter-gatherers, and only certain crops were grown. This tendency to produce one sole crop, normally a staple one, exposed farmers to much risk. When harvests were poor, the effects became disastrous. Furthermore, growing a sole staple crop led people to suffer from nutrient deficiencies leading to a shortened lifespan.

One would have imagined that agriculture would have brought about an improvement in man’s existence, but, as we can see, this was certainly not the case at the time.

11. When man made the decision to start controlling his own food sources and stop migrating from place to place, he came across new difficulties. Farming the land was much more physically demanding than hunting and gathering for food. The soil needed to be regularly irrigated, plowed, and then the food required harvesting. The man was forced to face unstable weather conditions; he had to choose less fragile plant varieties to grow on not so perfect soils and only particular animal species to raise. This lowered the diversity of foods and thereby nutrients man had available to eat. The population grew, but life span shortened during this period.

12. During the early 1600s, life expectancy slowly rose for those who survived life hazards (infant mortality accidents, epidemics, plagues, wars, etc.) and ranged from sixty to seventy years, just as it was before the advent of agriculture when humans were hunter-gatherers, and before the ascend in the human population.

13. In the US, the average lifespan increased during the 20th century by more than thirty years, of which twenty-five years can be attributed to simple advances in public health, and the remaining 5% to advances in medical science.

By examining human history, we can take a more educated look at our current eating habits and understand what we are doing right and what we are doing that is reducing the quality of our life in the present.

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