People turned to farming to grow fibre for clothing and not to grow food, a new study by a researcher from the Australian National University has revealed.
Ian Gilligan said it was the usefulness of fibre crops like cotton that drove the development of farming. He said this also explained why Aboriginal Australians were not generally farmers.
He said the Aboriginals did not need fibre for clothing, so had no reason to grow fibre crops like cotton. "Conventional thinking assumes that the transition to farming was related to people's need to find new ways of getting food. That doesn't really make sense for a number of reasons," said Gilligan. He said a better explanation why cultivating plants and domesticating animals only started 10,000 years ago in some areas of the world, would be climate.
In the northern hemisphere during the last ice age it was 12-15 degrees Celsius cooler than today, which led hunters and gatherers to develop sophisticated forms of clothing. This included tailored and multi-layered clothes, including underclothes, to keep out the cold winds, said Gilligan.
Animal hides and furs from hunted animals provided the most suitable warm clothing. But once the climate warmed, humans wanted lighter and more breathable clothing. It was around this time that textiles based on fibre crops such as cotton, linen and hemp and woolly animals like sheep and goats came in, he said.
"In Australia, even in Tasmania, conditions were never so cold that Aboriginal people needed multi-layered tailored garments," Gilligan said. Gilligan said there was no incentive for Aboriginal people to take up farming because all their needs were met by hunting and gathering.
"The idea that early farming offered humans a more reliable food supply has been exposed as a myth. Hunting and gathering was a far more flexible, reliable and efficient way of getting food. Australian Aborigines never worried where their next meal was coming from, even in the outback, and they enjoyed much more leisure time than any early farmers," he said.
Gilligan's research appears in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, reports ABC online.