eli5: Nomadic Lifestyle


How long did humans live a nomadic lifestyle prior to settling the first villages? What were the technological breakthroughs or catalysts that allowed them to stop living a nomadic life?

In: 2

The biggest thing is following food and water access. The agricultural revolution was a massive change in this because it allowed people to create large excesses of food and store it against seasons with less to offer.

In places with stable water supplies and climates warm enough to keep animals present and plants growing year round, especially places with good fishing to supplement, people could be more permanent without having to necessarily farm as we recognize it, though they might certainly help local food sources along.

The first permanent settlement we currently know of was Dolní Věstonice, settled about 25,000 years ago. Homo sapiens appeared about 300,000 years ago, so there’s about 275,000 years of being nomadic or semi-nomadic.

The main technological breakthrough that made permanent settlement popular- and enabled cities later on- was agriculture. Being able to cultivate certain plants that a community could rely on producing nutritious parts on a regular and predictable yearly cycles allowed people to stay in one place and produce enough food to reliably feed a lot of people. But early settlements didn’t have farms- they lived close to populations of mammoths (in the above case) or other fauna that they could hunt reliably, and there was enough edible plants in the area that they knew of that they could gather from. So for the most part it was just hunting technology and an opportune place to stay that enabled the first permanent settlements.

They can stop being nomadic if there is one thing – a steady supply of food (and water). Now, the major revolution was the agricultural revolution – figuring out “ok, instead of gathering all these plants in the wild, I’m going to grow them myself and I wont have to search so far, thus saving lots of energy.”

But we eat more than just plants. So if there was plentiful fish in the steams, we could build little fish weirs that could catch them, and if there was lots of game, we could hunt. If that + foraging was enough and stayed that way year round, people settled down even without agriculture.

And, of course, once you settled down, you could start looking at doing something like planting some fruit trees or grains.

there was also domestication – sheep and goats were domesticated around 11,000 years ago; chickens around 8,000 years ago (although the chickens didn’t spread to the Mediterranean until around 1000 BC or so)