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Agrarian society

An agrarian society (or agricultural society) is any society whose economy is based on producing and maintaining crops and farmland. Another way to define an agrarian society is by seeing how much of a nation's total production is in agriculture. In an agrarian society cultivating the land is the primary source of wealth. Such a society may acknowledge other means of livelihood and work habits but stresses the importance of agriculture and farming. Agrarian societies have existed in various parts of the world as far back as 10,000 years ago and continue to exist today. They have been the most common form of socio-economic organization for most of recorded human history.

Agrarian societies were preceded by hunter and gatherer societies and horticultural societies and transition into industrial societies. The transition to agriculture, called the Neolithic Revolution, has taken place independently multiple times. Horticulture and agriculture as types of subsistence developed among humans somewhere between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East. The reasons for the development of agriculture are debated but may have included climate change and the accumulation of food surplus for competitive gift-giving. Most certainly there was a gradual transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural economies after a lengthy period when some crops were deliberately planted and other foods were gathered from the wild. In addition to the emergence of farming in the Fertile Crescent, agriculture appeared in: by at least 6,800 B.C.E. in East Asia (rice) and, later, in Central and South America (maize and squash). Small-scale agriculture also likely arose independently in early Neolithic contexts in India (rice) and Southeast Asia (taro). However, full dependency on domestic crops and animals, when wild resources contributed a nutritionally insignificant component to the diet, did not occur until the Bronze Age.

Agriculture allows a much greater density of population than can be supported by hunting and gathering and allows for the accumulation of excess product to keep for winter use or to sell for profit. The ability of farmers to feed large numbers of people whose activities have nothing to do with material production was the crucial factor in the rise of surplus, specialization, advanced technology, hierarchical social structures, inequality, and standing armies. Agrarian societies thus support the emergence of a more complex social structure.

In agrarian societies, some of the simple correlations between social complexity and environment begin to disappear. One view is that humans with this technology have moved a large step toward controlling their environments, are less dependent on them, and hence show fewer correlations between environment and technology-related traits. A rather different view is that as societies become larger and the movement of goods and people cheaper, they incorporate an increasing range of environmental variation within their borders and trade system. But environmental factors may still play a strong role as variables that affect the internal structure and history of a society in complex ways. For example, the average size of agrarian states will depend on the ease of transportation, major cities will tend to be located at trade nodes, and the demographic history of a society may depend on disease episodes.