Professor of Archaeology at the Australian National University, Peter Bellwood, has written a book that is both important and stimulating. He brings together a wide range of disparate data to examine the origins of agriculture and why different societies took up farming.

This is a huge project – as he acknowledges in his opening line: ‘To present a reconstruction of human prehistory that has worldwide significance is no easy task’. Nonetheless, the ‘daunting’ – as he puts it – task has been on his mind since the 1980s, and its completion is an heroic accomplishment.

In examining the multiple origins and spread of farming, he explores the dispersal histories of language families – and thus the associated assumed dispersal of biological populations. In doing so, he has eruditely managed to bring together information from all corners of the world, piecing together the chunks of a massive jigsaw. He has thus produced an extremely comprehensive text that focuses on the main centres of agriculture – the Middle East, central Africa, China, New Guinea, Mesoamerica and the northern Andes – while tracing the origins and dispersals of the major language families as Indo-European, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan, Niger-Congo and Uto-Aztecan.

This is an extremely carefully researched and significant book, of interest to archaeologists, linguists, geneticists and those with a deep interest in the subject matter.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 13. Click here to subscribe

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