Farming got its start with cave men
Cave men were the first farmers, and anthropology professor Kent Flannery will give insights into their ingenuity at his upcoming Henry Russel Lecture, titled "The Creation of Agriculture: So Easy a Caveman Could Do It."
"The first plant and animal domestication was carried out 10,000 years ago, in the Stone Age," by people who were, in fact, cave men and women, says Flannery, the James B. Griffin Distinguished University Professor of Anthropological Archaeology.
Flannery will discuss and compare the origins of plant and animal domestication in the Old and New Worlds during his honorary talk at 4 p.m. March 11 in the Rackham Amphitheatre. The Henry Russel lectureship is the highest honor the University gives to a senior faculty member.
Flannery, who also is curator of environmental archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology, has excavated sites of early agriculture in Iran, Mexico and Peru. In a cave in southern Mexico in the 1960s, he uncovered the oldest corn, beans, squash and gourds ever found. In the '70s, he investigated the origins of llama and alpaca domestication in the high Andes of Peru.
In his talk, Flannery will discuss the important role the Museum of Anthropology has played in this field.
"No institution has trained more students to work on the origins of plant and animal domestication," Flannery says. "For some topics, such as Near Eastern animal domestication, our collections at U-M are second-to-none, and people from all over the world come to use them."
In recent years, the focus of early domestication research has shifted to studying plant and animal DNA. Flannery stresses that this should redirect archaeologists to do what DNA researchers cannot do: investigate the social and political consequences of the agricultural revolution for human cultures. That is what Flannery himself is working on today.
Before the lecture, the 2008 Henry Russel Award will be presented to two faculty members. They are: Edwin Bergin, associate professor of astronomy, and Jason Owen-Smith, associate professor of sociology and organizational studies. The Henry Russel Award recognizes mid-career faculty members who have demonstrated an impressive record of accomplishment in scholarship or creativity, as well as teaching.
Both the Henry Russel Lecture and Henry Russel Award were established in 1915 with a bequest from Henry Russel, a Detroit resident who received three degrees from U-M.