The Climatic Origins of the Neolithic Revolution: Theory and Evidence

66 Pages Posted: 23 May 2006 Last revised: 4 Jul 2012

See all articles by Quamrul H. Ashraf

Quamrul H. Ashraf

Williams College - Department of Economics

Stelios Michalopoulos

Brown University - Department of Economics; Brown University

Date Written: February 22, 2011


This research examines theoretically and empirically the origins of agriculture. The theory highlights the role of climatic sequences as a fundamental determinant of both technological sophistication and population density in a hunter-gatherer regime. It argues that foragers facing volatile environments were forced to take advantage of their geographic endowments at a faster pace. Consequently, as long as climatic shocks preserved the possibility for agriculture, differences in the rate at which foragers were climatically propelled to exploit their habitat determined the comparative evolution of hunter-gatherer societies towards farming. The theory is tested using both cross-country and cross-archaeological site data on the emergence of farming. Consistent with the theory, the empirical analysis demonstrates that, conditional on biogeographic endowments, climatic volatility has a non-monotonic effect on the timing of the transition to agriculture. Farming was undertaken earlier in regions characterized by intermediate levels of climatic volatility, with regions subjected to either too high or too low intertemporal variability transiting later.

Keywords: Hunting and Gathering, Agriculture, Neolithic Revolution, Climatic Volatility, Technological Progress, Population Density

JEL Classification: J10, O11, O13, O33, O40, Q54, Q55

Suggested Citation

Ashraf, Quamrul H. and Michalopoulos, Stelios, The Climatic Origins of the Neolithic Revolution: Theory and Evidence (February 22, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Quamrul H. Ashraf

Williams College - Department of Economics ( email )

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Williamstown, MA 01267
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Stelios Michalopoulos (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Providence, RI 02912
United States

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Brown University ( email )

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Providence, RI 02912
United States

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