“In the Municipal District of Elche there is the greatest
concentration of palm trees in all of Europe: according to estimations,
there are between 200,000 and 300,000 specimens.It is fairly unanimous that the origin of this palm tree is
Phoenician, which brings us to the conclusion that the existence of the
date palm tree dates back about 2,000/5,000 years.Also, the division and sorting of land, irrigation and cultivation of the palm tree, dates back to the times of Arabic reign.The agricultural city that once was Elche in the previous centuries
to its current industrial activity included the cultivation of dates and
palm trees along with horticultural products for local consumption.There are palm trees scattered all over the landscape. The
peculiarity and beauty of the palm tree landscape in Elche was made into
a one of a kind natural park in the European continent, which made it a
deserved winner in November 2000 of the distinction of a UNESCO World
Here an old pallet proves to be an excellent plant container for a range of edibles including
Ocimum basilicum ‘Crimson King’ (purple basil). This variety was bred for its uniform leaves and vigour. This is a half-hardy plant that needs to be grown from seed sown in a protected warm, light environment in spring with young plants moved outside in summer. The leaves need to be harvested regularly and the flowers removed to concentrate the plant’s energy on leaf production. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Hyde Hall, Essex, UK, not only had purple basil in pallet containers on the safety fencing around the construction site for their new restaurant but also in the new productive World Garden.
International trainee Boris L. with some nearly 7′ tall Echium wildpretii, commonly called Tower of Jewels.Native to the Canary Islands, these whimsical yet statuesque plants are currently on display at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory, one of many student work rotation sites. Boris just so happened to have assisted in the growth of these same plants in his prior assignment with greenhouse production.
Note: Stories, facts, and information provided here are not meant as encouragements for writers to simply insert into their works. Additional research may be needed. They should only be used as inspiration and to help with understanding how cultures are put together. Please use this knowledge to inform your own culture creations without full appropriation. Find the rest of the series here.
This post goes hand-in-hand with the previous post on Evolutionary Typologies of Civilizations.
Last time, we discussed the four basic categories anthropologists use to classify cultures: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Peoples using the band or tribe structure styles are frequently referred to as traditional cultures while chiefdoms and state-type structures (those with centralized government) are referred to as complex cultures. These terms are not meant in any way to reflect the actual complexity of cultures, but came into being in the early 1900s during the birth of anthropology as observations. Cultures with centralized governments are characteristic of larger settlements, which by their nature require more organization, thus considered more complex.
All political correctness aside, let’s talk about some of the things mentioned in the last post, namely subsistence methods. This term refers to how cultures choose to acquire their food. In the last post, terms like horticulture, sedentism, and nomadic movement were thrown around, but let’s talk about what those mean and why a culture would use them.
Foragers: Characterized by a dependence on naturally occurring sources of food. Foragers are food collectors, not food producers. 99% of hominid existence has been spent this way. Modern foragers are found in areas of marginal agricultural potential, and they have evolved and continued to change over the years. Here are some general characteristics (tendencies, not absolutes) of foraging peoples:
live on low energy budgets
live in small groups of related persons (bands)
informal, consensual decision-making
egalitarian (equal across gender and status) social relations
size and composition of groups influenced by resource availability and social tensions
mobility as a way of adapting to resource fluctuation (i.e., bring people to food rather than the other way around)
Horticulture: Refers to garden cultivation, a non-intensive planting based on cyclical and non-continuous use of crop lands. Horticulturalists primarily rely on domesticated foods, especially the region’s staple crop, though can be supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. This method of subsistence is most often found in the humid tropics. There are huge differences between horticulture (small-scale) and agriculture (large-scale):
horticulture does not make intensive use of land, labor, capital, or machinery. It uses simple tools like digging sticks, hoes, and machetes.
Horticulture utilizes polyculture, also called multi-cropping, or the planting of different crops in the same field, is common. Crop rotation, or the use of multiple fields and switching what is grown in which field in order to maximize the use of nutrient in the soil, as well as allowing a plot to be left fallow for a period of time, is combined with slash and burn techniques which entails cutting down the natural growth in the fallow field, then burning it to return a fresh layer of nutrients to the soil.
Horticulture provides a relatively low crop yield per acre of land due to the use of simple techniques and the general lack of techniques to improve productivity. Horticultural methods require much more land due to this.
Horticulture allows for household self-sufficiency. Each household is usually capable of producing most of the food its members need. The production goal is for consumption rather than producing a surplus for trade.
Both horticulture and agriculture are based on highly detailed environmental knowledge.
Pastoralism: This does not refer to the literary movement of the same name, but instead of animal husbandry and the reliance on herds of domesticated animals. While a primarily old word adaptive strategy, it is still practiced among today’s traditional cultures. The types of animals which are herded depends upon the environment. A few common breeds are cattle, sheep, goats, camels, llama & alpaca, reindeer, yak, etc..Like foraging, pastoralism is usually found in areas of marginal agricultural content such as the semi-arid grasslands of East and West Africa, the deserts of the Middle East, and the mountainous regions of Southwest and Central Asia. Pastoralism enables the utilization of land where agriculture is impossible or too risky. A society’s sole specialization in pastoralism is relatively rare, though it can be seen among the Maasai of East Africa and the Fulani of West Africa. Most pastoralists engage in some cultivation or trade animal produce for agricultural commodities from sedentary farmers (those who stay in one place). For pastoralists, mobility is the key to success. A move may be triggered by a number of things, including:
ecological necessities such as new grazing lands or additional water supplies
political factors such as the desire to maintain tribal autonomy (self-governing)
personal considerations such as when conflict threatens a camp so families move to join another group
There are two types of movement: horizontal migration which is regular movement over large areas in search of foraging materials; and transhumance, a seasonal movement of livestock between upland and lowland pastures. Transhumance is regularly practiced in mountainous regions where higher ground may become too cold in the winter, and lower ground too hot in the summer. Pastoralists often mix species in herds to reduce the risk of loss to disease, drought, and raiding in the same way a gardener today will plant multiple types of trees to avoid losing all their trees should one type become infested with a plague or disease. Different animals will have different feeding habits, as well, allowing for some of the animals to find food anywhere along their route. There is also the more common consideration that different animals will produce different products. Small stock commonly provide meat while larger stock will provide milk. In his 1924 article entitled “The East African Cattle Complex,” Melvill Herskovits discussed the relationship between herders and their herds, which has sometimes been misinterpreted as an irrational, emotional attachment to the animals. For pastoralists, livestock are more than utilitarian beasts and perform various functions including as part of bride wealth, blood wealth, and stock partnerships. Harold K. Schneider, an economic anthropologist who spent his fieldwork among the Pokot of Kenya and the Wahi Wanyaturu of Tanzania asserted that livestock were frequently regarded as a form of currency. Pastoralist views on livestock matched many of the qualities that economists attribute to money: portable, divisible, interest-bearing, and constitute a store of wealth as well as a means of exchange. Herds are usually owned by families or kinship groups, but the grazing territory is held collectively by the tribe. Today, necessity has forced many pastoralist groups to engage in market exchanges with members of neighboring societies. These market exchanges have been the means of transitioning from pastoralism to a sedentary, settled lifestyle.
How does this help a writer? Once you’ve decided the environment, the next step in culture building is population, subsistence, with political structure closely following. Your culture’s subsistence method is intrinsically tied to the environment they’re existing in. You’re not going to have a foragers in places where agriculture is better suited. But you’re also not going to have agriculture where the soil is bad, or they have no trade partners and therefore no need for a surplus. That’s where horticulture would come in. Knowing a bit about a few of the types of subsistence methods out there will help you think through why your culture does what they do.
We’ll talk about political structuring in future posts.