Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

pp 104-113

Agriculture: Definition and Overview

  • David R. HarrisAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London Email author 
  • , Dorian Q. FullerAffiliated withInstitute of Archaeology, University College London

State of Knowledge and Current Debates


Agriculture is the most comprehensive word used to denote the many ways in which crop plants and domestic animals sustain the global human population by providing food and other products. The English word agriculture derives from the Latin ager (field) and colo (cultivate) signifying, when combined, the Latin agricultura: field or land tillage. But the word has come to subsume a very wide spectrum of activities that are integral to agriculture and have their own descriptive terms, such as cultivation, domestication, horticulture, arboriculture, and vegeculture, as well as forms of livestock management such as mixed crop-livestock farming, pastoralism, and transhumance. Also agriculture is frequently qualified by words such as incipient, proto, shifting, extensive, and intensive, the precise meaning of which is not self-evident. Many different attributes are used too to define particular ...

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