Well, no! It was after all just the result of a weed, that had nothing to do with our evolution as smart and facile beasts. What made the world as we know it was hay. It's the Hay Theory of History, as described by the physicist Freeman Dyson (and cited by ecologist John Lawton on BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific the other day -- and Freeman says he got it from someone else, who surely got it from someone else):
The idea is that the Roman Empire didn't need hay (and thus didn't have hay) because grass could grow all year in the Mediterranean climate, and so horses could always be put out to pasture.
|Trajan's column, Rome|
Cato the Elder (234-139 BCE), makes mention of hay in his 'De Agri Cultura', LIII, in a fairly offhand manner, indicating that this is no new-fangled or exotic process:
"Cut hay in season, and be careful not to wait too long. Harvest before the seed ripens, and store the best hay by itself for the oxen to eat during the spring ploughing, before you feed clover."
|Panel from the Trajan tower, depicting haystacks|
So, another theory about the rise of civilization bites the dust. But it does sound good ... until you probe a bit. (And, incidentally, we couldn't find a cousin who would comment.)
If there is a serious point to be made it is how easy it is to make up a simple one-factor story to explain a complex event/occurrence/trait. Causation in human life is regularly so complex and indirect, and changeable, that we should not be surprised to find weak prediction from things we think we know, and concomitantly, regular discoveries of things with major effect that we hadn't suspected, which is why the Hay Theory of History can sound so appealing, as well as all the theories we cited above -- and all those gene 'for' disease or trait discoveries that come and go. One factor may be first, or important, but it leads other factors to develop or to other changes that then become causal factors in a continuing cultural evolution. That's how life really is.
Hay, you wouldn't be here otherwise!