Alternate History: A World without the Plough

Picture a simple implement: the Plough.

A stick with a blade fixed onto it. Simple enough. Now imagine a world, where we never stumbled across this simple invention.

What difference, if any, would such a twist in the time fabric make? The answer? Quite a bit.

The plough may not be a particularly complex machine. It isn’t particularly compact, doesn’t really fit in a million transistors in the palm of your hand. One would be hard-pressed to call it revolutionary compared to the steam engine or even the wheel. But what it lacks in intricacy, it makes up in functionality.

The plough is truly ground-breaking in more ways than meets the eye at first glance. When it was first introduced, it proved to be very efficient, improving produce by five times compared to manual tilling. In effect, this meant that 80% of the very first workforce was driven redundant. This also meant that vast new frontiers were now left open to be explored by the early man. It inculcated a cycle of discovery, which would eventually lay a framework for the modern society.

New areas could now be used for cultivation. Take the case of the clay soils of the Indian subcontinent. Tilling the elastic soil would quite simply be too arduous a task without a plough, to be satisfactorily prepared for cultivation.This allowed humans to move into more mineral-rich domains and explore new found lands, leading to the discovery of many important elements. We owe our existence to a large extent to this simple implement.

Perhaps, this might sound like hyperbole. But consider this, the main reason we as a species were able to settle down and set up civilisations, was agriculture. And it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume most of a tribe of humans, would have been involved in farming.

But without an invention to take people out of the farms, it gets really tough to predict if we would have ever progressed any further as a species. We can see this to be true, with the case of most primitive tribes left today, the common overlay being their poor agricultural techniques, forcing them away from the gifts of progress.

Good produce meant food was in excess and discovering new methods of storing and cooking them become more pertinent. It was no longer a struggle to meet needs, and as governed by the law of supply and demand, our needs soon expanded. Fortification was possible and necessary, with labour suddenly in excess, laying the foundation for modern society. Men and women could afford to spend time working at more implements that would lead to the further progress of productivity. This in hindsight, allowed for the domino effect of inventions to arise, which furthered our march from an agrarian society.

Looking back, the plough ended up doing much more work off the field as it did on it. It opened new doors, forcing us to step out more and indirectly, changed the fate of our species.

So what about a world, where we managed to skip the plough? Would we ever be able to reach a state that allows for such existential hypotheticals? Paradoxes aside, it really is tough to find a sequence of events that would have moved man out of the marshes, as the plough ended up doing.


The unbroken lands of today answer as much, as any historian would.



Mathirush Pillai

Loves music, football & design. Coffee breath. Tried to be a Harvey Specter, ended up as a Michael Scott.

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