Preface by Dr. Freeman S. Howlett
This course is designed to cover the essential facts concerned with the history of horticulture from the earliest known primitive times and including the last half of the 20th century. Particular attention will be given to individual accomplishments since these indicate progressive changes in viewpoint and accomplishment. Obviously prior to the dawn of the written word, we can surmise only as to the order of development of man's use of plants in every day existence.
Sarton (Sarton, George, A History of Science: Ancient Science through the Golden Age of Greece. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 1959.) points out that the "early technical problems" involved the discovery of "useful plants one by one - plants to use of food, or as drugs, or for other domestic purposes and this implied innumerable experiments. It was not enough for his to discover a plant: he had to select among infinite variations the best modalities of its use." He cited an example in the discovery of the nutritive value of Cassava, the juice of which contains hydrocyanic acid, an ingredient which must be removed by cooking.
The change of primitive man from a Nomadic to a settled existence is considered by historians as one of the most important steps in the history of mankind. This shift involved a change from a "food-gathering" to a "food producing" society. The passage from a Nomadic to a settled existence occurred thousands of years ago in some parts of the world. However, the Bedouins in the Near East represent even yet a group which has not developed a settled existence.
Sarton declares also that primitive men gathered considerable knowledge of herbs and various drugs, obtained by "vague, and casual experiments" and that the results were transmitted from generation to generation. Various types and groups of plants were undoubtedly classified as to possible use and those that were dangerous were in some way catalogued.
Little is known of the scientific achievements of the Hindus, Iranians, Scythians, Chinese in ancient pre-Hellenic times. Sarton concludes that in the Near East the centuries preceding and following 1000 B.C. were characterized by a tremendous upheaval due to the introduction of iron, "complicated migration" and "widespread turbulence."
Oriental influences continued to exert an influence even after Aegean and Green civilizations became dominant. Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Phoenician cultures continued until the Roman domination and survived even the Roman conquests.
Egyptian arts and customs were transmitted not only by the Egyptians but also by the Aegeans, Phoenicians and the Greeks. Egyptian traditions were kept alive by travelers, "story tellers, craftsmen and gossips." Among those spreading oriental influences may be listed: Herodotus(5th Century), Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Nearsbus in the 4th Century, Caesar, Poseidonios, Diodorus, Strabon, and Vitrusius, in the 1st Century, Dioscorides, Josephos, Columella, Tacitus, Lucanus and Pliny likewise performed a similar service.
The process of accumulating knowledge of harmful and useful plants undoubtedly involved long periods of time. The Egyptians and Sumerians of the first dynasties had considerable knowledge bequeathed by their ancestors. They passed on to succeeding authors (Aegean, Phoenician and Greek) information in these respects. Sarton declares, however, that historians still lack a good etymological dictionary which would list foreign Greek words according to their origin. If such were available the oriental origin of plants and animal names would be provided. The Greek and oriental equivalents of plant names are not known.