Early Civilizations Essay
One significant factor that contributed to the development of civilization from the primitive hunter-gatherer societies was the development of agriculture. After the last ice age (around 10,000 B.C.E.), humans learned to produce food on their own rather than simply rely on hunting animals and gathering plants for sustenance. Along with the planting of grains and other edible plants, people learned to domesticate animals and take care of them until such time that they could be used or consumed as food. The organized development of agriculture seems to have evolved relatively at the same time in various parts around the world. Certain areas of the Middle East began to cultivate and grow wheat and barley and domesticate pigs, goats and sheep by 8000 BCE, and farming was evident in the Balkan region by 4000 BCE. The growing and harvesting of wheat and barley from the Western part of Asia spread into the Italian part of Europe and soon spread into other parts of the continent.
As agriculture became part of society, the people no longer remained nomadic. Their dwellings became more permanent as they had to attend to planting, growing, harvesting and the domestication of animals. Permanent villages first sprouted in the Middle East, and farming communities in Jericho, Canaan and the Dead Sea area during 8000 BCE. People began to live in simple but more permanent dwellings. One of these communities is Catal Huyuk, in Turkey. It is said that the walls of this community contained 32 acres at one time. Surpluses in the food supply led to people engaging in activities other than farming and domesticating animals, and soon there were skilled individuals manufacturing jewelry, weaponry and other items. Another activity that developed was religion. Gods and goddesses molded in the image of individuals soon were present within these communities. Also, with the surpluses, people engaged in trade. Those producing certain goods and who had surpluses of these traded these for goods which they could not grow or make.
Early Civilizations and their Characteristics
The earliest centers of civilization could be found in the Fertile Crescent in what was called Mesopotamia, which is now centered in Iraq. The cultivation of wheat and barley began in the Fertile Crescent area, the area between two huge river systems – the Tigris and the Euphrates. Men took care of the plants in the field and the women stayed at home to do the chores and to raise the children. It is also said that the first cities developed in Mesopotamia as more efficient means of cultivation evolved. Food was being produced with more regularity and bigger groups of people could live off the produce of less land.There was also the Nile Valley civilization, as well as the Indus River Valley civilization (3000 BCE). There was also the Yellow River civilization in Northern China (1570 BCE). It should be noted that these early civilizations first became permanent near river systems, and the communities needed irrigation systems for their crops to grow. These early civilizations had the following characteristics:
An urban focus – these communities evolved into cities that were centers for religious, economic, social and political development;
Military and political structures – these societies devised military and political structures in order to develop strategies to protect their people, properties and other interests;
Social structure – social strata developed with the people in the various strata assuming different roles in society;
Development of more complexities in material issues – surpluses in agriculture allowed people to have some more time to engage in other activities;
The development of religion – the gods were seen as deities taking care of the communities, and a priest class arose in order to take care of the relations between the gods and men;
Writing – writing evolved such that records became available;
Artistic and intellectual activity – among the extracurricular activities were the arts and thinking and reasoning.
In order for a civilization to evolve, several important characteristics must be present in the community. One can note that all the major early civilizations evolved near bodies of water – near the mouths of rivers and seas, because these bodies of water provided irrigation for the crops and as a means of transport for these people, and also as a means for trade with other civilizations and communities. Without irrigation, agriculture would die out. A second major requirement is the rise of a leader and a warrior class. The warrior class along with a leader or a king was essential for the protection of the group and for the expansion of the civilization as it grew into an empire. Along with the development of a warrior class was the rise of several strata in society such that the members of society occupied their designated roles. Thus there was the king or the leader, the priests, who took care of the religious functions and activities, the farmers, the fishermen, the craftsmen, and the women who took care of the home and the hearth. Within the city or the community, there must be relative peace. This meant that the leader was strong and consistent, such that the classes or entities in society did not fight against each other. If they did, then this would make excellent fodder for the community to be conquered by another kingdom. Finally, the presence of excess harvests or excess food is essential, such that people can also pay attention to other activities such as engaging in trade, crafts, and other skilled work, or even in the development of informal and formal education. Therefore without any distinct culture or patterns or ways of life, there would be rise of civilization.
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