Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ancient World and the First Civilizations & Prehistoric peoples

The First Civilizations

The Emergence of Civilization
“In the beginning human history is a great darkness.” This observation, made twenty-five years ago by a leading world historian, is still true today. Despite great efforts by archaeologists the scientists who study ancient fossils, settlements, and artifacts and other researchers, over the years, we are still forced to reconstruct the story of early human beings before the development of writing from very little evidence. It is a story that depends upon little more than a basketful of human bones, fossils, and artifacts. Yet despite these limitations, through research and new scientific techniques scholars have been able to unearth a great deal of information about the emergence and early development of civilization. Most scholars refer to this period before the invention of writing as prehistory.

Prehistoric peoples. Archaeologists have found evidence that humanlike creatures first appeared on Earth millions of years ago. At some point, probably between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago, the species known as Homo sapiens, which includes Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people as well as all people living today, appeared in Africa. Over thousands of years, the first prehistoric people migrated to many parts of the world.

Scientists today often classify the stages ot human development according to the kinds of tools people 8M used. The Stone Age, the period in which people used tools made primarily of stone, is divided into three parts: the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic Age; the Middle Stone Age, or Mesolithic Age; and the New Stone Age, or Neolithic Age. These periods lasted different lengths of time in different parts of H the world, depending on when people developed H newer and better stone tools. In general, however, H the Old Stone Age lasted from about 2 million years H ago until about 12,000 years ago. The Middle Stone H Age lasted from about 12,000 to about 10,000 years H ago, and the New Stone Age lasted from about to about 5,000 years ago.

At first, early humans were nomads, moving from I place to place in search of food. These early peoples I seem to have been greatly affected by climatic I changes, particularly the long periods of extremely I cold weather known collectively as the Ice Age. I During the Ice Age, Neanderthals and later Cro-Magnons learned to use fire and to make warm clothing, which helped them survive in colder regions.

During the Ice Age the sea level dropped because so I much water was frozen in the icecaps. As the sea level I fell, land bridges emerged between the continents.

People and animals crossed the land bridges into new territories. In this way, humans spread into all parts of the world.

As people adapted to the changes in their environment, they discovered new ways of living. During the Middle Stone Age, for example, they tamed the dog, and invented the bow and arrow, fishhooks, fish spears, and harpoons made from bones and antlers. More important changes occurred during the New Stone Age. During this period, some Neolithic peoples began settling in permanent villages. Some people learned to grow their own plants, which led to the development of agriculture, and to domesticate, or tame, herd animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs. Depending on local conditions, some people became primarily farmers, while others survived by herding animals.

Agriculture and the domestication of animals changed the basic way people lived. While farmers had to settle in one area, herders often remained partly nomadic, moving with their herds in search of grazing land. In addition, the kind of agriculture people practiced varied from region to region as different plant species were domesticated in different parts of the world. Wheat and barley, for example, originated in Southwest Asia and rice developed in South Asia.

Corn was first cultivated in the Americas, bananas in Southeast Asia, and potatoes in South America. The shift from food gathering to food producing is often called the Neolithic Revolution.

The foundations of civilization. As people learned to farm and began to settle down, they also began to establish towns. Eventually, where conditions were right, people organized themselves on an even larger scale into what we today call civilizations. Most civilizations have at least three characteristics: (1) People have been able to produce surplus food. (2) People have created large towns or cities with some form of government. (3) A division of labor exists, in which different people perform different jobs, instead of each person doing all kinds of work. Some historians also consider the development of a calendar or some form of writing to be characteristic of civilization.

Meanwhile, people were also improving their tools. In particular, they learned to use metals. With the discovery of copper and bronze, some people moved into the Bronze Age. People in the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates River valleys knew how to make bronze jewelry and weapons as early as 5,000 years ago. By about 3,200 years ago, people in southwestern Asia had learned to make iron and to craft tools from it, thereby launching the Iron Age.

Improved farming, made possible by techniques such as irrigation and better tools, caused a surplus ot higher quality food and therefore a healthier and more comfortable life for each person. Improvements in agriculture also led to an increase in population, and some of the early village communities grew to become cities. The large number of people living in cities provided the labor to create great palaces, temples, and other public buildings.

The development of agriculture had significant consequences for family life in early human settlements. At first, women did much of the farming, both planting and harvesting crops. With steady food supplies from agriculture, men hunted less. As women became responsible for much of the food supply, their authority and independence seems to have increased. When the plow was invented, however, men again became the primary food providers and assumed their former dominance in the family.

As farming methods improved, fewer people had to work in the fields in order to produce enough food for all. Some could specialize in other kinds of work. Those skilled in making tools and weapons, for example, could devote all their time to such work, trading their products for the food they needed. Thus a skilled class of craft workers called artisans appeared. Other people became traders and merchants. Traders not only transported goods for sale, but also passed along ideas. We call the spread of aspects of culture from one area to another cultural diffusion. People in the river valleys also developed calendars early in their histories, as they sought to know when to plant and harvest their crops. Writing too developed as civilizations expanded their trade and discovered the need to keep records. By developing written language, the early river valley civilizations created a record of their culture and society  the era of recorded history had begun.

The first civilizations that we know of developed in or around four great river valleys: the Nile Valley in Africa; the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in southwest Asia; the Indus Valley in south Asia; and the Huang He, or Yellow River Valley in east Asia. Farming in these river valleys depended on irrigation. Farmers had to get water from the rivers to their fields during the dry season. They had to control floods, so that their crops were not washed away. Building large irrigation and flood control projects required a high level ot cooperation. Governments may have developed gradually as a result of such cooperation. To work together effectively, people made rules to govern their behavior and to plan, direct, and regulate their work.

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