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The earliest society began to arise for the great river valleys of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Pakistan, and northern China. It depended on the river water, and centers of political powers that arose to organize the labor required digging and maintaining irrigation channels. The higher ups like kings and priests dominated these early societies from the urban centers help by the scribes, soldiers, merchants, craftsmen, and others with specialized skills. Certain centers came to dominate broader expanses of territory seeking access of raw materials and especially metals. Artisans made weapons, tools, and ritual objects from bronze. The cultural and technology started to spread to the neighboring regions such as southern China, Nubia, Syria Palestine, Anatolia, and the Aegean. In the Western Hemisphere, the different geographical circumstance called forth distinctive patterns of technological and cultural response in the early civilizations in southern Mexico.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, before 2000 B.C.E., defines civilization as the people of ancient Mesopotamia stood it. Gilgamesh, an early king, sends a temple prostitute to tame Enkidu, a wild man who lives like an animal in the grasslands, perhaps symbolizing the foraging lifestyle of the preagricultural populations of the Mesopotamian borderlands. The temple prostitute uses her sexual charms to win Enkidu’s trust.
The Mesopotamians, like other peoples throughout history, equated civilization with their own way of life, but civilization is an ambiguous concept and the charge that a particular group is “uncivilized” has been used throughout human history to justify many things. Thus, it is important to explain the common claim that the first advanced civilizations emerged in Mesopotamia and Egypt sometime before 3000 B.C.E.
The scholars agree that certain political, social, economic, and technological traits are indicators of civilization:
The earliest societies exhibiting these traits developed in the floodplains of great rivers: the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, the Indus in Pakistan, the Yellow in China, and the Nile in Egypt. The periodic flooding of the rivers deposited fertile silt and provided water for agriculture, but it also threatened lives and property. They protect themselves and channel the forces of nature, people living near the rivers created new technologies and forms of political and social organization.
The production of such artwork and tools over wide areas and long periods of time demonstrate that skill and ideas were not simply individual expression but were but were deliberately passed along within societies. These learned patterns of action and expression constitute culture. Culture also includes material objects on of the objects such as a house, clothing, tools, and crafts also the nonmaterial values such as beliefs and language. The development and transformation of cultural practices and events are the subjects of history.
The Stone Age which lasted around 4,000 years ago can be the misleading label. Among the major subdivisions, the Paleolithic has lasted 10,000 years ago about 3,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age and the Neolithic which is associated with the origins of agriculture. The few surviving present-day foragers in Africa derive the bulk of day-to-day food from wild vegetable foods with meat reserved for feasts.
The Iceman remains were found at the edge of a melting glacier in the European Alps in 1991. His clothing, tools and even the food in his stomach survived in remarkably good condition. The Iceman was dressed from head to toe with warm clothing form the weather in the mountains the fifty-year-old man was wearing a fur hat fastened under the chin with a strap a vest of different colored deerskin, leather leggings and loincloth, and a padded cloak made of grasses. In a leather fanny pack, he carried small flint tools for cutting scraping and punching holes. A small arrowhead lodged in his shoulder caused the Iceman’s death. In his stomach, researchers found the remains of the meat-rich meal he had eaten not long before he died.
A better term is Agricultural Revolutions which emphasizes that the central change was in food production and that agriculture arose independently in many places. Food gathering gave way to food production on stage spread over a hundred generations. Plants domesticated in the Middle East spread to Greece as early as 6000 B.C.E., to the light-soiled plains of central Europe and along the Danube River shortly after 4000 B.C.E., and then tether parts of Europe over the next millennium. The rice eaten in most places today, which thrives in warm and wet conditions, was first domesticated in southern China, the northern half of Southeast Asia, or northern India, possibly as early as the 10,000 B.C.E. but more likely closer to be as 5000 B.C.E. In India several pulses domesticated about 2000 B.C.E. were cultivated along with rice. The American continents were domesticating other crops by about 5000 B.C.E maize in Mexico, manioc in Brazil and Panama, and beans and squash in Mesoamerica.
A recently discovered complex of stone structures in the Egyptian desert that was in use by 5000 B.C.E. includes burial chambers presumably for ancestors, a calendar circle, and pairs of upright stones that frame the rising sun on the summer solstice. The builders must have been deeply concerned with the cycle of the seasons and how they were linked to the movement of heavenly bodies. Observation and worship of the sun are evident at the famous Stonehenge site in England, constructed about 2000 B.C.E., and megalithic burial chambers dating from 4000 B.C.E. are evidence of ancestor rituals in western and southern Europe.
The people living in Mesopotamia at the start of the “historical period”—the period for which has written evidence—were the Sumerians. Have been in southern Mesopotamia by 5000 B.C.E. and perhaps even earlier. They have created a framework of civilization in Mesopotamia during the long period of dominance in the fourth and third millennia B.C.E. Personal names recorded in inscriptions from northerly cities as early as 2900 B.C.E. reveal the presence of people who spoke the language as the Semitic. By 2000 B.C.E. the Semitic peoples had become politically dominant, and from this time forward the Semitic language Akkadian supplanted Sumerian, although the Sumerian cultural legacy was preserved. Historians use the term city-state to designate these self-governing urban centers and the agricultural territories they controlled. The Mesopotamian cities collected crop surpluses from the villages in their vicinity as in return provided rural districts with military protection against bandits and raiders and access to manufactured goods produced by urban specialists.
The Semitic Amorites founded a new city at Babylon, not far from the Akkadian Empire. Toward the end of a long reign, King Hammurabi launched a series of aggressive military campaigns, and Babylon kingdom became the capital of what historians have named the “Old Babylonian” state, which stretched beyond Sumer and Akkad into the north and northwest from 1900 to 1600 B.C.E. The written sources were produced by male scribes trained professionals who applied their reading and writing skills to tasks of administration and for the most part reflect elite male activities. Myths of the Sumerian gods were transferred to their Semitic counterparts, and many of the same rituals continued to be practiced. People imagined the gods as anthropomorphic like humans in form and conduct. They thought the gods had bodies and senses, sought nourishment from sacrifice, enjoyed the worship and obedience of humanity, and were driven by lust, love, hate, anger, and envy. The most visible part of the temple compound was the ziggurat a multistory, mud-brick, pyramid-shaped tower approached by ramps and stairs.
The most visible part of the temple compound was the ziggurat a building made out of, mud-brick, pyramid-shaped tower approached by ramps and stairs. A temple was considered the god’s residence, and the cult statue in its interior shrine was believed to embody the deity’s life force. Priests predicted and met every need of the divine image in a daily cycle of waking, bathing, dressing, feeding, moving around, entertaining, soothing, and revering. The survival of many amulets is a small charm and representations of a host of demons suggest the widespread belief in magic—the use of special words and rituals to handle and control the forces of nature. For example, people believed that a headache was caused by a demon that could be driven out of the valetudinarian bodies. An important example of the broader type of technology is writing, which first appeared in Mesopotamia before 3300 B.C.E. The earliest inscribed tablets, found in the chief temple at Uruk, date from a time when the temple was the most important economic establishment in the community. The reed made wedge-shaped impressions, the early realistic pictures were increasingly stylized into a combination of strokes and wedges, a system known as cuneiform writing.
The Texts was written about political, literary, religious, and scientific topics. Cuneiform is not a language but rather a system of writing. Developed originally for the Sumerian language, later was adapted to the Akkadian language of the Mesopotamian Semites as well as to other languages from western Asia, such as Hittite, Elamite, and Persian. The Mesopotamians had to import metals, but they became skilled in metallurgy, refining ores containing copper and alloying them with arsenic or tin to make bronze.
Craftsmen poured molten bronze into molds to produce tools and weapons. In 4000 B.C.E. the potter’s wheel, a revolving platform spun by hands or feet, made possible the rapid production of vessels with precise and complex shapes. Mesopotamians used a base-60 number system in which numbers were expressed as fractions or multiples of 60.
Whereas Mesopotamia was open to migration or invasion and was dependent on imported resources, Egypt’s natural isolation and material self-sufficiency fostered a unique culture that for long periods had relatively little to do with other civilizations. It is about 100 miles from the Mediterranean the Nile divides into channels to form a triangular delta. Most of the population has been living on the twisting, green ribbon of land alongside the river or in the Nile Delta. The rest of the country, 90 percent or more, is a bleak and environment of a desert of mountains, rocks, and dunes. The ancient Egyptians distinguished between the low-lying, life-sustaining dark soil of the “Black Land” along the river and the elevated, deadly “Red Land” of the desert. “Nilometers,” stone staircases with incised units of measure placed along the river’s edge, gauged the flood surge. Egypt was well endowed with natural resources and far more self-sufficient than Mesopotamia. Egyptians used papyrus reeds growing in marshy areas to make sails, ropes, and a kind of paper. Hunters pursued the abundant wild animals and birds in the marshes and on the edge of the desert, and fishermen netted fish from the river. Later generations of Egyptians saw the conquest of these smaller units and the unification of all Egypt by Menes a ruler from the south, as a pivotal event.
More generally, scholars refer to the “Old,” “Middle,” and “New Kingdoms,” each a period of centralized political power and brilliant cultural achievement, punctuated by “Intermediate Periods” of political fragmentation and cultural decline. The Egyptian state centered on the king, often known by the New Kingdom term pharaoh is a ruler in ancient Egypt, from an Egyptian phrase meaning “palace.” From the time of the Old Kingdom, if not earlier, Egyptians considered the king to be a god sent to earth to maintain ma’at the divinely authorized order of the universe. Around t 2630 B.C.E. the Djoser is a Third Dynasty king, constructed a stepped pyramid was composed of a series of stone platforms laid one on top of the other at Saqqara near Memphis. Rulers in the Fourth Dynasty filled in the steps so that they can create the smooth-sided, limestone pyramids that have become the most memorable symbol of ancient Egypt. Between 2550 and 2490 B.C.E. the pharaohs Khufu and Khefren erected huge pyramids at Giza, several miles north of Saqqara. Ruling dynasties usually placed their capitals in the area of their original power base. Memphis, near the apex of the delta held this central position during the Old Kingdom.
Hieroglyphics the earliest form of this system were picture symbols standing for words, syllables, or individual sounds. Hieroglyphic writing long continued to be used on monuments and ornamental inscriptions. By 2500 B.C.E. however, a cursive script, in which the original pictorial nature of the symbol was less apparent, that had been developed for the everyday needs of administrators and copyists. The Egyptians used writing for many purposes other than administrative recordkeeping. Their written literature included tales of adventure and magic, love poetry, religious hymns, and instruction manuals on technical subjects. The plant grew only in Egypt but was in demand throughout the ancient world and was exported in large quantities.
Thus did Ptah of Memphis, Re of Heliopolis and Amon of Thebes become gods of all Egypt, serving to unify the country and strengthen the monarchy. The mummy was then placed in one or more decorated wooden caskets and deposited in a tomb. The form of the tomb reflected the wealth and status of the deceased. Common people made do with simple pit graves or small mud-brick chambers, while the privileged classes built larger tombs. Small figurines called ‘shawabtis’ were included to play the part of servants and take the place of the deceased in case the afterlife required periodic compulsory labor.
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