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The History Database

Chapter 1: From Human Prehistory to the Early Civilizations

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Chapter Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Human origin – 2.5 million years ago
      1. 1/4000 of earth’s existence – 24 hour day – last 5 minutes
    2. Human negatives and positives
      1. Aggressiveness, long baby time, back problems, death fears
      2. Grip, high/regular sex drive, omnivores, facial expressions, speech
    3. Paleolithic (Old Stone) Age –
    4. 5 million to 12000 BCE
      1. Simple tools – increase in size, brain capacity – Homo erectus
  2. Late Paleolithic Developments
    1. Homo sapiens sapiens – 120,000 years ago – killed off others?
      1. Population growth required change – 1 square mile to hunt/gather for 2 people
        1. Long breast feeding – limit fertility
        2. Relative gender equality – women harder, but both contributed
      2. Rituals for death, explain environment, rules for social behavior
      3. Greatest achievement – spread over earth
        1. Fire/animal skin
        2. 14,000 Great ice age ended
      4. Tools – sharpen animal bones, rafts
      5. Domesticated animals
      6. Conflicts w/ others – bone breaks/skull fractures
    2. Knowledge based on cave paintings, tool remains, burial sites
  3. Neolithic (New Stone) Age Revolution
    1. Agriculture changed everything – could support more people
      1. Settle one spot – focus on economic, political, religious goals
      2. 14,000-10,000 BCE – 6 million to 100 million people
    2. Causes of Agriculture
      1. Population increase – better climate
      2. Big game animals decreasing – hunting yield declined
      3. Gradual change – harvesting wild grains to planting seeds
    3. New animals domesticated – pigs, sheep, goats, cattle
      1. Meat, skins, dairy
      2. Advantage to Europe?
    4. Why Middle East?
      1. Water source, fertile area, not forested, lacked animals
    5. “Revolution” gradual – many combined changes w/ hunting gathering – 1000 years
    6. Effects
      1. Longer work week – labor intensive
      2. Build houses, villages
      3. Varied clothing
    7. Resistance – too complicated, boring, difficult
      1. Disease – those in villages developed immunity – nomads died off/joined
      2. Some isolated societies still avoid
        1. Harsh climate, no exchange of knowledge
        2. Tough, nomadic invaders
      3. Nomads – not that influential accept for interaction
    8. Changes
      1. Specialization
      2. Technology – control of nature – storage facilities, pottery
      3. Metal tools – Bronze Age 3000 – Iron Age 1500 BCE
  4. Civilization
    1. Hunter/gatherer – no bigger than 60 – food runs out
      1. Other options – slash and burn
      2. Tribal bands – strong kinship – relatively small
    2. Benefits of settling
      1. Houses, wells, improvements used by future, irrigation
      2. Irrigation/defense required work together – organization from above
    3. Catal Huyuk – Turkey – 7000 BCE civilization studied
      1. Rooftop activity – broken bones
      2. Religious responsibilities/fertility gods – images
      3. Trade w/others for peace
    4. Definition – societies economic surplus > division of labor/social hierarchy
      1. Formal political organizations – no relation to family unit
      2. City benefits – wealth, exchange of ideas, artistic/intellectual expression, manufacturing/trade specialization
    5. Writing
      1. First - Cuneiform – wedge shaped Middle East
      2. Tax efficiently
      3. Contracts/treaties
      4. Build on past wisdom
      5. People look at world as something to be understood rationally
      6. Not all peoples literate, each civilization only a minority
    6. Greek term - Barbarians – civilization vs. nomads – wanderers
    7. Negatives of civilization
      1. Class/caste distinctions - slavery
      2. Separation between rulers/ruled
      3. Warlike
      4. Gender inequality – patriarchal – men get manufacturing, political, religious leaders
    8. Benefits of nomadic living
      1. More regulations – word of mouth
      2. Respect of elders/children
      3. Herding economies
      4. Technological improvements – stirrup, weaponry
    9. Impact on Environment
      1. Deforestation
      2. Erosion, flooding
  5. In Depth: The Idea of Civilization in World History Perspective
    1. Differences between civilized and barbaric/savages long held
      1. Chinese – cultural, not biological or racial – could adapt
      2. American Indians – feared Chichimecs – sons of the dog
    2. Related to fear of invasion/outsiders common
    3. Civilis – of the citizens – Latin
      1. Rome – urban dwellers vs. forest/desert dwellers
      2. Greece – bar, bar – barbarians
    4. Historians initially – cultural differences, then 19th century racial differences
      1. Some races more inventive, moral, courageous, artistic
        1. Savage to civilized – white,yellow, red, brown, black
        2. Social Darwinism – historiography
        3. Justified European expansion – White Man’s Burden
        4. Ethnocentrism
    5. Other approach – civilization just one form of social organization
      1. All societies produce cultures, though might lack food surplus/specialization
      2. All peoples capable – but lack resources, historical circumstances, desire
  6. Tigris-Euphrates Civilization
    1. Precedents
      1. Writing
      2. Law codes
      3. City planning/architecture
      4. Trade institutions & money
    2. Mesopotamia – land between two rivers
      1. One of 3 civilizations from scratch – Central America, China, Mesopotamia
      2. Farming required irrigation
      3. Sumerians 3500 BCE
        1. Cuneiform – scribes
        2. Sumerian art – frescoes for temples
        3. Science – astronomy – calendar/forecasts – aided agriculture
          1. Charts of constellations
        4. Ziggurats – first monumental architecture
        5. Role of geography
          1. Swift and unpredictable floods – religious
          2. Polytheism – punishment of humans through floods – Noah
          3. Gloomy – punishment in afterlife – hell
          4. Easy to invade – constant war
        6. City-states – king w/ divine authority
          1. Regulate religion
          2. Court system for justice
          3. Land worked by slaves – warfare created labor surplus
        7. Inventions – wheeled carts, fertilizer, silver money
      4. Babylonians
        1. Hammurabi – first codified law
          1. Procedure for courts
          2. Property rights
          3. Harsh punishments
      5. Indo-European invasions from North
        1. Adopted culture
    3. Egyptian Civilization
      1. Benefited from trade/technology of Mesopotamia
      2. Geographic factors
        1. Difficult to invade
        2. Regular flooding cycle
      3. Economy – government directed vs. Mesopotamia – freedom
      4. Pharoahs – godlike – tombs – pyramids
      5. Interactions with Kush to the South
      6. Egyptian art – lively, cheerful, colorful – positive afterlife – surrounded by beauty
      7. Architecture influenced later Mediterranean
    4. Indian and Chinese River Valley Civilizations
      1. Indus River – Harappa/Mohenjo Daro
        1. Unique alphabet/art
          1. Harappan alphabet not deciphered
        2. Invasion plus invasion by Indo-Europeans – difficult to understand culture
      2. Huanghe (Yellow River)
        1. Isolated, little overland trading
        2. History part fact/fiction
        3. State organized irrigation
        4. Elaborate intellectual life
          1. Writing – knotted ropes, scratches of lines, ideographic symbols
          2. Delicate art, musical interest
          3. Limited materials – basic housing
    5. Heritage of the River Valley Civilizations
      1. Accomplishments
        1. Monuments
        2. Wheel
        3. Taming of horse
        4. Square roots
        5. Monarchies/bureaucracies
        6. Calendars/time
        7. Major alphabets
      2. How much are these civilizations “origin” of today
        1. Except for China, all have a break from past
        2. Roman empire – god-like king
        3. Slavery
        4. Scientific achievements – Greeks studied Egyptians
      3. East vs. West
        1. Mesopotamians – gap between humankind and nature
        2. China – basic harmony all live together
        3. Temple building, art, architecture – Mesopotamia to Middle East/Greece
        4. Mesopotamia – regional cultures created that could survive invasion
          1. Phoenicians – 22 letter alphabet
            1. Colonized – simplified number system
          2. Jews – morally/ethically based monotheistic religion
            1. Semitic people – small, relatively weak – only autonomous when region was in chaos
            2. Believed god- Jehovah – guided destinies of people
              1. Orderly, just – not whimsical
            3. Created moral code
            4. Religion basis for Christianity/Islam
            5. God’s compact with Jews
              1. Little conversion
              2. Minority position in Middle East
        5. The First Civilizations
          1. Clear division between river valley civilizations and classical civilizations
            1. Invasion/natural calamities – India
            2. Invasion/political decline – Egypt
            3. Mesopotamia – break but bridges – smaller cultures
              1. Values and institutions spread
          2. Theme emerges – “Steadily proliferating contacts against a background of often fierce local identity”
          3. Integrating force
            1. Local autonomy lessens – priests/kings increase power
          4. Four centers of civilization started
          5. Close neighbors – Egypt/Mesopotamia – different politics, art, beliefs on death
          6. Diversity and civilization worked together

 

The History Database