Ancient Civilizations: The Rise Of Civilization (01 of 18) cover

Ancient Civilizations: The Rise Of Civilization (01 of 18)

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The first humans evolved in Africa during the Paleolithic Era, or Stone Age, which spans the period of history from 2.5 million to 20,000 years ago. By the end of the Lower Paleolithic, members of the hominid family were living in what is now China, western Indonesia, and, in Europe, around the Mediterranean and as far north as England, southern Germany, and Bulgaria. Their further northward expansion may have been limited by the lack of control of fire: studies of cave settlements in Europe indicate no regular use of fire prior to 300,000-400,000 years ago.
When did humans first produce the earliest works of art and engage in religious and spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual? What other factors drove the early evolution of these ancient peoples?
Includes a quick 3 question quiz to make sure you've got your 'lithics straight!


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Ancient Civilizations: The Rise Of Civilization (01 of 18)

Objectives and Key Points

Learning Objectives

1.) Explain the significance of the Neolithic Revolution

2.) Describe the leading theories for why the Neolithic Revolution took place

Key Points

1.) During the Paleolithic, humans grouped together in small societies and subsisted by gathering plants and fishing, hunting or scavenging wild animals.

2.) The Neolithic Revolution references a change from a largely nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a more settled, agrarian-based one, with the inception of the domestication of various plant and animal species—depending on species locally available, and likely also influenced by local culture.

3.) There are several competing (but not mutually exclusive) theories as to the factors that drove populations to take up agriculture including the Hilly Flanks hypothesis, the Feasting model, the Demographic theories, the evolutionary/intentionality theory, and the largely discredited Oasis Theory.

4.) The shift to agricultural food production supported a denser population, which in turn supported larger sedentary communities, the accumulation of goods and tools, and specialization in diverse forms of new labor.

5.) Findings by archaeologists and paleopathologists show that nutritional standards of Neolithic populations were generally inferior to that of hunter-gatherers.

Stone Age

Stone Age

Imaginative depiction of the Stone Age, by Viktor Vasnetsov

Public Domain Image

Key Terms

paleopathologists

scientists who study human diseases as well as other biological anomalies and markers

Neolithic Revolution

the world's first historically verifiable advancement in agriculture that took place around 12,000 years ago.

Paleolithic Era

a period of history which spans from 2.5 million to 20,000 years ago and is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools.

Hunter-gatherer

a nomadic lifestyle in which food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to an agricultural lifestyle, which relies mainly on domesticated species.

Hilly Flanks hypothesis

the theory that agriculture began in the hilly flanks of the Taurus and Zagros mountains, where the climate was not drier and fertile land supported a variety of plants and animals amenable to domestication.

Before the Rise of Civilization

The first humans evolved in Africa during the Paleolithic Era, or Stone Age, which spans the period of history from 2.5 million to 20,000 years ago.

Humans spread from Africa roughly 750,000 years ago. About 1.5-2 million years ago, groups of hominids began leaving Africa and settling southern Europe and Asia. Southern Caucasus was occupied by 1.7 million years ago, and northern China was reached 1.66 million years ago. By the end of the Lower Paleolithic, members of the hominid family were living in what is now China, western Indonesia, and, in Europe, around the Mediterranean and as far north as England, southern Germany, and Bulgaria.

Importance of Fire

Their further northward expansion may have been limited by the lack of control of fire: studies of cave settlements in Europe indicate no regular use

of fire prior to 300,000-400,000 years ago. East Asian fossils from this period are typically placed in the genus Homo erectus. Very little fossil evidence is available at known Lower Paleolithic sites in Europe, but it is believed that hominids who inhabited these sites were likewise Homo erectus. There is no evidence of hominids in America, Australia, or almost anywhere in Oceania during this time period.

Control of Fire by Early Humans

Control of Fire by Early Humans

A Diorama showing ancient cavemen stands inside the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The museum preserves the Mongolian cultural heritage.

Public Domain Image

Evolution

During the Paleolithic, humans grouped together in small societies and subsisted by gathering plants and fishing, hunting or scavenging wild animals.

The Paleolithic is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools, although humans also used wood and bone tools at that time. Other organic commodities were adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers; however, due to their nature, these have not been preserved to any great degree. Humankind gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis – who used simple stone tools – into fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) during the Paleolithic era.

During the end of the Paleolithic, specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic, humans began to produce the earliest works of art and engage in religious and spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual.

Over several thousand years, these developments, as well as other factors, led to what is known as the Neolithic Revolution or the Agricultural Revolution.

Stone Ball From a Set of Paleolithic Bolas

Stone Ball From a Set of Paleolithic Bolas

Paleoliths (artifacts from the Paleolithic) such as this stone ball demonstrate some of the stone technologies that the early humans used as tools and weapons

(CC BY 2.5)

The Neolithic Revolution

The beginning of the Neolithic Revolution in different regions has been dated from perhaps 8000 BCE in the Kuk Early Agricultural Site of Melanesia Kuk

to 2500 BCE in Subsaharan Africa, with some considering the developments of 9000–7000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent to be the most important. This transition everywhere is associated with a change from a largely nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a more settled, agrarian-based one, with the inception of the domestication of various plant and animal species—depending on the species locally available, and probably also influenced by local culture.

Recent archaeological research suggests that some in some regions such as the Southeast Asian peninsula, the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist was not linear, but region-specific.

Competing Theories

There are several competing (but not mutually exclusive) theories as to the factors that drove populations to take up agriculture. The most prominent of these are:

The Oasis Theory, originally proposed by Raphael Pumpelly in 1908, and popularized by V. Gordon Childe in 1928, suggests as the climate got drier due to the Atlantic depressions shifting northward, communities contracted to oases where they were forced into close association with animals.

These animals were then domesticated together with planting of seeds. However, this theory has little support amongst archaeologists today because subsequent climate data suggests that the region was getting wetter rather than drier.

The Hilly Flanks

The Hilly Flanks

The Hilly Flanks curl around the red area, the Fertile Crescent.

Image courtesy Sémhur

(CC BY 2.5)

Hilly Flanks and Feasting Models

The Hilly Flanks hypothesis, proposed by Robert Braidwood in 1948, suggests that agriculture began in the hilly flanks of the Taurus and Zagros mountains,

where the climate was not drier as Childe had believed, and fertile land supported a variety of plants and animals amenable to domestication.

The Feasting model by Brian Hayden suggests that agriculture was driven by ostentatious displays of power, such as giving feasts, to exert dominance. This system required assembling large quantities of food, which drove agricultural technology.

Demographic and Evolutionary Theories

The Demographic theories proposed by Carl Sauer and adapted by Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery posit that an increasingly sedentary population

outgrew the resources in the local environment and required more food than could be gathered. Various social and economic factors helped drive the need for food.

The evolutionary/intentionality theory, developed by David Rindos and others, views agriculture as an evolutionary adaptation of plants and humans. Starting with domestication by protection of wild plants, it led to specialization of location and then full-fledged domestication.

Bison Painting

Bison Painting

A modern interpretation of the bison from the Altamira cave ceiling, one of the most famous paintings in the cave

Image Public Domain

Early Inequality Between the Sexes

Socially, the traditional view is that the shift to agricultural food production supported a denser population, which in turn supported

larger sedentary communities, the accumulation of goods and tools, and specialization in diverse forms of new labor. The resulting larger societies led to the development of different means of decision making and governmental organization. Food surpluses made possible the development of a social elite who were not otherwise engaged in agriculture, industry or commerce, but dominated their communities by other means as well as by monopolizing decision-making.

Author Jared Diamond specifically identifies the availability of milk and/or cereal grains as permitting mothers to raise both an older (e.g. 3 or 4 year old) child and a younger child concurrently, whereas this was not possible previously. Overall a population could increase its size more rapidly when resources were more available.

Recent analyses point out that agriculture also brought about deep social divisions, and in particular, encouraged inequality between the sexes.

Nutritional Differences

Findings by archaeologists and paleopathologists, furthermore, show that nutritional standards of Neolithic populations were generally inferior to that of hunter-gatherers.

Their life expectancy may well have been shorter too, in part due to diseases and harder work: hunter-gatherers would have covered their food needs with about 20 hours' work a week, while agriculture required much more and was at least as random. The hunter-gatherers' diet was more varied and balanced than what agriculture later allowed.

Throughout the development of sedentary societies, disease spread more rapidly than it had during the time in which hunter-gatherer societies existed. Inadequate sanitary practices and the domestication of animals may explain the rise in deaths and sickness following the Neolithic Revolution, as diseases jumped from the animal to the human population.

Agriculturalists generally had more anemias and vitamin deficiencies, more spinal deformations and more dental pathologies.

Question 1

Which of the following occurred as a result of the Neolithic Revolution?

A) Specialization in diverse forms of new labor

B) Slower spread of diseases

C) Gender equality

D) Increased nutritional standards

Question 2

Which of the following theories about the Neolithic Revolution is correctly matched with its name?

A) Feasting model - agriculture was an evolutionary adaptation of plants and humans

B) Hilly Flanks hypothesis - agriculture began in fertile land and wetter climates

C) Demographic theories - agriculture driven by ostentatious displays of power to exert dominance

D) Oasis theory - increasingly sedentary population outgrew resources in the local environment

Question 3

Which of the following is a feature of a hydraulic empire?

A) Lack of enforcement to preserve societal structure

B) Alternative resources in addition to those provided by rivers

C) Existence in a fertile region

D) A social or government structure which maintains power and control through water access

Answers

Question 1: D Specialization in diverse forms of new labor

Question 2: D Hilly Flanks hypothesis - agriculture began in fertile land and wetter climates

Question 3: B A social or government structure which maintains power and control through water access

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(CC BY-SA 4.0)