The Basis of Civilization
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Developed separately in
three different parts of the
South-west Asia (Middle
A major alteration of the
Could provide much greater
quantities of food.
Made civilization possible.
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10,000 years ago the human population was about 4 million; 5,000 years ago it was maybe 5 million.
Then with agriculture, it began to double every millennium to reach 50 million by 1000 BCE.
Then it grew to 100 million by 500 BCE. Then 200 million by 200 CE.
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The Agricultural Revolution:
A transition from hunting and gathering that took
place over thousands of years.
Impossible to reverse.
Much larger population could not be fed.
All of the methods of agriculture were in use
(somewhere) before 10,000 BCE.
The “revolution” is the intensification of these
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Why was Agriculture Adopted?
Agriculture was not easier than hunting & gathering.
Much more effort was involved in clearing land, sowing,
tending, and harvesting, and looking after domesticated
Food grown was not clearly more nutritious.
Wild grains were often much more nutritious than
No greater security was guaranteed.
Now humans had to depend on a small range of plants &
What it does is provide more food from less land.
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Land Required to Feed One Person
By hunting and 10
gathering, 10 km2 9
By dry farming 7
irrigation), 0.5 km2 4
By wet farming 2
irrigation), 0.1 km2 H-G Dry Wet
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Farming was obviously better:
The advantages of agriculture were so obvious that as soon
as it was discovered, all hunting and gathering ceased.
Climate change forced the change to agriculture:
But climates had changed before without a change in
hunting and gathering.
Moreover, the climate changes in SW Asia, China, and
Mesoamerica would have been very different from each
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Increasing population pressure.
Efforts made by hunting and gathering groups to limit
population were not always successful.
Excess population migrated.
Eventually all suitable areas were occupied.
World population of 4 million reached 10,000 years ago was
perhaps the maximum sustainable on hunting and gathering.
Once people turned to agriculture to get enough food,
there was a surplus, the population continued to rise,
and then there was no turning back.
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Each major area of the world where agriculture
developed independently did it differently.
With profound consequences for world history.
Consider each in turn:
Beginning in the Middle East.
More specifically in the Fertile Crescent.
Beginning in the northern plains.
Earliest evidence from Mexico.
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The first area to
The so called “fertile
A region corresponding
to parts of present day
Iraq, Iran, Israel,
Palestine, Syria, Egypt,
and south Anatolia (part
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Wild Plants Available
The region was rich in naturally occurring wild,
Hunters and gatherers had lived there for thousands
of years, subsisting on some of the wild plants
Wild progenitors of domesticated crops include:
Wheat: from emmer and einkorn.
Emmer: limited distribution.
Einkorn in Anatolia.
Barley: from a wild form of itself.
Wild barley is widely distributed.
Legumes, wild forms exist of: lentils, chickpeas, peas.
Chickpeas in Anatolia.
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Wheat, the main crop, began as an
edible wild grass, emmer, with
seeds light enough to spread on
their own in the wind and
Emmer could be cultivated, however.
Eventually a mutation arose, bread
wheat, with seeds so heavy that it
had to be cultivated (but was much
Emmer Bread wheat
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Domestication of Wild Plants
Emmer and wild barley are easily cultivated.
Modern wheats, peas, and lentils stem from only a very
limited part of the wild stock.
Domestication of plants only began because a small
number of groups of people were forced to exploit
less favourable resources.
Early cultivated plants were well adapted to growing in
disturbed and open sites, had relatively big seeds,
germinated easily, grew quickly, and survived dry
Harvesting would naturally select seeds with less effective
dispersal mechanisms (heavier seeds).
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Domestication of Wild Animals
First was the dog.
Aborigines of Australia and New Guinea domesticaled
dogs, perhaps before anyone else.
Mainly for companionship and possible protection.
Sheep were first domestication for economic reasons.
Probably done before the domestication of crops.
Sheep don’t compete directly with humans for food. They
convert otherwise unusable grasses into meat. Goats and
cattle do the same.
Pigs do compete with humans and were not
domesticated until 6500 BCE at the earliest.
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When food production
could support a larger,
permanent population in
a single area, towns
By 6500 BC, Jericho, a
walled town of ten
acres, had developed.
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Basis of Settled Life
Pottery was invented about 6000 BC.
All the major crops and domesticated animals were
No new ones for thousands of years.
This was the basis of the spread of agriculture
This way of life was based on growing wheat and
barley and keeping herds of sheep, goats and later
All the crops (except a type of einkorn) used in
Europe came from South West Asia.
Also the animals came from the same region.
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Spread of Agriculture into Europe
Movement of agriculture into central and NW Europe took another 3
millennia after its spread to Greece, because of different climate and soils.
Elsewhere hunting and gathering continued.
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Swidden system – slash and burn
This was the basic system for clearing land and
assuring fertile soil.
It involved clearing climax temperate forests with
stone axes and burning.
Crops were planted in ash-enriched soil until
yields began to fall.
Then a new area was cleared and the abandoned
area was allowed to revert to grass, awaiting
further clearance decades later.
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Different crops were grown in a northern
Oats and rye.
Mediterranean areas grew crops such as:
Olives, figs, grapes.
Of these, only grapes moved north.
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Later Domesticated Animals
The dromedary and the camel were domesticated between 2000-1500 BC.
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Later Domesticated Animals, 2
The horse, was domesticated
shortly after 3000 BC.
The horse revolutionized warfare.
For thousands of years the Near
East, China, India, and Europe
were heavily influenced by waves
of invading nomadic horsemen
(e.g. Huns and Mongols)
descending on settled societies.
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This was the second
area to develop
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Originally farming was established in the semi-arid
loess plains of the north.
Loess is a wind-borne soil of fine particles, easily worked.
Soils were thick and had high mineral content.
Most rain falls in the summer, making cultivation possible.
Millet – food for the masses.
Rice (grown as a dry crop) – food for the elite.
Later rice was adapted to grow further south in wet paddy
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Main Difference of Chinese
In the other two regions, a balanced diet was
based on a starchy cereal and legumes.
In China, until soybeans were cultivated about
1100 BC, the diet was based on seed crops
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Encompassing Guatemala, Belize, some of Honduras, San Salvador, and
The last area to develop agriculture independently.
Evidence comes from highland Mexico, where climate is dry enough to
preserve plant remains.
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Until 6000 BC, all groups in the area were still
hunting and gathering.
They hunted rabbit and deer, and harvested nuts, beans,
wild grasses, early maize, and squashes.
First steps were small garden plots to grow previously
30 plants grown for food, dyes, medicines, and containers
These included chili peppers, tomatoes, avocados, papaya,
guava, 5 kinds of squash, gourds, and beans.
Pumpkins were originally grown for their seeds until
cultivation changed their bitter flesh into a sweet variety.
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Why was Development Delayed?
Lack of suitable animals for domestication.
No sheep, goats, or cattle.
Hunting animals remained a vital activity.
Maize was originally a very
No bigger than a human thumb.
For at least 2000 years maize was
chewed rather than ground.
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The Development of Maize
It is difficult to
cross maize with
other wild grasses.
Not until 2000 BCE
Maize cob sizes at roughly thousand-
year intervals starting in 5000 BCE.
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Why was Development Delayed,
For a long time, it was more economical to
gather food than to grow it in Mesoamerica.
Only around 2000 BC was productivity great
enough to support village life.
Hence complex societies began to develop
4000 years later in the new world.
When Europeans arrived in XVI they found a
society comparable to Mesopotamia in 2000 BCE.
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Importance of Agriculture
Agriculture was the most fundamental change
in human history.
Settled societies for the first time.
No longer egalitarian.
Specialization within society.
Emergence of elites: religious, political, military.
The state had the power to direct society.
Ownership of food.
Concept of property.
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takes a greater effort,
the output of food is
much higher, leading
to a surplus.
A surplus can be
used to support
engaged in food
production. Ancient Egyptian surplus grain being collected
and stored in large urns. From a tomb mural.
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The Surplus as the Key to
Human history since agriculture has been
about the acquisition and distribution of
surplus food and its uses.
Rising populations placed greater strain on food
This required a form of government that could
support infrastructure for more intensive farming.
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Example of infrastructure:. Irrigation. Pictured are
shadoofs – devices to lift water from a river to an
irrigation trench. A carving from Nineveh.
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The priest class were at
top of the elite.
distribution to the entire
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The Centre of Urban Life:
Uruk in Mesopotamia.
The temple was 225 feet long, 200 feet wide, 40 feet high.
Regularly rebuilt, it required huge amounts of labour.
The ruins of the
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By 3500 BC Uruk was a substantial center with only small
settlements around it.
By 3000 it had a population of 50,000, and settlements around
had fallen from 146 to 24.
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By 3000 BCE
become the land of
dominated by 8
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Organization of Sumerian Society
Organization in cities was largely concerned
with managing the food supply:
Transportation, storage, re-allocation.
The advance of society depended on greater
More surpluses allowed more people to work
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Organization of Sumerian Society, 2
Concept of property:
Who owned the land, the food, the draught animals
were now questions that arose.
In early settlements, the temple seemed to own
E.g. in the temple at Shuruppak, the temple records
accounted for 9,660 donkeys.
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Organization of Sumerian Society, 3
Class structure emerged, in ascending order:
Administrative, religious & military elite
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Organization of Sumerian Society, 4
Rivalry led to military conflict.
The new importance of warfare and defense led to
greater internal control.
By 2500 BCE, land was owned by private
individuals with large estates.
Later, in the Babylonian empire (1800 BCE),
there were legally separate classes of nobles,
commoners, and slaves.
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Smelting of copper by 6000 BCE.
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Technological advances, 2
Wheel used for making pottery 4500 BCE.
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Technological advances, 3
Wheel adapted for vehicles.
All these advances required specialists who had to be fed
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Needed to keep
accounts in the temples.
First baked tablets with a
fully developed script
85% of the 4000 tablets
deal with economic
importance of centralized
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The Nile valley took over
the agricultural system of
the Near East and adapted it.
This area had been occupied
for 20,000 years before by
hunting and gathering groups.
Agriculture based on sheep,
cattle and emmer was well
established for hundreds of
years before farmers moved
into the Nile valley.
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“Gift of the Nile”
The annual flood came at
right time of year.
It was an easier environment
Hence large cities did not
emerge (less need for
Two great cities were
Memphis and Karnak-
They were local markets and
residences of officials rather
than populous cities.
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Settled by farmers moving east from SW Asia about 3500 BCE.
Highly stratified society emerged to manage the food surplus.
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Egypt and the
Due perhaps to
system. A Seed Drill. In China hundreds of years before
being introduced in the West.
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Developed very late in world terms.
Dependent on developments in China.
Began farming about 1400 BC.
Scope of farming limited because ¾ of land unsuitable.
Kept population low.
Fish a major part of diet.
Only when rice became the main basis of subsistence was
there substantially higher food production.
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Settled communities did not emerge until
2000 BCE, due to difficulties in developing
Lacked animals for domestication.
Wheel not developed because no animals to pull
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When better maize developed and food
production soared (and population too) large
ceremonial centers developed (in Mexico).
Required vast amount of human labour.
Huge increase in social complexity and
organization in the “Classic period” from 300-900
AD (when length of corn cob doubled).
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Centre was Teotihuacan. In the valley of Mexico, the
Had enormous pyramids & plazas.
An immense central power and a rigidly organized society.
Empire collapsed about 700 AD.
Replaced by the military empire of the Toltecs. And then by the Aztecs,
capital in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).
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These islands were settled comparatively late,
so their societies were at a comparatively
earlier stage when first visited by Europeans.
First settled about 500 AD by Polynesians.
Probably no more than 50 original settlers.
Brought with them the social structure of
Polynesia: hereditary chiefs, religious rituals. This
changed as population rose.
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By 1100 all the islands were settled. Villages
existed and almost all were on the coasts.
The population was about 20,000. Society was still
simple and unstratified.
Then a rapid rise in the population and expansion of
settlement inland occurred.
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By 1400, all available land had been taken up.
This produced major social problems.
Previously conflicts were averted by younger sons of
chiefs splitting off and setting up their own groups in
This was no longer possible. Revolts resulted.
These conflicts were cxacerbated by crop failures as
more and more marginal land had to be used.
Population rose to 300,000 by end of the 18th
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Hawaiian Solution to Population
Individual chiefdoms replaced by a single ruler on
These big chiefs drew away from rest of society (married
only into families of other chiefs).
Enforced tribute to themselves (rather than to the gods).
Took over commonly held land. Turned the peasants into
Growing inter-island warfare until 1795, when islands were
conquered and united under a single ruler.
Not long afterwards the society began to disintegrate with arrival of
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Same story all over the world
Surplus food fed religious and political elite and
Redistribution of surplus required extensive control
Led to powerful central institutions.
Became self-reinforcing as elites grabbed more and
Imposed discipline with enforced labour for social projects
and then in armies.
Egalitarian societies replaced by class structures and
huge differences in wealth.
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Two Great Consequences of
Agriculture for Society
Writing, culture in general
Philosophy and scientific knowledge
All the great achievements
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