Sunday, February 23, 2014

Birth of Civilizations: Stone Age to Neolithic Period: Rainfall vs Irrigation:

Civilizations begins along three major rivers: The Euphrates and Tigris in Mesopotamia now know as Iraq, and the Nile River now known as Egypt.  These are known as river valley civilizations. 
But when on the timeline does civilization begin.  Well it goes something like this. 
We have the Old and Middle stone age, which is characterized by Hunter gatherer societies.  We set the end of the Middle Stone Age at 10,000 B.C or B.C.E in modern terms.  The New Stone Age: roughly begins the cultivation of plants and domestication of animals.  This is also called the Neolithic Age or more commonly the Neolithic revolution. 
But how did civilization start.  Well in order to transfer from hunter gatherer to agriculture, you have to grow crops. This requires water.  Obviously you can't grow wheat and barely in a desert.  So how then?
There are two types of agriculture: Rainfall and Irrigation. 
Rainfall agriculture naturally requires rain to fall on the soil in order to grow the crops.  That means you have to rely on the weather to grow your crops.  The place s that used rainfall agriculture were in Iran, Northern Iraq, Northern Syria, and the coastal Mediterranean.  As the book puts it, "A prerequisite for rainfall agriculture is an annual precipitation of at least 250mm.  That means a slight decrease in rainfall will lead to a food crisis, so you can see how very vulnerable these areas are.  If there is a drought you're dead. 
There are two kinds of irrigation, Natural and artificial.  Egypt has natural irrigation because every year the Nile will regularly flood leaving damp soil filled with various silts and particles that create superb fertility.  The Egyptians didn't have to artificially irrigate any of their crops.  Mesopotamia however had irregular floods occurring during the wrong parts of the year, so they had to perform artificial irrigation.  In fact Mesopotamia first utilized the sowing plow to help raise the level of production. 
What makes these civilizations far better, probably why all river valley civilizations are better is the fact of the irrigation.  These civilizations could produce a crop ratio of 15:1 and sometimes even higher than that!  For Greece, Italy, and Medieval Europe the crop ratio was on average 4/5:1 or if it was a good harvest, 7/10:1. 
So once you have a stable way of growing food, a stable agriculture system, now we can develop other crafts emerge such as carpenters, tanners, scribes, and metal workers. 
Some key dates to remember:
3400 B.C the invention of writing occurs
3000 B.C man discovers how to exploit and smelt copper ore and produce bronze a combination of tin and copper.
Once this kind of stability in agriculture occurs, people settle down into villages, which over time turn into city states.  According to my textbook Jericho actually became a full city around 7000 B.C. 
Now let's describe what a Mesopotamian city looks like.  At the core of a Mesopotamian city was the temple which housed the state deity.  These temples grow into organizations that own estates and engaged in activities including agriculture, stock breeding and other various crafts. 
We eventually have two scripts emerge at the invention of writing that occurs between 3400-3200 B.C, Cuneiform and Hieroglyphics. 
There are two kinds of writing that I will mention: pictographic and ideographic
Pictographic - words represented by a picture
Ideographic - words represented by a symbol
Ex. of Pictographic - a picture of a bird meaning bird
Ex. of Ideographic - a heart symbol meaning symbolically love. 
The Egyptian script however renders only consonants, leaving vowels out of the picture.  That's why it's so hard to figure out how the Egyptian language sounds.  Ex.  Ra or Re?  Common battle I see.  Personally I prefer Ra, but I could easily be wrong.  Writing was also only used by small groups of educated people. 
In most cities of this time, the majority of people were peasents who lived in the city.  During the day they would leave the city in order to work in the fields and then return to the city in the evening. 
Agriculturalists - people so lived a sedentary life. 
Herders - nomadic peoples moving around from one place to another. 
Herders will do a seasonal migration called Transhumance usually transferring from winter to summer pastures. 
Both Mesopotamia and Egypt lacked valuable resources such as timber and metals, yet agricultural wise they were very different.  Mesopotamia had to create canals to get their crops grown.  Worse yet the water in the Euphrates and Tigris could contain harmful salts that would damage the crops, unlike the Nile, which left fertile silts and soil deposits. 
There's also another aspect about Egypt that actually makes it safer than Mesopotamia.  In Mesopotamia the fertile land gradually separated from infertile land.  In Egypt you can literally have one foot in the desert and one foot in fertile soil with plants and everything. 
I will talk more about that when I get to the post on how environment influences cultures and lifestyles in society.
That's basically it for this post.  Next post will focus on the third millennium early Bronze age on Egypt.  Take care! 
Starvix Draxon

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