Unit 1: Foundations (8000 B.C.E to 600 C.E.)
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From Human Prehistory to Early Civilizations
Since humans’ earliest days, we have
been influenced and shaped by two major and powerful forces: 1)Geography 2)The Environment
Geography is the study of the earth,
specifically its surface. Geography has had an enormous impact on humans and their history. It determines where humans migrated to and from and where they chose to settle in many cases.
Environment is the circumstances,
objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded. Humans look for an environment that is most suitable for sustaining life. (We will see this later in the section)
Humans had important achievements during this time
such as simple tool use, taming fire, and improved hunting methods. Stone tool use improved and humans developed rituals, culture, and some religion (mainly nature worship) in this time. The Paleolithic Age eventually gave way to the Mesolithic (Middle Stone) Age.
12,000 B.C.E – 8,000
B.C.E. Humans made more advanced tools, fought in more wars, and increased their population considerably. During both the Old Stone Age and Middle Stone Age, humans were primarily huntergatherers.
Between 8,000 B.C.E. and 3,500 B.C.E. We generally start studying human beings at this
point for one main reason: agriculture. It is around this time that humans mastered sedentary agriculture and the domestication of animals. This major change in human activity is labeled the “Neolithic Revolution”. These innovations led to increased food productions, rising populations, the founding of cities, and specialization of occupations.
The Neolithic Revolution
Let’s look at
Advantages Humans could “settle” more permanently in one location. Agriculture led to a population boom. Led to greater wealth in agricultural societies. Spurred technological and scientific innovation.
Disadvantages Harder work than hunting/gathering Agricultural societies suffered from more diseases. Created class divisions(including slavery) More conflicts of a greater degree.
Around this time, farmers began to experiment
with metallurgy, using metals to make useful tools and weapons. Copper was the first metal used, but it eventually gave way to an improved metal, bronze. This time period is sometimes called the Bronze Age. Metal working not only created better tools for agriculture, but better weapons and tools for artisans as well.
Eventually agricultural societies grew into
civilizations. The word civilization comes form the Latin term for city. Most civilizations therefore depend on the existence of cities. The definition of a civilization can be quite complex, but it is basically a people that has created social, technological, economic, religious or political developments of a large scale.
Early Civilizations are called river valley civilizations
because of their development around sources of fresh water. They included the main four of: 1) Mesopotamia (Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) 2) Egypt (Nile River) 3) Indus River Valley (Indus River) 4) Northern China (Huanghe or Yellow River)
These river valley civilizations were quite different
from one another but also shared many of the same qualities like a basic set of tools, intellectual concepts like writing and mathematics, and political forms. They led to more conflict as kings and priests tried to spread contacts and gain more territory through war. Generally speaking, these civilizations had little contact with one another and thus developed separate cultural patterns.
The first civilization we have to study was
founded in the Middle East between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers around 3500 BCE. The word Mesopotamia actually means “land between rivers”. The first major people group of this region were the Sumerians. They developed the first known writing code called cuneiform, which used pictures and geometric shapes to symbolize sounds.
Sumerians made advances in astronomy,
mathematics, and agriculture. They were polytheistic, worshipping many different gods. They believed in divine forces in nature and worshipped these forces(gods). This form of religion is known as animism. Each city erected an impressive, massive shrine called a ziggurat to honor their gods. This was the first piece of monumental architecture in this civilization.
Sumerians’ greatest achievement was their
tightly organized city-state. These political units were ruled by a king who claimed divine authority. These kings usually were warriors who won power and fame in battle. They ran the governments of these citystates along with a class of priests.
1)Helped to regulate and enforce
religion 2) provided a court system 3) led the city-state in warfare The priests and kings owned large
amounts of land, usually worked by slaves.
eventually fell to another local tribe called the Akkadians, who then fell to a powerful group called the Babylonians. The Babylonians were ruled by a powerful king named Hammurabi.
He created the most famous early code
of law, which he named after himself. Hammurabi’s code established rules of procedures for courts of law and regulated property rights and duties of family members, setting harsh punishments for crimes. (ex. “An eye for an eye”)
Developed in Northern Africa around
3000B.C.E. along the Nile River. It benefited from trade and influences of Mesopotamia, but developed its own distinct culture. It was less open to invasion, therefore, it was very durable and unified. They had significant mathematical and architectural achievements. (24 hr. day and pyramids)
Like Mesopotamia, Egypt was ruled by powerful
kings called pharaohs. However, where in Mesopotamia kings were rulers on gods’ behalf, in Egypt the pharaohs were considered gods themselves. They directed the construction of their massive tombs, pyramids. These are considered one of the greatest architectural feats in history. They too used massive amounts of slave labor.
By 2500 BCE , a prosperous civilization had
developed along the Indus River in northern India. It supported several large cities like Harrapa. They did develop trade contacts with Mesopotamia, but had their own distinctive writing forms and art styles. Their civilization was eventually destroyed by invading tribes. We know little about the culture and its influence on modern India.
Around 2000 BCE civilization developed along the
Huanghe or Yellow River in China. The Chinese made significant technological advances, especially in irrigation. This began a precedent of technological prominence that will be carried on for generations. Much of the culture in this early river valley civilization could still be seen in Chinese culture for generations to come. They were first ruled by a line of kings called the Shang dynasty.
Inventions such as the wheel, creation of alphabets
(Phoenicians) and writing systems, mathematics, divisions of time, taming of the horse, and the development of well-organized monarchies and bureaucracies are legacies of these civilizations. Their art and architecture influenced later cultures like Greek, Roman, and European. The most influential of the smaller Middle Eastern groups were the Jews, who gave the world the first clearly developed monotheistic (one God) religion.
Judaism would serve as the basis for the development of
other major monotheistic faiths such as Christianity and Islam in the centuries to come. The major difference between the monotheism of the Jews and the polytheism of their neighbors was in the Jewish view of their God. The God of the Jews was much less humanlike. God was orderly and just and had set forth clear rules and methods for obedience. Jews knew the ethical and moral values of their God and therefore could develop a closer relationship with their God. Religion, therefore, became a way of life, not just a set of rituals and ceremonies.