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Part I

The Origins of Civilization

Summary. The first human beings appeared over two million years ago, with major stages in physical
development ending about 140,000 years ago. They discovered tool using and improving and thus were
able to move away from hunting and gathering practices to form larger groups. The key markers for the
origins of human societies are the beginnings of agriculture, about 9000 B.C.E., and the achievement of the
societies that followed. By 1000 B.C.E. several civilizations were ready for more elaborate political and
cultural forms.

The Neolithic Revolution. Humans had spread widely long before agriculture was invented. Their
hunting and gathering techniques kept them in small bands. Agriculture made larger systems possible, but
it brought disadvantages. Relationships between men and women altered, and unfavorable changes
occurred in the physical environment. Thousands of years passed as new political forms and technologies
developed. The dispersion of the species ensured that the development of agriculture happened in different
places at different times.

Civilization’s First Phase: The River Valleys. By 2000 B.C.E. five major civilizations had developed:
Mesopotamia, Egypt, northwestern India, northern China, and central America. They had limited contact
with each other. The five were the pioneers in generating elements common to later civilizations. The
early civilizations ended or paused around 1000 B.C.E., a date marking a move to a more mature phase of

Issues for Interpretation: Problems in Analyzing Early World History. The focus in studying early
societies is on the emergence of developing separate civilized traditions as people inceased their mastery
over nature. Technology and culture help to explain change and the characteristics of a civilization.
Comparison between the differing civilizations broadens this knowledge, as does the question of borrowing
between groups. The precedents established during this first period in world history allow us to ask
questions valid for later historical periods.

Chapter 1

The Neolithic Revolution and the Birth of Civilization

From 12,000 to 8,000 B.C.E. changes in human organization and food production prepared the way the
emergence of the first civilized societies. Neolithic development of agriculture was the first truly
revolutionary change in human history. The first farmers were able to remake environments to suit their
needs and to produce surpluses allowing for the support of specialized elites in agriculture, commerce, and
manufacturing. The combination of factors usually resulted in urban settlements marked by complex social
stratification based upon birth, sex, and occupation.

Human Life in the Era of Hunters and Gatherers. By 10,000 B.C.E., Homo sapiens, one of several
humanlike species, was present in all continents except Antarctica. Most supported themselves through
hunting and gathering, slowly developing the physical traits, larger brains, and erect posture allowing hand
evolution that assisted them to master many differing environments.

Paleolithic Culture. By 12,000 B.C.E. Homo sapiens was still similar in development to rival human
species. Fundamental discoveries included the better use of fire, thus increasing the range of edible foods.
language development, ever more complex tool production, and artistic and ritual creativity.

The Spread of Human Culture. Fire and tools, plus the effects of climatic change, allowed the human
species to spread widely. By around 12,000 B.C.E. they had moved from Africa into Europe, Asia,
Australia, and the Americas.

Human Society and Daily Life at the End of the Old Stone Age. Most individuals were members of
small bands of hunters and gatherers constantly moving in pursuit of game and plants; some groups
established long-enduring settlements where they resided for much of the year. Population density was
very low since extensive land areas were necessary to support groupings that probably numbered no more
than 20 to 30 men, women, and children. Life expectancy was about 20 years, with high mortality rates for
women in labor and children. Multiple pregnancies were necessary for survival. In a gender division of
labor, males hunted, fished, and protected the band. Women's roles were equally important; they gathered
vital food supplies and herbal medicines. Limited technological advances kept the scattered bands living in
precarious life-styles. A few humans established continuing settlements in which

they experimented with strategies for survival related to their particular environment. The efforts produced
the domestication of plants and an imals. Only such groups proved capable of producing civilizations.

Settling Down: Dead Ends and Transitions. In central Russia, about 18,000 to 10,000 B.C.E., meat
gained from successful hunting of slow woolly mammoths, along with wild plant food, allowed a more
sedentary life-style. The residents traded with distant peoples and social stratification was demonstrated in
burial customs. The society disappeared for unknown reasons. The more sophisticated Natufian complex,
comprised of many densely populated settlements, flourished in the Jordan river valley between 10,500 and
8000 B.C.E. It was based upon the cultivation of wild barley and wheat. Natufian society developed
advanced agricultural and building techniques and was stratified, matrilineal, and matrilocal. After 9000
B.C.E., climatic change caused site abandonment. Some of the population returned to hunting and
gathering; others domesticated wild grains.

A Precarious Existence. By the late Paleolithic homo sapiens lived in tiny, scattered bands. Life was
harsh and individuals were at the mercy of nature and disease. Their few tools and weapons left them
dependent on the habits of migrating animals. The few humans living in permanrent settlements were more
secure, but still endured precarious lifestyles.

Agriculture and the Origins of Civilization: The Neolithic Revolution. Between 8000 and 3500 B.C.E.,
a major change occurred which fundamentally altered human history. Climatic shifts associated with the
close of the last Ice Age forced migration of game animals and changed wild crop distribution. Hunting
bands moved to favorable environments, possibly leading to greater productivity, as in the Natufian
complex, and population growth. During the process known as the Neolithic revolution, humans built upon
their hunting and gathering experience to master sedentary agriculture and animal domestication. The
surpluses produced allowed urban development and the appearance of the first civilizations.

The Domestication of Plants and Animals. People had long observed wild plants as they gathered their
daily needs. Hunters and gatherers either experimented with wild seeds or accidentally discovered
domestication. Once learned, the practice developed very slowly as people combined the new ideas with
their old techniques. Along the way different animals - dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle - were tamed
from about 12,000 B.C.E.

The Spread of the Neolithic Revolution. Hunting and gathering societies persisted as sedentary
agricultural societies developed. Animal domestication led to pastoralism in semi-arid regions Pastoral
peoples posed the most serious challenge to agricultural societies. Later they were the basis for the great
Mongol empire. The agriculturists spread their production techniques for grain crops and fibers from the
Middle East to Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. Africans south of the Sahara evolved independently,
developing root and tree crops. In northern China millet cultivation spread eastward and southward. Rice,
first cultivated in southeast Asia, spread to China, India, and the southeast Asian islands. Mesoamerica and

Peru developed maize (corn), manioc, and sweet potatoes for their hemisphere.

The Transformation of Human Life. Sedentary humans, with their plants and animals, transformed their
immediate environments and allowed a great growth in populations. Their labors marked a great turning
point in history. Villages became the dominant feature of human habitation. A sudden surge in invention
produced better agricultural implements and techniques of seed selection, planting, and fertilization. Later
came irrigation systems.

Social Differentiation. Surplus production allowed the development of specialized occupations, including
political and religious elites. Within settlements larger populations, more elaborate housing, community
ritual centers, better places for food storage, pottery, and fortifications increased societal complexity.
Regional products were exchanged with other peoples. Class distinctions remained minimal, and
leadership and property were communal. Women lost ground to men in social and economic matters.

Analysis: The Idea of Civilization in World Historical Perspective. The word civilization was coined
by the Romans to distinguish between themselves - an urban-based civilization - and others, supposedly
inferior, who lived on the fringes of their empire. The Greeks earlier had made a similar division.; so did
the Chinese and Aztecs. Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries revived the perceived difference
between civilized and barbarian societies. Later, racist ideologies awarded Europeans primacy of place.
The 20th century has seen the fading of racist thinking, but ethnocentrism still plays a harmful role in
defining what is regarded as civilized.

The First Towns: Seedbeds of Civilization. By 7000 B.C.E. agriculture was capable of supporting
population centers numbering in the thousands. Two of the earliest settlements in the Neolithic
transformation were at Jerico and Çatal Huyuk. Their inhabitants possessed occupational specialization,
created political and religious elites, participated in large-scale commerce, and developed specialized crafts.

Jericho. Jericho, near the Jordan River and an oasis, was an urban center by 7000 B.C.E. Its economy was
based primarily on wheat and barley farming, but both hunting and trade also were important. Expanding
wealth resulted in walled fortifications and an encircling ditch. Housing, built of improved bricks and
containing plaster hearths and stone mills, became more sophisticated. Religious shrines were present in a
later period. The city was governed by a powerful elite probably associated with keepers of the shrines.
Vivid sculpted naturalistic figures allow an impression of Jerico's inhabitants.

Çatal Huyuk. Catal Huyuk, founded around 7000 B.C.E. in southern Turkey, was larger in size and
population than Jericho. It was the most advanced human center of the Neolithic period. A rich economic
base was built on extensive agricultural and commercial development. Standardized construction patterns
suggest the presence of a powerful ruling elite associated with a priesthood. Well-developed religious
shrines indicate a growing role for religion in people's lives.

Conclusion: The Watershed of the Fourth Millennium B.C.E. The early sedentary settlements
established patterns for future civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and Africa. The levels of
specialization and political organization present in the towns were critical to new inventions and techniques
appearing in the fourth millennium B.C.E. The plow increased crop yields; wheeled vehicles eased
transport. Bronze replaced copper and stone in weapon and tool production. Writing in Mesopotamia and
other later civilizations permitted expanded trading networks and enlarged bureaucracies. All allowed the
growth of larger nonagricultural populations. The isolation of the Amerindian peoples prevented the new
technology from reaching them. They remained isolated from the rest of the world until the sixteenth


hunting and gathering: means of obtaining subsistence by humans before the mastery of sedentary
agriculture; normally typical of band social organization.

civilization: societies with reliance on sedentary agriculture, ability to produce food surpluses, and
existence of nonfarming elites, along with merchant and manufacturing groups.

Paleolithic: the Old Stone Age ending in 12,000 B.C.E.; typified by use of evolving stone tools and
hunting and gathering for subsistence.

Neolithic: the New Stone Age between 8000 and 5000 B.C.E.; period in which adaptation of sedentary
agriculture occurred; domestication of plants and animals accomplished.

nomads: cattle- and sheep-herding societies normally found on the fringes of civilized societies; commonly
referred to as "barbarian" by civilized societies.

"savages": societies engaged in either hunting and gathering for subsistence or in migratory cultivation;
not as stratified or specialized as civilized and nomadic societies.

culture: combinations of ideas, objects, and patterns of behavior that result from human social interaction.

Homo sapiens: the species of humanity that emerged as most successful at the end of the Paleolithic.

Neanderthals: species of genus homo that disappeared at the end of the Paleolithic.

band: a level of social organization normally consisting of between 20 and 30 people; nomadic hunters and
gatherers; labor divided on a gender basis.

agrarian revolution: occurred between 8000 and 5000 B.C.E.; transition from hunting and gathering to
sedentary agriculture.

Natufian complex: preagricultural culture; located in present -day Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon; practiced
collection of wild barley and wheat to supplement game; large settlement sites.

matrilocal: a culture in which young men upon marriage go to live with the bride's family.

matrilineal: family descent and inheritance traced through the female line.
pastoralism: a nomadic agricultural life-style based on herding domesticated animals; tended to produce
independent people capable of challenging sedentary agricultural societies.

Huanghe or Yellow river basin: site of the development of sedentary agriculture in China.

Mesoamerica: Mexico and Central America; along with Peru, site of development of sedentary agriculture
in western hemisphere.

Jericho: early walled urban culture based on sedentary agriculture; located in modern Israel-occupied
West Bank near Jordan river.

Çatal Huyuk: early urban culture based on sedentary agriculture; located in modern southern Turkey;
larger in population than Jerico, had greater degree of social stratification.

Bronze Age: from 4000 to 3000 B.C.E.; increased use of plow, metalworking; development of wheeled
vehicles, writing.


1. Discuss the definition of civilization. Civilizations are societies with reliance on

sedentary agriculture, the ability to produce food surpluses, and possessing nonfarming
elites, along with merchant and manufacturing groups. There have been changes in the
concept of civilization through time. Early peoples used a cultural definition: uncivilized
peoples were those organized differently. During the 17th and 18th centuries Europeans
classified peoples according to their definition of stages in human development and in the
19th century Europeans and Americans divided societies according to supposed racially
derived attributes.

2. Discuss the patterns of life in paleolithic society. People in paleolithic society lived in
small groups, and relied upon hunting and gathering for survival. Their life-style meant a very
limited material culture. They had discovered fire and made wood, bone, and stone tools.
They lived in open ground and not in caves. In gender roles there was a social deference of
males to females. They developed forms of artistic expression.

3. Discuss the first sedentary agricultural communities. Describe how the first
communities domesticated plants and animals. Focus on the first efforts in central Russia and
the Natufian complex, and then on the later developments at Jerico and Çatal Huyuk. Explain
their legacy for the future.

4. The neolithic agrarian revolution. What was the revolution about? Explain how the
transformation made possible a better life for humans through developments in tools, seed
selection, planting, fertilization, irrigation, housing, fortifications, and fiber plants. Also
discuss the resulting changes in social organization: political and religious elites; specialized
production of tools, weapons, pottery; merchants; lack of clearly defined social classes.


1. What does civilization mean?

2. How is the term "civilized" misused?

3. Compare and contrast the terms "civilized," "barbarians," and "inferior peoples."
4. Describe the culture of Paleolithic hunting and gathering societies.

5. What is the difference between hunting and gathering societies and intensive hunting and
gathering societies?

6. Where were the first sedentary agricultural communities established? How are the first
sites connected to the spread of sedentary agriculture?

7. How did the Neolithic agrarian revolution transform the material life and social
organization of human communities?


Map References

Danzer, Discovering World History through Maps and Views.

Source Maps: S1-S3. Reference Maps R6-R8.


Guides to the rich store of visual aids can be gained from NICEM, the National Video Clearinghouse, Inc.,
and Educators Progress Service Inc., and should be consulted by instructors who wish to use them. See the
many editions of:

NICEM Index to Educational Slides

NICEM Index to 35 mm. Educational Filmstrips
NICEM Index to Educational Records
NICEM Index to Educational Audio Tapes
NICEM Index to Educational Video Tapes
NICEM Index to 16mm. Educational Films

See also Educational Film Locator, 2nd ed., R.R. Bowker Co., 1980 and Educational Guide to Free Films,
compiled and edited by John C. Diffor (45th ed.), Randolph, WI: Educator’s Progress Service, Inc., 1985.

Perhaps the best, most “user-friendly” slide resource is the Western Civilization Slide Collection. The
reproductions are excellent and the collection is chronologically arranged.

Films of particular interest for Chapter 1 are:

Dr. Leakey and the Dawn of Man. Films, Inc

A New Era. Time-Life Films
The Ascent of Man, # 2 Lower Than Angels. Time-Life Films, Jacob
Bronowski BBC Series
In the Beginning. Kenneth Clark. Pyramid Films