Neolithic, Causes Of Civilization, Civilizations Past And Present

The Origins Of Civilizations

The Rise Of Civilization In The Middle East And Africa

Various Authors

Edited By: R. A. Guisepi

The Middle East By 4000 B.C.: The Causes Of Civilization

As you have seen, one reason that civilization first appeared in the

Middle East was because agriculture had taken hold in this region. Over many

centuries agriculture became more common and productive in the Middle East; it

began to create the conditions for further innovations - including

civilization. But the first civilization also required an additional set of

stimuli, the new inventions and organizations that had taken shape around 4000


Much time elapsed between the development of agriculture and the rise of

civilization in the Middle East and many other places. The successful

agricultural communities that formed were based primarily on very localized

production, which normally sustained a population despite recurrent disasters

caused by bad weather or harvest problems. Localized agriculture did not

consistently yield the kind of surplus that would allow specializations among

the population, and therefore it could not generate civtlization.

Even the formation of small regional centers, such as Jericho or Catal

Huyuk, did not assure a rapid pace of change. Their economic range remained

localized, with little trade or specialization. Most families who inhabited

them produced for their own needs and nothing more. It was important that more

and more regions in the Middle East were pulled into the orbit of agriculture

as the Neolithic revolution gained ground. By 4000 B.C. large nomadic groups

still flourished only at the southern end of the region in the deserts of the

Arabian peninsula. Even the knowledge of agriculture spread slowly, so the

gradual conversion of virtually the whole Middle East and some surrounding

areas was no small achievement. But the shape of agricultural communities

themselves in 4000 B.C. differed little from that of pioneering agricultural

centers 4000 years before.

Based on the expansion of agriculture in the Middle East, a detached

observer who lived a little before 4000 B.C. might have predicted the gradual

spread or independent development of agriculture in many parts of the world.

Portions of India, northern Africa, central Asia, and southern Europe were

already drawn in (though other nearby regions, such as Italy, remained immune

for another millennium and a half). A separate Neolithic revolution was

beginning to take shape in Central America. All this was vital, but it did not

assure the civilizational revolution within key agricultural regions


Dynamic Implications Of Agriculture

Several factors flowed together to create the unexpected development of

civilization. While the establishment of agriculture did not guarantee further

change, it did ultimately co tribute to change by encouraging new forms of

social organization. Settled agriculture, as opposed to slash-and-burn

varieties, usually implied some forms of property so that land could be

identified as belonging to a family, a village, or a landlord. Only with

property was there incentive to introduce improvements, such as wells or

irrigation measures, that could be monopolized by those who created them or

left to their heirs. But property meant the need for new kinds of laws and

enforcement mechanisms, which in turn implied more extensive government. Here

agriculture could create some possibilities for trade and could spur

innovation - new kinds of regulations and some government figures who could

enforce them.

Farming encouraged the formation of larger and more stable communities

than had existed before Neolithic times. Most hunting peoples moved in small

groups containing no more than 60 individuals who could not settle in a single

spot lest the game run out. With settled agriculture the constraints changed.

Communities developed around the cleared and improved fields. In many early

agricultural areas including the Middle East, a key incentive to stability was

the need for irrigation systems. Irrigated agriculture depended on

arrangements that would allow farmers to cooperate in building and maintaining

irrigation ditches and sluices. The needs of irrigation, plus protection from

marauders, help explain why most early agricultural peoples settled in village

communities, rather than isolated farms. Villages that grouped several hundred

people constituted the characteristic pattern of residence in almost all

agricultural societies from Neolithic days to our own times. Some big rivers

encouraged elaborate irrigation projects that could channel water in virtually

assured quantities to vast stretches of land. To create larger irrigation

projects along major rivers such as Tigris-Euphrates or the Nile, large gangs

of laborers had to be assembled. Further, regulations had to assure that users

along the river and in the villages near the river's source would have equal

access to the water supply. This implied an increase in the scale of political

and economic organization. A key link between the advantages of irrigation and

the gradual emergence of civilization was that irrigated land produced

surpluses with greater certainty and required new kinds of organization.

It is no accident that the earliest civilizations arose along large

rivers and amid irrigation projects. Civilization in Mesopotamia and then

Egypt involved not only the central fact of economic surplus but also the

ability to integrate tens, even hundreds of square miles along rivers.

Regional coordination, based first on irrigation needs, could easily lead to

other contacts: shared cultures, including artistic styles and religious

beliefs; economic contacts, including trade; and common political


Further Innovations: New Tools And Specializations In The 4th Millennium

The first civilization also required the technological developments whose

impact coalesced around 4000 B.C. These developments addressed problems faced

by agricultural peoples who were encouraged by opportunities available in

individual villages to share ideas and encourage inventive colleagues. Most of

the inventions thus occurred in regions where agriculture was best developed,

which for a long time meant the Middle East. At the same time, the new

inventions enhanced the productivity of Middle Eastern agriculture, creating

the consistent surpluses that would ultimately shape civilization itself. The

result was a recurrent series of technological changes. The first potter's

wheel was invented by about 6000 B.C. It encouraged faster and higher-quality

ceramic pottery production, which facilitated food storage and improved the

reliability of food supplies. Pottery production promoted the emergence of a

group of specialized manufacturing workers who made pots to exchange for food

produced by others.

Better tools allowed improvements in other products made out of wood or

stone. Obsidian, a hard stone, began to be used for tools in the late

Neolithic centuries. The wheel was another Middle-Eastern innovation. Wheeled

vehicles long remained slow but they were vital to many monumental

construction projects where large blocks of stone were moved to the

construction sites of temples. Shipbuilding also gradually improved.

Developments of this sort, enhancing production and possibilities for trade,

set the framework for the outright emergence of civilization with the rise of

Sumerian society along the Tigris-Euphrates.

A key technological change, which occurred slightly after the emergence

of the first civilization, was the introduction of metal for use in tools and

weapons. By about 3000 B.C., copper began to be mixed with tin to make bronze;

this development occurred around the Black Sea and in the Middle East. Use of

metal allowed manufacture of a greater variety of tools than could be made of

stone or bone, and the tools were lighter and more quickly made. The Middle

East was the first region to move from the Neolithic (stone tool) Age to the

Bronze Age. Other parts of the eastern Mediterranean soon made the transition.

Metal hoes, plows, and other implements proved extremely useful to

agricultural societies and also to herding peoples in central Asia. Again new

technology promoted further specialization as groups of artisans concentrated

on metal production, exchanging their wares for food. Widespread use of bronze

also encouraged greater trade, because tin, in particular, was hard to find;

by 2000 B.C. trade had become a motivation for extensive development of sea


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