Part 1

The Beginnings and Foundations of Civilization

With the advent of the Neolithic revolution, humans acquire the building blocks of civilization. From there civilizations spring up around the fertile river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, as well as the Nile, Indus, and Huang Ho Rivers. Many different rulers rise and fall as the civilizationsbecome more and more complex culturally and technologically.

With the increased complexity come many developments. First is the rise of the classical empires. Classical Greece, Rome, India, and China all make their stamp on the history of the world for thousands of years to come. The complexity of the classical period also produced new sophisticated religions and philosophies that have impacted the history of the world in immeasurable ways.


Chapter 1

The Building Blocks of Civilization

In This Chapter

• Different hominids

• The origin of humans

• Hunter-gatherer culture

• Neolithic Revolution

• How civilizations are started

Beginning a history of the world is a formidable task. One is tempted to begin with “in the beginning,” but that really doesn’t help. “In the beginning”suggests the beginning of the earth or possibly even the universe, in which humans have filled only a small portion of time and space. Therefore, to begin the history of the world, we should stick with the historyof humans, how they lived and died, and the change that occurred because humans developed a big interest in both living and dying.

You Say You Want an Evolution

The history of human beings begins not with us but with another group of primates known as Australopithecus. This group emerged from southern and eastern Africa about three to four million years ago. Australopithecus had an average height of 312 to 5 feet—definitely not built for basketball—and, with their small brain size, they wouldn’t be much at chess, either. But Australopithecus did walk upright on two legs, which distinguishes them as the earliest hominid to walk the planet. They also had a larynx, or voice box, which allowed for the development of primitive verbal communicationwith all of the understandings and misunderstandings that encompasses. Although Australopithecus lived in the luxuriously humid forests of Africa, they were nomadic, constantly moving in search of food and temporary shelter.

Later Hominid Groups

Of course the reign of Australopithecus did not last forever. They were superseded by other “new and improved” hominids. The first hominid group after Australopithecus was homo habilis, or “person with ability,” which emerged from Africa 3 to 112 million years ago (that date isn’t set in stone, so to speak).

Homo habilis were improved over Australopithecus because of abilities, including the creation of crude stone tools, which made their life a bit easier. Socially, homo habilis had a limited speech ability. But just like Australopithecus, they continued to survive by gathering and scavenging for food.

Homo Erectus

Homo habilis was followed by homo erectus, which again came out of Africa about 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. The technological skill of homo erectus was decidedly better than that of homo habilis. They developed hand axes and other stone tools. Homo erectus used caves as a form of shelter and were able to dig pits. They also draped animal skins over themselves as a primitive form of clothing for protection from the elements. Homo erectus were the first to control fire for warmth, protection, and the cooking of meat.

All of these big steps in development led to increased life spans with fewer diseases. This group made big leaps socially as well. They developed spoken language, which allowed for the nomadic bands to coordinate small hunting parties to add to the practiceof scavenging for dead animals and gathering plant life for food.

Homo Sapiens

Each hominid group that emerged was another step closer to the humans we are. The next group to emerge from Africa was homo sapiens, or “person who thinks.” This group lived from 200,000 to 30,000 years ago. Through the archaeological evidence, they have been divided into two variants.

The first variant was the Neanderthal, which existed approximately from 200,000 to 35,000 years ago. Most people use the word “Neanderthal” to tag someone as not intelligent, but the Neanderthals were very intelligent compared to their predecessors.They developed important technology, including the spear point and hide scraper. Neanderthals needed the scraper because they were using more hides and sewing them together to make garments. This hominid group used caves for shelter like homo erectus, but also built simple shelters in the form of lean-tos. These shelters weren’t architecturally impressive, but they did provide shelter and protection from the harsh environment.

What in the World

Cave painters used many different techniques. They used charcoal and pigments from the earth and nature to daub, dot, and sketch their cave walls. Cave painters from different time periods often worked on the same cave walls. They simply painted over someone else’s work. At the famous cave paintings at Lascaux, France, 13 different time periods of cave paintings have been identified.

Socially, Neanderthals believed in some type of afterlife, although anthropologists are not sure to what extent. Evidence for this is found in their planned burials for the dead of the community. It also appears that they cared for the disabled members of the community, even though it might have hindered the group in hunting and gathering.This, according to some, suggests a morality in Neanderthals that did not exist in previous hominid groups.

The other group of homo sapiens is the Cro-Magnon, which existed from 60,000 to 8,000 years ago, although, again, these dates vary depending on current archaeologicalfindings. They advanced beyond the Neanderthals considerably in technological skill and innovations. The Cro-Magnons developed knives, chisels, spear-throwers, and the bow and arrow, making hunting much easier than before. They developed bone tools in the form of needles, fish hooks, and harpoons, as well as fishnets and canoes, all of which added fish to their diet. The lines of clothing improved, too! The Cro-Magnons created sewed leather clothing. In the area of food preparation they fashioned sun-hardened pottery, which allowed for better food storage.

The society of the Cro-Magnon advanced greatly, too. They participated in large scale big game hunts—very big game, like the wooly mammoth! They chose formal leaders, who usually received a special type of burial. Belief in the afterlife progressed into religion, which included magic rituals associated with cave paintings or sculpted artifacts. The Cro-Magnons were a much more advanced homo sapiens, but the story did not end with them.

Almost Human

Some 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, another group of hominids emerged from Africa. This group, homo sapiens sapiens, are human beings’ direct ancestors. They coexisted to some degree with Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons, and over time acquired all of the technological skills of both groups of homo sapiens.


B.C.E. is a newer historical term that replaces B.C. and stands for “Before the Common Era.”

The time of all of this hominid development and evolution is called the Stone Age, from the very obvious fact that our proto-human ancestors used stone tools. It is divided into three periods: the Paleolithic Age or “Old Stone Age,” from 2 millionto 12000 B.C.E. The next period is titled the Mesolithic or “Middle Stone Age,” which dates from 12000 to 8000 B.C.E. The last is called the Neolithic Age or “New Stone Age,” which dates from 8000 to 5000 B.C.E.

During the Stone Age there was also an Ice Age, lasting from 2 million to 10,000 years ago, with four long periods of extremely cold and harsh climate. Massive glaciersor sheets of ice spread from the North and South poles, carving and creating much of the landscape of the northern continents as they spread and receded. They also allowed the various roving bands of humans a way to reach continents that would, millennia later, be separated by oceans.

Eventually the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon became extinct and the homo sapiens sapiens were the dominant hominid group. Some 30,000 to 20,000 years ago, the homo sapiens sapiens (we can just call them humans now!) migrated from Africa into Asia and Europe and eventually into North and South America. During this time, humans evolved differently depending on their continent, climate, and environment. This led to modifications in skin color and the evolution of three racial types: African, Asian, and Caucasian. In terms of human biology, racial differences are very slight; the genetic structure of all humans is virtually the same.

Hunter-Gatherer Culture

As the hominid groups progressed through time, so did the development of the hunter-gatherer culture. At first glance, this culture appears to be very simple, but it was and still is quite complex; there are still groups of indigenous people across the globe that continue with this way of life.

First and foremost it was based on the simple family unit, which expanded into ties of kinship between families. Those ties of kinship eventually combined to create larger connected groups called clans. Clans became interconnected and developed into tribes. The tribes existed through hunting and gathering and in the process created a sophisticated social and political organization that included political leaders (the chief) and religious figures (the priest). There was also a gender division of labor within the hunter-gatherer culture. Males dominated hunting, war, and heavy labor because of their natural upper body strength. Women became the gatherers and preparersof food, and also tended to the children of the tribe.


10000 B.C.E.

The tribes of hunter-gatherer culture developed religiously by creating and worshippingmany different gods, usually associated with natural forces and features. They practiced a variety of rituals including, by the Mesolithic Age, sacrifices to the gods, possibly including human sacrifices. As already mentioned, they believed in some kind of afterlife as early as 100,000 years ago, and developed burial practices for the dead. Artistic expression has also been suggested to be a result of religion, with art in cave paintings dating to 32,000 years ago and musical instruments in the form of flutes dating to 30,000 years ago.

Notable Quotable

"Archaeology deals with a period limited to a few thousand years and its subject is not the universe, not even the human race, but modern man. We dig, and say of these pots and pans, these beads and weapons, that they date back to 3000 to 4000 B.C., and the onlooker is tempted to exclaim at their age, and to admire them simply because they are old. Their real interest lies in the fact that they are new.”

Digging Up the Past, Leonard Woolley on the interest of archaeology

Neolithic Revolution

The nomadic lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer tribes did eventually change with the Neolithic Revolution. The title comes from the simple fact that all of these changes happened during the Neolithic Age. The revolution happened about 10,000 years ago, but it varies from continent to continent. For example, in the Middle East it occurred around 8000 B.C.E.; while in China the revolution occurred around 5000 B.C.E. Regardless, humans learned to grow certain staple crops on a continual and controlled basis, which led to systematic agriculture.

This agricultural revolution radically changed the hunter-gatherer nature of human culture. At first, with the practice of migratory farming, the nomadic lifestyles of humans continued, but eventually they began to settle down longer with slash-and-burnpractices. Finally humans really settled down with the development of shifting agriculture, which allowed land to be cultivated successfully for centuries. No longer did humans have to roam from place to place in search of food.

Permanent dwellings and then villages appeared as tribes stopped their nomadic lifestyle.Certain crops such as wheat, barley, rice, millet, and maize became domesticated for their ease of cultivation. Having a surplus of food meant humans did not have to look for food constantly, leading to more time for other tasks. It is probably no coincidencethat fermentation of alcoholic beverages appears at about this time, too!

Animals were domesticated during this time as well. “Man’s best friend” was man’s first animal friend and was used to help with the hunting duties that continued throughout this period to some degree. The next animal that was domesticated was the goat, which was used for its milk and meat. Other animals soon followed, includinghorses, cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens, all of which provided part of the supply of labor, meat, eggs, and milk for humans in the settlements. This pastoral revolution in the domestication of animals was aided by the steady supply of food created from the agricultural revolution.

What in the World

An unfortunate effect of civilization and the domestication of animals has been the increase of the number of diseases in humans. Many diseases are the result of humans living near the animals that they tend. The flu originated with ducks and pigs, while anthrax, smallpox, and tuberculosis came from cattle.

How Civilization Develops

With the Neolithic Revolution, most humans, of course, began to settle in permanent settlements, villages, and larger cities. Those settlements created complex societies based on advances in the knowledge of farming, trade, government, art, and science.

All of this complexity was possible because of the surplus of food. The surplus of food led to the creation of governmental structures, including powerful leaders to supervise the surplus, soldiers to guard the surplus, and priests to justify the leader’s actions (or inaction) with religion.

The surplus also led to a surplus of labor, which allowed for an artisan class that made jewelry, weapons, and pottery. Consequently a merchant class developed to trade the objects that the artisan class created. Furthermore, these artisans, through experimentation, developed bronze, a mixture of copper and tin, which started the Bronze Age. Writing was invented to keep record of the surplus of food, religious offerings, and taxes. (Yes, taxes began that early!) It was also used to record religious myths for the priests and the people. All of this gradually added up to the creation of severalcivilizations around the world at different times.


The word civilization comes from the Latin word meaning "city.”

Two early cities unearthed by archaeologists appear to be the earliest examples of this process of civilization. The first was Jericho, found on the west bank of the Jordan River in present-day Palestine. The second was Catal Huyuk, found in present-day Turkey. Both cities date from about 8000 to 7000 B.C.E., although these cities did not become the major center of developing civilizations. That award goes to the river valley civilizations.

These civilizations formed in the river valleys of the Nile River in Egypt (4000 B.C.E.), the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East (3500 B.C.E.), the Indus River in India (2500 B.C.E.), and the Hunang He River in China (2000 B.C.E.). The impact of these civilizations cannot be overstated and they are, deservedly, the subject of the next chapters.

The Least You Need to Know

• Paleolithic peoples learned to adapt to their nomadic lifestyle.

• Adaptations led to improved tools and the use of fire, which led to more advances in human culture and society.

• The Neolithic Revolution helped to create even more complex human culture and society.

• These societies developed into the first advanced civilizations.



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