It is now common for each generation to lament the failings of the next.
“Millennials are too soft. Back in my day we had to walk 15 miles to school. Barefoot and in a blizzard”.
You can assume nostalgia is laid on pretty thick when you hear this, but you don’t have to go that far back in time to find a world in which children working coal mines and casual death by dysentery were regular facts of life.
Go back further in time and things get real icky, real fast.
By comparison, every generation has had it better than the one before it, and it is all thanks to civilization. So where and how did such a thing come about?
Out of Africa
Modern humans have only been walking the earth for around 200,000 years. In this (relatively) short time, Homo Sapiens (that’s us), have managed to explode from an endangered, tiny population in Africa to the now thriving 7.7 billion strong plastered across the planet.
Civilization derives from the Latin term civitas, meaning city. The first civilizations were the first city builders.
Recent studies suggest that Australian Aborigines are the oldest population on earth. This means that they have been genetically distinct from any other population for the longest time, 35,000 to 50,000 years ago. Australian Aborigines were not however the first civilization.
So where did humans first come together to build cities? where was the first place to create writing systems? to make pottery and use metals? to domesticate animals? and to develop complex social structures involving class systems? These are the hallmarks of civilization.
Hunters and Collectors
In prehistory all of the human population was made up of nomadic hunter-gatherer societies that moved from place to place with the seasons.
Being a hunter-gather probably wasn’t that bad. It was less labour intensive than farming, gave you more free time and a nomads diet was more varied and nutritious then their farmer counterparts… except when there just isn’t enough food.
There were times when the nomadic lifestyle just didn’t yield enough to eat, so why not stay put and maybe discover agriculture?
Sedentism, (ie. the art of staying put permanently) started with the domestication of certain livestock animals for meat, hide and milk. The invention of the plow lead to an agriculture based economy, and lead to the domestication of wild grains and plants.
So where did it all begin?
Studies now suggest the first civilizations may have sprung up independently of each other at similar times.
The earliest populations to embrace a sedentary culture can be seen in the Levant as early as 12,000 BC when a group called the Natufian settled down even before the adoption of agriculture, thanks to pretty sweet conditions for hunting, fishing and gathering. By 10,000 BC the Natufian culture had moved to an agriculture based economy and semi-permanent settlements merged to become permanent villages.
The Mesopotamian settlement of Çatalhöyük was founded as early as 7,500 BC in what is now Turkey. Çatalhöyük housed thousands of people and is believed by many to be one of the world’s earliest urban settlements.
Çatalhöyük did not have streets or alleys, instead all buildings shared walls, and access into each building was via a door in the roof. In good weather, many daily activities may also have taken place on the rooftops (back then people were…. lighter).
Çatalhöyük also did not have any identifiable public buildings and all buildings were the same size, suggesting an egalitarian society.
The earliest known textile fragments were found at this site, and among other uses there is evidence they used fabric to wrap the dead before burial.
Sumer is the earliest known city-state civilization and possibly the first civilization in the world. Located in Mesopotamia in what is now Southern Iraq, Sumer produced the worlds first written language, recorded the worlds first historical records and wrote down the worlds first “your mamma” joke (although admittedly that was a bit later when they were technically Babylonian).
(I didn’t say it was a good joke).
..of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her. What/who is it?
By 3600 BC Sumerians had invented the wheel, writing, the sail boat, agricultural processes such as irrigation, and, the concept of the city.
Uruk was the most important city of ancient Sumer, and the birthplace of many technologies.
Estimated to have been founded around 4000 BC, Uruk went through several stages of growth and at its height around 2900 BC, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in just six square kilometres.
Eridu is another ancient Sumerian city, and while Uruk is considered the oldest city by archaeologists, the Sumeriens’s themselves considered Eridu to be the first city. According to the Sumerian King List, Eridu was built by the Gods themselves.
The Indus Valley People
The Indus Valley People were found in the northwestern regions of modern-day India around 3300 BC. Recent artifacts however suggest that food production first begun in the area as early as 7000 BC.
The Indus Valley People developed a simple symbolic writing system which was not as complex as the Sumerian or Egyptian writing systems.
The Indus Valley People were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures and had great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time.
Here’s a fun fact. Up until around 3000 BC the Egyptian climate was much less arid than it is today. Large regions of Egypt were covered in treed savanna and “traversed by herds of grazing ungulates.”
Nomadic humans began living in the Nile valley 120,000 years ago. It wasn’t until 10,000 BC that the increasingly arid client forced populations to concentrate along the river region.
By 5500 BC, tribes living up and down the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures, with evidence of animal domestication, pottery and the ability to work stone, ceramic and copper.
The First hieroglyphs appeared around 3000 BC when an Egyptian priest by name Manetho wrote down the first recorded history of Egypt. He began his official history with the king named “Meni” who was believed to have united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The first of the great pyramids was built around 2630 BC, and while not the oldest structure still standing, it is one of the grandest.
You can try and find her on the internet by googling her.