Re: Civilization? FEH.

Donald Tucker (bs925@FreeNet.Carleton.CA)
3 Nov 1996 13:27:53 GMT

Alexander N. Bossy ( wrote:
> (David O' Bedlam) wrote:

>>Joshua Fruhlinger <> wrote:

>>>...your point about grain storehouses is interesting.
>>>Perhaps civilization arises where there is need for large scale
>>>organization? (i.e. Egypt's tricky flood system, Sumer's large-scale
>>>irrigation works.)

>> Had there been no "Mighty Lords" there would've been no call for big
>>farms or complicated waterworks

>Get real. With or without "mighty lords", the common people of Sumer
>and Egypt would have wanted to eat. If that involved constructing
>"complicated waterworks", they'd have done so.

I agree with Alexander. Need to eat is the driving factor. As obtaining
food gets more complex so does social organization.

Generally speaking I accept that envioronmental pressure determines the
limits of peoples coping stategies. As population pressure makes it
impossible to live a good life by a method people are forced to
do more work. It's a lot easier to collect stuff and kill animals than
to keep domesticated animals fed and dig the ground and tend crops. Only
after the relatively easy life of hunter-gathering was longer adequate,
in the post ice-age period where the mega-fauna died off (killed off
by people? by the climate change?), did they have to broaden their food
sources by attempting horticulture [small scale agriculture] and/or animal
domestication. This is accompanied by increased complexity of social
organization--bands become tribes which in turn become chiefdoms--either
as nomadic pastoralists or in handicraft villages. "Chiefdoms" are
societies where ruling elites retain power over production and exchange,
and then legitimize their control through an elaborated ideology.

There were villages in the hills of the Near East long before people
settled in Sumer, e.g. Jericho from the ninth millennium BCE and Catal
Huyuk from the seventh millennium.

People in the Mesopotamian river valleys used agriculture on a larger
scale and villages developed into cities (Uruk, Ur, Kish, which are
collectively called Sumer) between 4000 and 3000 BCE. As their population
increased they developed coordination problems, particularly for water
supply in a drying climate. They also fought many wars among themselves.
The need to fight effectively and organize construction of "complicated
waterworks" is probably the reason why they gradually transformed into
states, i.e. "civilization," complete with kings and a priesthood to
motivate the people. By 2350 BCE they were brought together, by conquest,
into the first empire--Akkad.

But I don't see construction of "complicated waterworks"--aka "hydraulic
civilization" as a necessary basis for all primary civilizations. Egypt
developed with a "basin irrigation" system that probably required less
co-ordination. China's main need was for river flood control (still is).
Peru needed to organize construction of terraced fields. The Mayans
used a "floating garden" system. All that's common to early civilization
is the need for organization and the power of despotic kings in
theocratic states

As a postscript, it seems that Sumer ended as a civilization because
it couldn't properly maintain its irrigation systems, and there was
an envionmental collapse. Today's desert landscape dates from the
post Sumer period.

A good what-if would be that the Sumerian's learn how to run their
irrigation systems in such a way as to avoid the salination that
led to their demise. Certainly would be a different world if
civilization had started in an environmentally sensitive way.

Cheers Independent scholar and writer. History, ___,__<@~__,___
Donald technology, futures. Will write or edit on /^/^/^[#]^\^\^\
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