CIVILISATION: MODERN CULTURES
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Introduction:

Humanity has passed through three major evolutionary phases - hunter gatherer , agricultural and technological . It is difficult to generalise on human lifestyles as adaptation to the environment is a continual, cultural and learned process. Instead of genetic adaptation, cultural adaptation has been important. Physical changes are small. Forest dwellers tend to be small, with a light muscular frame (Beazley, 1990). Eastern Mediterranean hunter gatherers of 30,000 to 9,000 years ago stood at five feet ten inches. Agriculturalists of 5,000 to 3,000 years ago, from the same region, only average five foot three inches (Kates, 1994). The American average in the industrial society of today is five foot eight inches. Evidence suggests that both the size and robustness of humans, and their brain volume has decreased over the last 10,000 years or so (Sci. Am, early 1995). For a very detailed history of the past 20,000 years refer to Mithen's (2003) 600 page book.

The traditional classification of human social evolution is into pre-history and recordered history. The latter follows the invention of writing and therefore written historical records. Pre-history is broken down onto  3 periods , according to the materiel used for making tools:

  1. The Stone Age (50,000 BC to 4000 BC),
  2. The Bronze Age (4000 to 2000 BC), and
  3. The Iron Age (1500 BC onwards).

Some texts will explain that the Old Stone Age (the Paleolithic Age (50000 to 12000 BC) ) is the Age of food-gatherers, while the New Stone Age (the New Stone Age or the Neolithic Age (12000 to 4000 BC)) is referred to as the Age of food producers. This puts the Bronze age onwards as the Age of civilization, starting towards the end of the Neolithic Age. In the below discussion, I will look at three major lifestyle groupings:

  1. Hunter gatherer,
  2. Agriculture and
  3. Technological civilisation.

The third is a complex grouping. Civilization requires, or may be defined by, settlement in definite territories, the building of towns and cities, the evolution of defined systems of government and the development of trade and commerce. This social system has and does exist together with the first two.  

Firstly, I will delve briefly into the genetic record of our early history.

Genetic History: of modern man:

Some nuclear DNA sequences (including Y-chromosome data) and mtDNA  indicate that modern humans originated and migrated relatively recently from a subset of the African population, putting Africa as the home of modern humanity. A study of human Y-chromosome variation in a worldwide sample of over 1,000 men determined that Africans and non-African males shared a common ancestor 59,000 years ago and that the non-African branch of humanity left Africa about 44,000 years ago. Such time estimates are based on the molecular clock hypothesis . Y-chromosome studies tend to misinterpret demographic events related to the origin and spread of populations, underestimating the age of those events. Mike Hammer (1995) at the University of Arizona, sequenced 2,400 bases in the same Y chromosome region from 16 ethnically diverse humans and four chimpanzees, and dated the common ancestral human Y chromosome at 188,000 years with a 95 percent confidence interval from 51,000 to 411,000 years. Other data shows that Africans and non-Africans split about 156,000 years ago (Underhill, et al, 2000), (Ingman, 2000).  Within Africa the oldest modern human fossil is just less than 160,000 years old and represented by Homo sapiens idaltu.

Modern humans arose from a single evolutionary event, but our racial diversity illustrates subsequent multiple evolutionary events involving differential survival of populations, geographic range expansions, and migrations. A study of  the male  Y-chromosome has provided evidence of successful migrations from Africa by different human populations at different times (Underhill, et al. 2001). Underhill's team identified 10 haplogroups (using 131 different haplotypes); unique genetic groupings that could be used to study modern human racial distributions. Using 1000 human samples representing current racial distributions, they established a frequency distribution for the 10 haplogroups. They were able to trace a common African heritage and suggest some population subdivisions, gene flow episodes and colonization events. Their study showed an overall pattern of group differentiation and movement across the world, suggesting population expansions and genetic drift processes that would be expected over tens of thousands of years. This work has laid the foundation for a clearer understanding of our recent human history through the new science of phylogeography. 

The two most diverse (and therefore more ancient) groupings (I & II) are found in Africa at low frequencies amongst some Khoisan and South African Bantu individuals, central African Pygmies, and lineages in Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali. A single Sardinian was in Group I  and there was an Group II from Pakistan. The genetic information suggests an early diversification, dispersal and widespread distribution of human populations within Africa.  Palaeoanthropological records suggest that this occurred during an interglacial 130,000 to 90,000 years ago. This is supported by faunal evidence, showing the presence of modern humans and east African animal species in the Middle East at this time (Underhill, et al. 2001).

Outside of Africa, there is evidence for the early formation of a non-African grouping, represented today by the Australians, New Guineans, southeast Asians, Japanese and central Asians. All Y-chromosomes that are not exclusively African contain an identifying mutation, that originated from one of the two African groups, and evolved into three distinct sub-clusters, representing the deepest structuring of Y-chromosome diversity outside Africa. Palaeoclimatic records suggest an onset of glacial climates 70,000 years ago, accompanied by the fragmentation of African environments.  This isolated  both northwest and northeastern most Africa from each other and the south. Isolation allowed African populations to evolve the variation later exported out of Africa more than once through multiple dispersals of different African groups. The current diversity found outside Africa is therefore a magnification of a process of diversification within Africa 90,000 to 50,000 years ago. Underhill's genetic study of the Y-chromosome shows further that populations not only trace their ancestry to Africa, but that the descendants replaced archaic human Y chromosomes in Eurasia (Underhill, 2000). The last common ancestor of all non-African human Y-chromosomes, is estimated to be about 40,000 years (31,000-79,000) ago. Numerous Y-chromosome populations have been identified outside of Africa, but their clear definition requires more data. One mutation group alone has split into six Y-chromosome populations. Today there are very distinct Y-chromosome distribution groups requiring further study.

Another study of the Y-chromosome of Europeans used 22 markers in 1,007 men across Europe Over 80 percent of the European genes were traced to two migrations of Paleolithic ancestors around 40,000 and 22,000 years ago, respectively. Twenty percent of the European genes were from Neolithic farmers who entered the continent about 10,000 years ago (Semino, O., et al, 2000). ( more on genetics in earlier chapter )

[1.1] Hunter  gatherers:

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For 99% of our history, we have lived as hunter gatherers , living a nomadic way of life similar to that of the Neanderthals. Over the period called the Middle Palaeolithic (called the Middle Stone Age in Africa), 200,000 to 40,000 years ago, stone tools found are quite similar, representing a uniform technology world-wide (Burenhult, 1994). The oldest site of tool use comes from East Africa where pebble tools were in use 1.7 million years ago. Tool and fire are ancient "landmarks" on the path to humanity. There is evidence that fire was first used by Homo erectus at Ghoukoutien, China 300,000 to 400,000 years ago (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Exploitation of natural resources through this lifestyle had small impact upon the environment as technology was not very complex and population densities were generally low and mobile. To keep on the move is important to hunter gatherers to monitor the changes to the huge territory upon which they depended (Binford, 1983). This enabled them to make sound judgements about their environment and food resources. Hunter-gatherers had a practical, but excellent knowledge of their natural environment, be it plants animals or the physical conditions. In productive areas, Australian aborigines had up to 250 food plants from which to choose. Poorer areas had about 50.


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During the Ice Age (Upper Palaeolithic: 35,000 to 8,000 B.C.), a culture of mammoth hunters lived in eastern Europe and Siberia, keeping south of great sheets of ice that stretched across the continent (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Remains in Czechoslovakia are about 30,000 years old (Dixon & Matthews, 1992). These bands of hunting nomads had a diet mostly of meat as did the Eskimos until recently. All their requirements would have come from their prey which also included bison, horses, reindeer, birds, fish, arctic foxes and hares. Vegetable foods would have formed a minor supplement. They even built huts from carefully interlocked mammoth bones covered with skins. A period of intense cold between 20,000 and 18,000 years ago (the "glacial maximum") forced these people off the Russian plain, but mammoth hunters returned between 15,000 and 14,000 years ago (Fletcher, 1994). From 18,000 to 10,000 years ago an intense period of technological, cultural and intellectual change (Magdalenian tradition) followed the climatic change.

Large prey would have served as a food resource until their extinction, probably due to a combination of massive environmental changes and hunting pressure, no more than 12,000 years ago. As the climate warmed, these large animals would have been forced to retreat north with their cold-specialised habitat. With human dependence upon this prey, hunting intensity within this smaller range would have probably increased. This coupled with the long generation times of the mammoth and other megafauna of the time would have led to their rapid extinction (Eltringham, 1991).

A time of dry and cold called the late-glacial period gripped the earth between 23,000 and 14,000 years ago. Between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago, reindeer hunters lived in the region of what are today Germany, Holland and Belgium. Mostly these were summer hunting grounds, while more recent winter settlements have been found. These people also hunted wild horses, hares, foxes and wildfowl. This lifestyle and the associated stone and antler tools were common to western and northern Europe until about 1,000 B.C. In northern Africa a similar lifestyle depended upon hunting barbary sheep (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Climatic changes then caused a change in the natural vegetation such as the northward spread of forests of birches, conifers and then oaks. Burenhult (1994) suggests that this environmental change led to an increase of large and small game and the importance of vegetable foods. Forests favoured deer, elk and wild pig (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). As the climate warmed, lakes formed, creating habitats for waterfowl and fish. This was followed by the development of new tools and a new form of subsistence in the more diverse ecosystem.

People may have scavenged some of the meat from other predators. Even in modern times Bushmen hunters have been known to drive game into the vicinity of a pride of lions and then drive the lions off the kill to take their prey. A study of modern hunting groups suggests that the warmer the climate, the less part meat plays in the diet. Early and hunter-gatherer societies did not necessarily do much hunting of large game. A typical Australian aborigine's catch for the day may include snakes, lizards, anteaters, frogs and grubs, and a wallaby or two. Semang people of Malaysia rely on small creatures (fish, birds, rats, squirrels, lizards and sometimes wild pigs, tapirs and deer), wild plants (nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, shoots, and tubers) and honey collected from the forest. They use a poisoned dart propelled from a two-metre long bamboo blowpipe to kill some animals. Territories include a clump of this bamboo species, Bambusa wrayi and its use is strictly controlled. In northern Zaire, the Mbenga Pygmies obtain much of their food by hunting animals such as the wild pig (Beazley, 1990).

Game hunted by humans has also changed with time. Our ancestors drove some species, usually large slow breeding animals, to extinction. In Europe, the prehistoric fallow deer was larger than its modern equivalent. Early Pleistocene faunas included the Southern Elephant and the Etruscan Rhinoceros for several thousand years and then changed to the Straight Tusked Elephant and Merk's Rhinoceros. Today, many large prehistoric game species have no living representatives. Humans have had to adapt to, and may often have been the cause, of these changes (Waechter, 1990). In North America, modern humans (Cro-Magnons) probably influenced the extinction of many species such as the mastodon, saber-toothed tigers and giant beavers (Chiras, 1994). Fire may also have altered the environment quite dramatically especially in Australia where the practise was common in recent times (White, 1994). Kingdon (1993) proposes that people used fire as a hunting tool, significantly affecting ecosystem structure  and species composition.

Early or primitive Homo sapiens were adaptable, leading to the adoption of diverse lifestyles based on locally available food resources. Their raw materials came from the game that they hunted. Inland Eskimo Caribou hunters, and other modern hunter-gatherers, provide a model for the lifestyles of early humans. Early Europeans hunted reindeer as did the Eskimo. Hunters met migratory herds in autumn on their return from summer tundra pastures to winter forest shelters. This meat could be frozen and used throughout the winter. Early Europeans wore skins, as shown in their paintings and fished with spears. They represent the expansion of Neolithic societies into Europe (Bellwood, 1980). Modern Eskimos, Australian aborigines and primitive inhabitants of Glacial Europe use a type of spear-thrower, an early technological innovation. Early Europeans had to contend with lions, bears, bison, mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and wild ox. Wood for cave fires was collected from conifer forests. On the southern steppes there was less fuel, so bone served as fuel.


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In Northern Spain there is good evidence of human habitation at a site called La Riera cave, extending for a period from before 21,000 B.P. (years before present) to about 8,500 B.P. (Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic ). These people were hunter-gatherers. This span forms 30 levels in the cave. During this period, red deer was the main prey species, but remains of ibexes, chamois, bovines, horses, roe deer, reindeer and pigs are also significant (Straus et al, 1980). Before them, Neanderthals occupied the area, with their Mousterian stone tool technology. These Neanderthals depended mostly upon horses (350 kg), bovines (800 kg) and two species of rhinoceros for meat. During this Middle Palaeolithic period, the Neanderthal population densities were low, so subsistence must have been less demanding.


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21,000 years ago, trees such as hazel and oak grew, along with many herbs and shrubs of the composite family. Open country species such as horses and European bison were the principal species hunted. As these were also the species hunted by the Neanderthals, climatic conditions may have been the determining factor as to what was available. Fire was commonly used. The presence of shells of the limpet Patella vulgata and the periwinkle, Littorina littorea shows that they also used coastal marine resources. One can imagine the children or women collecting these while the men hunted. As the weather changed between warm and cold the animal species and vegetation changed. Pine trees were often common. Even ocean levels vary. Reindeer appear twice as prey in the fossil record.

By 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, ocean fishes and other marine resources had become increasingly important to this Spanish population. The importance of seafood rose dramatically after that. Limpets gathered decreased in size due to intense exploitation. Crabs and sea urchins and bottom dwelling sole enter the diet between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago. It appears that an increased population density led to a greater demand on all available food resources (Straus, 1980). This is a typical trend where increased population density restricts a hunter-gatherer's area, so it has to rely upon the many more animals of smaller body size. The trend does not match environmental changes. Eventually these people may have had to resort to plants aggregated in small amounts of space and then agriculture (Binford, 1983).

A vast region in the Pacific, known as the Oceanic Arena, extends from Easter Island in the east, to Australia in the South, China in the north and the Andaman Islands in the west. This part of the world was the last to be colonised by humans. Homo erectus remains in Sundaland (Java, Sumatra and Borneo), of between 600,000 and 900,000 years old, represent the earliest evidence of our pre-human ancestors in this region. Much later, two groups of people colonised it. The more recent colonists were Australoid hunter-gatherers.

The  Australoid colonists of this area are represented today by the Aborigines of Australia, the Highlanders of New Guinea, the Negritos of Malaya and the Philippines. There is also an isolated pocket (possibly related) in the Andaman Islands north of Sumatra. Their language is different from more recent colonists. Australian aborigines have a totally distinct language. New Guinea has an ancient and diversified Papuan language grouping. This Papuan language grouping extends into the Melanesian islands. By at least 6,000 years ago they had reached New Ireland and New Britain. Melanesian people (New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji etc.) are a genetic hybrid of Australia, Polynesian and Micronesian people. This mix is the result of continual migrations from the mainland of East Asia. People of Mongoloid ancestry attained dominance of the Southeast Asian islands and settled empty areas of Micronesia and Polynesia over the past 6,000 years. Their language group is called Austronesian (Malaya-Polynesian family). Austronesian speakers colonised Pacific islands beyond the Solomon Islands within the past 5,000 years. These mongoloids had little genetic impact on most of Melanesia. Mongoloids subsisted largely by gardening.

Early Austronesian-speakers who colonised the Pacific regions of Micronesia and Polynesia over the last 6,000 years made pottery, practised, fishing and sailed on outrigger canoes. It appears that they did not use metals. Their geographical dispersal ranges from Madagascar in the west to Easter Island in the east. This culture and technology is known as Neolithic . Ancient Austronesian sites, 5,000 to 6,000 years old, show evidence of rice cultivation, stone reaping knives, pottery, cattle and pigs. These cultivators of cereals reached Formosa (Taiwan) by 6,000 years ago. Other crops cultivated later by this group of people includes millet, yam, taro and sugarcane. Eventually tropical crops from their new areas of colonisation were grown, including breadfruit, banana, sago and coconut. Dogs and chickens also formed part of their material culture (Bellwood, 1980). Use of metals began about 3,000 years ago, but even in recent times metal usage did not extend beyond western New Guinea. As these Neolithic peoples moved southwards to the Philippines, Borneo, Sulawesi, Java, Sumatra and onwards, they displaced hunter gatherers already present. By 4,500 years ago they had reached eastern Indonesia. Cattle did not thrive on these new island homes or were too big to transport. As colonists spread into the Pacific, their diet had to change to tubers and fruits. They must have encountered and to some extent interbred with Australoid hunter gatherers of the region. This has led to the blend from fully Mongoloid to fully Australoid features in this part of the world.

Cultures that, until recently, followed the hunter-gatherer lifestyle include the !Kung San of Africa, the Yanomamo of South America and the Aboriginals of Australia. We tend to disparage the skills of our stoneage ancestors. However, the ocean navigation skills of the ancient  Polynesians show that technical knowledge and the art of the craft to be as complex as any practised today. Using a knowledge of stars, currents and the movement of ocean swells, they managed to colonise a constellation of islands covering 39 million square kilometers, from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the South. With no instruments, or maps, they used environmental cues to guide their navigation. Swells that passed slowly under their boats every 10 minutes were used to navigate across the open Pacific. By following a star path (kaveinga), they could travel as precisely as with a compass. They would head toward a star on their desired bearing, and when it has moved too high, select the next star to rise from the same point and continue through the night. With a knowledge of ocean currents, sailors would alter their bearings to compensate, using stars ahead and to port as markers. Deep down in the water depths, experienced mariners would gaze into the "te tapa" a type of underwater lightning, presumably caused by bioluminescence triggered by deep waves bouncing off distant islands. The streaks dart out from the islands direction and are used on dark cloudy nights when no stars are visible. Using this, they cold even determine how many islands lay ahead! Swells reflected off islands beyond the horizon, also guided skilled navigators. To get to known locales, specific stars, when directly overhead, were used to mark the latitude of a set of islands. They called this a zenith star, that points down to an island (Lewis, 1974). This star overhead shows the sailor when he is on the same latitude as his destination. Next there were land clouds and birds to show where the islands lay. Birds would fly in the direction of the islands in the late evening and then a rising star would be chosen for the nights bearing.

  Naturally, to support this skill, these people also need the craft of boat building. In Polynesia, double canoes were preferred, while in Micronesia, they made single outriggers.  Usually 20 metres long, and easily able to travel 240 kilometres per day, a 8000 kilometre journey was possible. With no written language, this knowledge was passed through cultural songs and from father to son.

[1.2]  Agriculture: [top ] 農業人口

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Archeological information points to three centers of early plant cultivation: central Mexico, the middle Yangtze River in China, and the best-recorded sequence from foraging to farming in the Near East. This agriculture led to the emergence of complex civilizations.

Demographic pressure probably led to the adoption of crop cultivation and animal husbandry (pastoralism ), leading to modern civilisation. As populations grew, there was  an increased dependence upon plants. Next, consumer demand within a constrained space forced the adoption of some form of intensive agricultural production . In Peru people domesticated camelids and guinea pigs 2,000 years before crop cultivation.  In the Near East animal domestication came after crop cultivation.


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Archaeologists have evidence that ancient people grew fig trees about 11,400 years ago, making the fruit the earliest domesticated crop. This find dates use of figs some 1,000 years before the first evidence that crops such as wheat, barley and legumes were being cultivated in the Middle East.

GilgalRemains of the ancient fig fruits were found at Gilgal I, a village site in the Jordan Valley north of Jerusalem (Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University and Mordechai E. Kislev and Anat Hartmann of Bar-Ilan University; reported in the journal Science. Gilgal was abandoned by humans more than 11,000 years ago. The fig remains had been dried for human consumption,  and were a mutant variety that does not drop from the tree, but remains there, becoming soft and sweet for consumption. Significantly, it had no seeds and so had to be propagated by humans planting shoots. This mutation required fig tree cultivation for the continued existence (perpetuation) of the plant. The intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, indicates the beginnings of agriculture (see books). This edible fig would not have survived in nature without human intervention.

Other food remains found there included acorns and wild oats and wild barley.

Eventually there is a full transition to, and dependence upon agriculture to survive. Technologically, these societies are more complex. Domestic crops and animals become more important as food than wild animals and plants. Agriculture is relatively new, only emerging between 12,000 and 8,000 years ago and has often caused environmental damage, but has led to the social changes that have allowed the formation of our modern civilisation. This seems to have followed the end of the last Ice Age between 15,000 and 8,000 years ago (Burenhult, 1994). Before this, people living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle depended upon what was available (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Over such spans of time, the social and cultural changes must have been largely imperceptible to the individual.

Humans developed agriculture independently several times (see books). Definite areas of origin are the Middle East (11,000 years ago), southeastern Asia (9,500 years ago), and central Mexico (9,000 years ago). In Mexico, people cultivated maize, avocados, beans, peppers, tomatoes and marrows. The domestication of dogs and turkeys followed agriculture. People have lived in parts of the Middle East since at least 27,000 years ago. They began to cultivate cereal grasses and other plants and domesticated sheep and goats. On the eastern Mediterranean wild, large-seeded grasses were abundant and served as food. People eventually cultivated these around 10,000 years ago as they were easy to harvest. This immediately led to the coevolution and domestication of today's crops such as wheat. Wheat is the hybridisation of three species, two of which are still cultivated in the Middle East (Jones, 2000). Seedheads of wild wheat, for example, shatter when ripe to distribute the seeds through natural processes. This does not happen in the cultivated form as (human) selection has eliminated such strains. Farmers would have unconsciously propagated seedheads that remained intact, so selecting for a domestic cultivar. People made tools such as bone reaping knives with flint cutting teeth.

American Indians of central Brazil, called, the Kayapo are a modern version of hunter gatherer people. With chickens, crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, sweet manioc and yams and a hunting lifestyle they represent a transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to an agricultural lifestyle. What they caught by hunting, be it a tortoise, deer, fish or a wild pig, they had to share and they discouraged selfishness. Women worked in groups to gather fruit, nuts and plants from the same forest where the men hunt. Ironically, on finding a high fruit tree, they cut it down with a metal axe to harvest the ripe fruit. This behaviour shows both ignorance and little reverence for the forest they protect and own. Not long ago these people would not have possessed metal tools, so this destruction of their own forest is the result of a technological advance that has not been properly or rationally incorporated into their culture. The result of this introduction of a simple technological innovation reflects much on human nature and how we adapt. These Indians, like most of humanity behaves opportunistically (Halloway, 1993). We see the same misuse of technology in the USA's and other countries development of atomic weapons.

Language

A large group of languages, the Indo-European languages appear to have their root at the beginning of agriculture and spread with the advance of agriculture (Renfrew, 1989). These languages with a common root include Albanian, Greek, Tocharian (extinct), Indic (Indo-Aryan) (e.g. Urdu), Iranian (e.g. Persian), Slavic, Baltic, Germanic (e.g. German, English, Swedish, etc.), Italic, Celtic, Romance (e.g. Spanish, French etc.), Armenian and Anatolian (extinct) (Ross, 1991) (Rubenstein, 1989). This family of languages probably arose in the Near East around Anatolia (Turkey) where an advanced society lived over 8000 years ago. This was before recorded history or writing. Other language families that reflect our most recent history are, Southeast Asian, Sino-Tibetan, Semito-Hamitic, Eskimo-Aleut, Uralic, Altaic, Korean, Japanese, Dravidian, Caucasian, Amerindian, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Australian, Malayo-Polynesian, Papuan and Khoisan (Rubenstein, 1983).

Linguists have established the common origin of languages such as Sanskrit and many European languages. By dating sites with crops typical of early farming, we can trace the diffusion of agriculture from the Near East around 8,500 years ago, reaching Britain around 6,000 years ago (Coles, 1989) and Spain and Portugal by 5,000 years ago (Renfrew, 1989). A study of blood groups that established gene frequencies in Europe shows common groups extending out from the Near East, giving some support for this proposal of the migrations of peoples in Neolithic times (Beck et al, 1991).

Other scholars place the origins of the Indo-European languages about 6300 years ago. They claim this early language spread with the military conquests of the Kugans who lived in the Russian steppes near the Volga River, north of the Caspian Sea (Rubenstein, 1989).

[1.3] Technological Civilisation : [top ]

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The term "technological civilisation" places emphasis on technology rather than religion or nationality in the formation of a civilised society, although the latter two play a significant role in human cultures. We are a technological civilisation and culture.  Is is impossible to separate technology from our social fabric. Tomovic (1982) states that our technological era began with the invention of the steam engine and automated regulator devices in the mid-eighteenth century. However, technological society began with the first instance where individuals produced specialised products that other members of the group depended upon for an improved quality of life in some form. The development of a technological civilisation is therefore a matter of degree rather than a moment in time. Early Egyptian societies were technological, enabling complex engineering such as the pyramids. Technology has been with humans from the first use of a stone as a tool, as it is with some chimpanzee groups today. In a technological civilisation, this tool use has developed to an advanced state, where our human culture is dependent upon the technology that surrounds it. Individuals become specialised in fields of production, be it technological, agricultural or even religious.

One trend of civilised society is for existing  cultures to interact more and more with each another to the point that no one culture pursues a separate destiny. With the introduction of agriculture (see books), villages and cities became possible as people did not have to travel in search of food. (Civilisation comes from the Latin word " civitas " meaning city.) This sedentary way of life formed the basis for modern civilization. Agriculture can support more people in an area than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. A more diverse form of trade developed within these cities, and people freed from the labour of food gathering, were able to pursue crafts and unique skills, so initiating the development of technologies that characterise modern life.

Mayans of central America changed from a nomadic life to the cultivation of maize and other crops around 3,000 years ago. Five-hundred years later they started building in stone. Mayan civilisation attained its peak between A.D. 435-870 and 987-1007. They developed a sophisticated mathematics that calculated in units of 20.

Egypt and Mesopotamia had established irrigation systems by 5,000 years ago. After the plough was invented around 5,000 years ago, crop production increased dramatically (Chiras, 1994). Drawings of ploughs used by Egyptian farmers from 3500 years ago shows the man whipping an ox and holding the plough while the woman walks behind planting the seeds. In China, people developed the iron plough by 2,600 years ago, replacing wood and stone ploughs as a more effective tool (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). They had also developed the mouldboard by 2,100 years ago. A great change followed the plough as productivity of the land increased. Following this, the human population increased as more food became available and a single farmer could produce food for many people. People left the farms to live in villages and cities and developed various crafts. Civilisation as we know it began to evolve. A heavier demand was placed on natural resources such as wood, metals and stone. Often the trend was destructive, so that societies destroyed fertile land through overgrazing, poor agricultural practises, war and deforestation. Evidence for this is to be found in the many ruins scattered across the globe, such as the Babylonian Empire of Iran and Iraq and the cities of Saharan Africa.

People created many of our most pervasive and basic inventions in prehistoric times and we cannot attribute them to a single person or nation. Such is the use of fire, the use of metals such as gold and copper, bows and arrows, the fish hook, spinning and weaving, agriculture, animal domestication, sail boats and ships, wells and irrigation, pottery, clothing, language, arithmetic, the alphabet and written communication and much more that we take for granted. The oldest evidence for the bow and arrow, at 20,000 years old, comes from North Africa. Up to 40,000 years before this, the Aterian culture used tangs, which are spear-like points with the base designed for attachment onto a handle (Burenhult, 1994). South of the Sahara, bows and arrows were also in use 20,000 years ago.

Another development that follows agriculture is the construction of more permanent houses and the whole technology and engineering that goes along with architecture. As people become sedentary, they require better and more organised housing and related infrastructure. Houses vary as much as do the different cultures of humanity. People built the pyramid at Saqqara over 4,600 years ago (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Architects designed complex architectural concepts such as domes, built in Ancient Cyprus 5,000 years ago.

Ancient civilisations (city living societies) developed between the Tigris and Euphrates as the Sumerian civilisation (5,500 years ago) and as the Egyptian civilisation (5,100 years ago). Great spans of time are involved in such transitions, making the changes imperceptible within a person's life time. Quadan people of Upper Egypt were already using grinding stones to process the seeds from wild plants (Burenhult, 1994), and hunting and fishing between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago.

An ancient civilisation, the Aegean (Southern Greece and Crete), flourished as long ago as 5,000 years ago. In the south-central area of Asia minor (now Turkey), archaeologists have found evidence of an advanced society that flourished about 8,000 years ago. Civilisations developed independently in other parts of the world such as the Indus valley (4,500 years ago) (Pakistan and northwestern India), the Huang He Valley (3,700 years ago) (China), and the Andes mountains of Peru.

Civilisation's advance was very slow initially. Humanities' earliest civilisation developed in Mesopotamia, the area enclosed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In the Zagros foothills of the north, villages existed by 9,000 years ago. In the lower part of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, villages existed by 7,000 years ago. Sumerians built the first cities around 5,500 years ago. They practised farming, fishing and hunting. Irrigation canals brought water to their fields. Humanities first form of writing emerged in Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) 5,500 years ago, later evolving into cuneiform. Babylonians and Assyrians then adopted this. Many thousands of clay tablets from this time have been found. Sumerians created a complex society. They invented the potter's wheel, made glass, brewed beer, and had board games. Artists and craftspeople created jewellery, decorative pottery, and musical instruments. Sumerian farmers grew barley, wheat, dates and vegetables. By this time people had domesticated the cow, donkey, sheep and goat. A textile industry used sheep wool. Egyptians developed their own form of writing, hieroglyphics by 5,000 years ago.

In Assyria people built small villages alongside the Tigris river 7,000 years ago. Signs of pottery and stone tools are found from this period. Semitic groups moved into Assyria more than 3,000 years ago bringing a more advanced culture. Sumerians also influenced the Assyrian culture. During the height of this civilisation Assyrians were city dwellers, farmers or members of semi-nomadic groups, reflecting three stages of human social evolution. Farmers used irrigation canals to control flooding and bring water to their farmland. Barley was the main crop. From their livestock they produced milk and other dairy products. They lived in mud huts with thatched roofs, with walls made of intertwined branches and mud, similar to huts in Africa today. Craftworkers in Assyria made pottery and used gold, silver, bronze, ivory and wood. Larger cities such as Assur, Kalhu and Nineveh were protected with high walls manned by archers. Outside the city walls, orchards, fruit and vegetables were grown on irrigated land. Slavery was practised in this time. This empire went into decline about 2600 years ago and ended through wars with Medians and Babylonians.

Babylon was a large, established city with perhaps 250,000 inhabitants by 4,200 years ago. Babylonia was an ancient civilisation in what is now southeastern Iraq. Settlement began about 7,000 years ago. It flourished from 5,500 B.C. until 2,500 years ago. Cuneiform, the first form of writing, was invented here around 5,500 years ago. These people established laws and had various sciences such as mathematics, medicine, magic and astronomy. They left written records of their history, legal documents, letters, economic records, various sciences, literary and religious texts.

Libraries of clay tablets using the cuneiform language of the Babylonians record the religion, literature, medicine, history and other subjects. Legal texts from 3,400 years ago outline laws and penalties. Later (about 2,900 years ago), the Assyrians wrote in Aramaic, using ink on parchments. Cuneiform and Aramaic were then used for different purposes as written languages while Aramaic was the spoken language at the end of the Assyrian civilisation and was the language spoken by the Prophet Jesus 2,000 years ago.

Babylonian social structure consisted of an aristocracy of government officials, priests, traders, and landowners. Common people consisted of clerks, craftspeople and farmers. Slaves formed the lowest class. Farming was the main commercial enterprise. Trading for goods such as metal, wood and stone was common. Wheeled carts and chariots were in use 5,000 years ago. Their building methods were quite sophisticated, even using mathematical measuring techniques.

Early Aegean skills included the production of bronze, writing, art, pottery, architecture, fishing and sailing. Four main cultures dominated this period 5,000 years ago, the Cycladic (Aegean Islands), the Minoan (Crete), Mycenaean (Greece) and the Trojan culture (Troy). Much of this knowledge was lost with the collapse of this civilisation 3,100 years ago.

Ancient Egyptians flourished in the Nile Valley, protected by desert from invaders. Their culture developed independently of much outside influence and lasted thousands of years. They invented their own written language, hieroglyphics and wrote on paper made from papyrus reeds. With massive armies Egypt became a conquering nation, which by 3,400 years ago, ruled Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and some of Sudan. By 3,000 years ago the Egyptian rule had collapsed, never again to be restored.

The discovery and use of metals is an important aspect of our cultural evolution. Malleable metals allowed creations limited only by human imagination and so the invention of a far wider range of implements, tools and instruments than could be made with wood and bone. Metallurgy opened the way for the advancement of various technologies. When metal was first used is lost in the mist of time. Copper was found in almost pure form in some areas and so was one of the first metals used. By at least 10,000 years ago copper was in use by people living along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in what is now Iraq. Gold was in use by 5,500 years ago. So skilled were the ancient Egyptians, that they could hammer gold leafs so thin that 146.8 formed a pile only 1 millimetre high! They used these leafs 5,000 years ago for gilding, or decorating objects with thin layers of gold. 2,000 years ago Roman dentists were using gold as tooth fillings. Silver was in use 6,000 years ago. Egyptians produced iron, the most difficult metal to separate from its ore, 4,000 years ago. Assyrians had an advanced technology for iron smelting, even making steel from iron.

Between 3,200 and 1,500 years ago, many powerful empires emerged. Agriculture and animal domestication allowed humanity enough free time and energy to create empires and pursue wars. This history is a story of wars and conquerors. In China there was the Zhou Dynasty (112-256 B.C.) and then the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220). India first became united at around 300 B.C. as the Maurya Empire, which ended in 185 B.C.. For the next 500 years many small political units ruled India. A new dynasty then emerged in northern India. The Gupta Empire ruled from A.D. 320 until about A.D. 500. Greek civilisation ended around 338 B.C., and the Persian Empire declined around 331 B.C. A Roman republic formed in 509 B.C. had Rome at its centre. This society waged war to expand the republic for hundreds of years. From 27 B.C. until A.D. 476, the Roman Empire ruled over an area including Europe.

There always seems to have been some contact between various civilisations. The Indus valley civilisation, which ended in 1,750 B.C., left its trademark on goods as far away as Mesopotamia. A 3,400 year old shipwreck off the Turkish coast in the Mediterranean Sea carried goods from Canaanite, Mycenaean, Cypriot, Egyptian, Kassite, Assyrian, Baltic, Northern Balkan, Nubian, Old Babylonian, and possibly Sicilian cultures (Roland, 1996). However, between 500 and 1,500 A.D., various parts of the world came more closely into contact. Many areas were still independent, with their histories progressing upon their unique course.

Before A.D. 1,000, two important innovations became established in Europe, the rotation of crops and the horse-drawn and wheeled Saxon plough (Cardwell, 1994). These further improved the productivity of the land. Soon after 1,000 A.D. saw many amazing inventions, such as windmills, water wheels, the mariner's compass, and spectacles. By 1066 A.D., 6,000 water wheels were in use in England for various purposes such as grinding corn or sawing wood.

Cannons for waging war were in use by 1318, with smaller versions evolving into handguns, then long-barreled arquebuses, matchlocks and then flintlock muskets. Quickly trained and not so strong or skilled musketeers easily defeated archers.

The art of spinning and weaving thread followed a slow evolutionary improvement. A simple spindle-and-whorl method changed to the Great Wheel method in the thirteenth century, then the Saxon Wheel two hundred years later and another change three hundred years after this.


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At the end of the middle ages and the beginning of the Renaissance the German, Johan Gutenberg (1394/99-1467) invented printing with movable type (Cardwell, 1994). His Gutenberg Bible of 1455 was the first known printed book. More books were published in the 50 years following Gutenberg, than in the previous 1,000 years! So began the first revolution in information technology. Chinese and Koreans invented different printing methods.

In the medieval period, after 1286, saw the invention of the mechanical clock and the watch with balance wheel and spring drive by 1500. Water mills remained the main source of mechanical power in England throughout the Industrial Revolution and up to 1830. Today mechanical clocks and the printing press strongly influence our lives.

During the fifteenth century Europeans started exploring and discovering the rest of the world. Ship designs improved with the invention of the movable rudder and the three masted ships. Navigation across the vast oceans became a mathematical science (Cardwell, 1994). Columbus reached the Americas in 1492. Bartholomew Diaz reached the Cape of Good Hope on Africa in 1494. Vasco De Gama sailed around the Cape to India in 1497. By 1517 sailors had circumnavigated the globe in a three-year journey.

In 1543, the "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" of Copernicus established that the earth orbited around the sun. Humanities' world-view began a massive transformation as European civilisation underwent a fundamental and irreversible change (Cardwell, 1995). Cardwell (1994) notes that Renaissance art and architecture of this time reflects a change in the view towards nature from fear to the desire to overcome and master nature.

This Eurocentric view of the discovery of the world, is valid from the perspective that Europe led the technological advance that has led to the modern technological and industrial world. Other civilisations such as the Chinese culture flourished for thousands of years. Peking man lived in northern China between 500,000 and 250,000 years ago. Two cultures, the Yangshao and the Longshan existed in the New Stone Age 12,000 years ago. By 5,000 years ago, the Yangshao had reached its pinnacle of development. It was overtaken by the Longshan culture. These people lived in walled villages, grew millet and rice and raised cattle and sheep. They domesticated chickens by 3,400 years ago.

China's first dynasty, the Shang emerged from the Longshan culture 3776 years ago and ruled for 600 years. Following this the Zhou dynasty ruled from 3,122 years ago for 866 years. The Qin dynasty led to the formation of a Chinese empire that flourished for more than 2,000 years from 221 B.C. onwards. Before the end of the Qin dynasty (206 B.C.), Chinese built the Great Wall of China, covering 6,400 kilometres! This achievement mutes most modern efforts. During this time an efficient government ruled, great cities were built and literature and art flourished.

Europeans often adopted Chinese technology. The potter's wheel was in use in China before 4,000 years ago. Porcelain was first used in China. Chinese invented compasses and gunpowder. According to legend, the wife of Emperor Huangdi developed silk as an industry about 4,700 years ago. Her name was Xilingshi, and she may be the first recorded woman inventor. People did not bring silkworms to the West until 550 A.D. as it was a Chinese secret guarded with the threat of death and disgrace to the traitor. Commercial incentives must have driven imitation for a very long time. Eventually two monks smuggled out eggs and mulberry seeds in hollow bamboo canes. China still produces more raw silk than any other country.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) distinguished many Chinese inventions as science based rather than empirical inventions. Science-based inventions require that knowledge be advanced through an understanding of the underlying properties before the invention can advance (Cardwell, 1994). Bacon considered printing, firearms and the compass as having greatly "changed the appearance and state of the whole world" (Cardwell, 1994). He said, "no empire, sect or state appears to have exercised greater power and influence on human affairs than these three mechanical discoveries."

During the time that Marco Polo was in China, from about 1271 until 1292, journeys by sea were common. He brought back information from China about the use of coal as fuel, the use of paper money and printing, none of which was in use in Europe. People must have rapidly transmitted information through the many travel routes of this time. Marco Polo's return journey to Europe followed a route from southern China with a fleet of 14 junks to Singapore. Next he sailed to northern Sumatra and around the southern tip of India. He and his father crossed the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman to Hormuz. Here they parted from the fleet of junks and moved overland to the Turkish port of Trebizond on the Black Sea. Again they set sail, this time to Constantinople (Istanbul) and then to Venice, arriving three years after leaving China.

Naturally, many different cultures have contributed to modern civilisation. To list a meagre few:

[1] Cotton first grew wild in East Africa. In what is today Pakistan, people were cultivating cotton 5,000 years ago. Cotton goods entered Europe by 2,300 years ago with Alexander the Great. Muslims brought the technology to Italy and Spain in the 700's and only in the 1600's did the English begin to weave cotton.

[2] Only legends record the first use of coffee in Ethiopia.

[3] Ships evolved in Egypt from galleys powered by a row of paddlers 6,000 years ago to sailing ships that could harness the wind by 5,000 years ago. The first Australian aborigines to reach Australia 60,000 years ago (Strausbaugh and Sakelarisc, 2001) must have crossed a stretch of ocean of at least 70 kilometres (Bellwood, 1980)! The colonisation of the many Pacific islands up to as much as 6,000 years ago required ocean travel. These people were so mobile on the oceans that they reached as far east as Madagascar.

[4] A Dutch optician, Hans Lippershey built the first documented telescope. Galileo, an Italian astronomer built another a year later and began his study of the sky. He established that the earth was not the centre of the solar system, destroying an established paradigm. Isaac Newton built a telescope that used a mirror, a design used by most modern optical research telescopes today. Edwin Hubble changed the scientific view of the universe in the greatest discovery since the astronomer Galileo, when he proved that the Milky Way is one of the innumerable galaxies in the universe. He also showed that the entire universe is expanding (Osterbrock, 1993).

[5] By 1784 a wheat thresher was invented in Scotland and a horse-drawn combine harvester that reaped, separated the chaff and poured the grain into bags was in use by the 1830's. Other agricultural inventions such as seed drills have older origins, in use in Mesopotamia 5,500 years ago (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993).

[7] Labour saving devices were commonly used in ancient Greece. They used the wedge, the lever, the block with pulleys, the winch or windlass and the screw (Ingpen & Wilkinson, 1993). Scientists such as Archimedes (2,300 years ago) were involved in these developments, but were not the inventors. The screw was used to move water in the Middle East and probably originated in ancient Egypt.

[8] Computers went through a long evolution with many notable achievements, so their invention followed technological advances and cannot be attributed to any single person. Their development is a good example of how modern, complex technology depends upon previous developments and discoveries. This story begins with the history of communication. Progress in communication or other human achievements, arises through unique innovations that use previous established abilities. Therefore our ability to communicate led to the invention of writing, initially on clay. Paper, when invented in China around A.D. 100, allowed the efficient transmission of this writing (Weinberg, 1994). With the invention of movable type came the printing of books. A practical typewriter was patented in 1868. Clearly, each invention that became established, provided some foundation for the production of the next.

The abacus is the most ancient recorded calculating device. Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician invented the first automatic calculator in 1642. This did addition and subtraction, until modified in the 1670's, by a German mathematician, Wilhelm von Leibniz, to do multiplication and division. He also introduced the binary system used by modern computers. George Boole, a mathematician developed this into Boolean Algebra and Boolean Logic. This formed the basis for computer logic and computer languages.
Fabric weaving was automated in 1801 by J.M. Jacquard, using punched cards. Charles Babbage (1791-1871) tried to develop a mechanical computer, or "analytical engine" using punched cards in the 1830's. He worked on this for 40 years. His ideas were sound in principle, but were ahead of his time. Science had not yet acquired a full understanding and application of electricity, nor could technology provide the precision parts needed for his machine.

In 1888, an American inventor, Herman Hollerith, developed a successful computer, using punched cards and electricity. This was the first step in automated data processing, generating tabulated results from payroll, census and other data (Tyler, 1996). In 1911 he sold his company, the Tabulating Machine Company, which then became the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. They formed IBM from this company in 1924.

In December 1943, a massive, 1,500 valve computer called the Colossus was commissioned at Bletchley Park (UK). Deciphering and code breaking the German's encrypted messages was operational early the following year.

Analog computers were developed in 1930 and the first electronic computer, ENIAC, some 27 metric tonnes, 19000 valve monstrosity, consuming 150 kilowatts of electricity, was in use by 1946. Its first chore was to work out ballistic tables for artillery shells. EDVAC replaced this in 1951. Also in 1951, the first commercially available computer, UNIVAC 1, was introduced. By the late 1960's, many large companies used computers. They introduced personal computers in 1975. Twenty years later we cannot function without them!

[9] The Digital Revolution was born at the end of 1947 when two Bell Labs scientists demonstrated the transistor that could take electric current, amplify it and switch it on and off.  Today microchip transistors of silicon wafers are cheap and ubiquitous, enabling the storage and transfer of information in digital form.

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by Laurence Evans 1998 - 2008

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