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The rise of civilizationCivilizations rose and fell time and again, in different places at different times, some lasting

much longer than others. There were at least two great dark ages during which civilization essentially disappeared from most of the world (1200 BC to 700 BC and 400 AD to 900 AD). The two prerequisit es for civilization were the human ability to organize and the production of foo d in large quantities. Large amounts of food made large populations possible, bu t only if they could be effectively organized.In the space of 5000 years, from 8 000 BC to 3000 BC, the earliest settled villages grew into full civilizations in the Middle East, Anatolia, Iran, India and Pakistan, and China. Among the impor tant steps in the movement toward civilization were irrigation, the city-state, trade, metalworking, and writing.IrrigationIt is not accident that the cradles o f civilization were river valleys the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Indus, and Yellow. The land around these rivers must have been recognized as being rich, but the so urce of their richness was new soil deposited each year when the rivers flooded. The valleys were not useful to the earliest farmers until they learned to contr ol flooding or adapt to it. The rise of civilization was partly the story of lea rning to control these rivers and realizing the potential of the land.More is kn own about the history of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile civilizations than othe rs because these areas have been extensively excavated. These three rivers carry water from highlands far inland to the sea, passing through very arid regions. The contrast between the land adjacent to the river and that a short distance aw ay is striking. Desert can exist only a few hundred yards from the Nile. The lan d around the rivers is rich, but making it bloom required the transfer of water to those parts of the valley not adjacent to the river.The construction of large -scale irrigation projects required a large communal effort and organization. Th e fact that the irrigation was accomplished is proof that governments and organi zation were in place, although it was accomplished before writing appears. Once irrigation was understood and in place, food production soared along the rivers, making these valleys the richest and most populous places on Earth.The relative riches of the area made possible specialization of labor, leisure time, the dev elopment of the arts, and the necessity of defense.The City-stateThe Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Fertile Crescent flood in the summer, during the growing season. For the land in this area to be cultivated, the rivers had to be held i n check by dikes and canals. Nothing came easy in Mesopotamia. There were few na tural resources other than farmland. The building material was mud. To be succes sful, the people living there had to be resourceful. It is no accident that many of the great technological innovations of the era, such as invention of the whe el, occurred here. From 5000 BC to 3000 BC the plains through which these two ri vers flowed became covered with settlements. Larger settlements in the area were separated first physically by the shifting of the rivers and areas of marshland and then politically.By 3500 BC the people at the mouth of the river, the Sumer ians, had achieved the first full civilization. Their major city was Ur, situate d on a lagoon of the Persian Gulf where it supplemented its farming by operating as a trading post for both sea and river traffic. Royal burials from Ur, dated to 2600 BC, revealed remarkable treasures, including bowls of gold inscribed wit h the prince s name, an elaborate helmet beaten from a sheet of gold, axes of elec trum and a dagger of gold (weapons for decorative purposes only), and many more bowls of gold, silver, and copper. Some of the royal tombs included large supple mentary burials of assistants and retainers apparently included to help the dece ased in an afterlife. These tombs were evidence of prominent social status.The f irst Sumerian king who stands out in history is Ur-Nammu, who built the great zi ggurat of Ur. This enormous mud brick structure was restored by later kings in t he area over the years and still exists. Massive walls were built to defend Ur, but these were torn down by the Elamites who captured the city around 2000 BC.Th e city-state was the typical political organization in the Middle East and Easte rn Mediterranean until almost the end of antiquity. They were often collected in to an empire, but these rarely held together for long until the Romans appeared. Egypt was the major exception to the city-state, but its isolated situation mad e it unique.TradeTrade on a large scale was financed by agricultural surpluses t hat became available especially after the river valleys were irrigated and organ

ized. The trade of surpluses greatly encouraged the specialization of crafts. Pe ople near important raw materials could concentrate on a craft and trade the res ult of their labor for food from the river valleys. People in the mountains arou nd Ur traded metal tools and ore for food, for example. The placement of the fir st civilizations on rivers and coasts accelerated trade because transport by boa t was cheap. Pottery could be shipped by boat over long distances. The cedar of Lebanon could be shipped by sea to Egypt, where timber was in short supply.Trade was an economic multiplier. The comparative advantages of production in differe nt areas meant that all participants were better off after trading.Trade was als o an important disseminator of ideas. Visitors to other cultures spread new idea s and innovations quickly. Those cultures that actively traded were usually amon g the most advanced.MetalworkingThe earliest use of metal yet known comes from s outhern Turkey, north of Syria. Hammered copper objects found here date to 7000 BC. Prolonged hammering causes metal to eventually harden and become brittle, le aving it useless. The process of annealing, heating the metal in a fire, restore s its malleability, making it useful again. The process of annealing seems to ha ve been discovered very early.The first important breakthrough in metallurgy was the discovery of smelting, the process of extracting metals from ore under high temperatures. This greatly expanded the use of copper because ore was much more common than raw copper that could be hammered. By 4000 BC small, simple copper objects were widespread in the Middle East.The second important breakthrough in metallurgy was the discovery of bronze around 3000 BC. This copper and tin alloy was harder than copper and more useful for tools, and it also flowed more easil y when molten than copper did and was easier to cast.Metalworking in Thailand go es back to 4000 BC and bronze appears there before 2000 BC. Metal working appear ed in the Andes of South America around 2000 BC. This development is considered to be independent of metalworking in the Middle East.Iron was known from the thi rd millennium BC, but it was not mastered until many years later. Some of the ea rliest iron artifacts were made from meteoric iron. Ancient trading records show that iron was more valuable than silver during much of the second millennium. O ne of two ceremonial daggers placed in Tutankhamen s tomb in 1323 BC is made of ir on (the second is gold). The use of iron spread after 1200 BC during the first d ark age, in part perhaps because the breakdown of trade limited supplies of copp er and tin. Without those critical metals, smiths made do with the more common i ron ore, learned how to make it well, and ended up with a more useful and cheape r metal for their trouble.WritingIt appears that writing was invented to keep ac counts in trade and for the early city-states.The invention of writing took plac e in Mesopotamia just before the start of the Bronze Age in 3000 BC. The earlies t writing was pictographic each picture represented an object. For example, a draw ing of a horse s head represented a horse. The common writing material in Mesopota mia was a clay tablet. The preservation of large numbers of tablets allowed hist orians to trace the transformation of the early pictographs into cuneiform. In t his system, the pictographs were gradually stylized into clusters of wedges pres sed into the clay by a writing instrument called a stylus. Because clay tablets were much more likely to be preserved than more perishable media, we generally k now more about those cultures that wrote in cuneiform.Writing in several forms a ppeared in Egypt very quickly after 3000 BC, probably influenced in function by developments in Mesopotamia. The most famous Egyptian writing was hieroglyphics, another pictograph writing especially used for temples carvings. Cursive hierog lyphics were easier to write and were used on papyrus documents and in everyday use.An important step in writing flexibility was the invention of an alphabet wh ere letter symbols represented mouth sounds, not objects. A combination of sound s created words. The earliest alphabetic system appeared in the city of Ugarit i n modern Syria around 1350 BC. Ugarit was an important trading center between Me sopotamia, Palestine, Anatolia, and the ports on the Levant leading to Greece an d Egypt. The best-known script from this time is called Ugaritic, which has a 32 -letter alphabet and is probably the ancestor of all later alphabetic scripts.