The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Discussions regarding actual culture and history of Earth.
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eldin raigmore
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The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by eldin raigmore » Tue 27 Nov 2012, 00:18

It has often and long been taught, that "civilization" probably began in each of four or five river-valleys; the Mesopotamian (Tigris and Euphrates), the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze and Yellow River Valley(s), and the Indus (Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro). I am pretty sure I've oversimplified it, but I'm also pretty sure the gist remains either largely accepted, or the standard against which variants are propesed or espoused.

Anyway, "history" did not begin at the same time in all of these locations.
(By "history began" we mean, here, that historiography began; which means that memorable events were written about. To be memorable an event has to be big enough to be noticed by a large fraction of the populace (whatever that means), but also fast enough to be noticed in a single lifetime.)

What was going on in some of these "cradles of civilization" before "history" began there but after it had started somewhere else?

By the same token, the New Stone Age didn't begin at the same time all over the globe. Nor did the Bronze Age begin at the same time. If I remember correctly, and if I understood corrrectly in the first place, there are scholars who are fairly agreed and certain about the relative dates that the Bronze Age began in one or some of the cradles after history had begun in one or some of the others.

Aren't there some of these places where history began first and the Bronze Age began later? What history is there before the Bronze Age in such places?

We have some examples of peoples, and sometimes of large settlements, which have a highly-developed Old Stone Age culture without any agriculture (I say "some" when I can think only of the one in Greenland). We also have some highly-developed New Stone Age cultures, some nomadic and some settled, with record-keeping etc., in the New World. I think the tendency is, or at least was, to call the nomadic and non-agricultural cultures (mostly the Native North American e.g.) "high barbarism", that is, highly-advanced but not "civilized", but to call the settled agricultural cultures (mostly Meso-American and South American) "civilization".

Who first wrote for their own culture about the history of some other culture? At that point I guess "World History" might be said to have started; all the different "histories", which before each civilization had its own, would begin joining up into a single global web of History.

Do people have to live in cities to be called "civilized"? Does a people have to actually build one or more new cities to be "civilized"? If so does that mean the Israelites hadn't proven they were "civilized" until they built Samaria?

Is historiography, and therefore also writing, so important that it's reasonable to qualify one's reliance on "oral history" as "history", or on pre-writing records (what would those be? pictures?) as "history"?

How about agriculture? The "Neolithic Revolution", the beginning of the New Stone Age, was the invention of agriculture. How crucial is that to "civilization"? How crucial is it to "history"?

How about metallurgy? Do things that happened before the Bronze Age count as "history"? Do things that happened only in areas where there wasn't any metal-working count as "history"? Did people who had never seen metal tools used count as "civilized"?

Which part of the "Bronze Age" counts as the beginning? The Chalcolithic? Tools and objects made from as-near-as-they-could-get pure copper, along with some made of stone? Tools and objects made from "alternative" bronzes, copper alloyed with arsenic or antimony or other alloyants other than tin? Or ten-parts-copper-to-one-part-tin bronze?

Since only in the places bronze was first invented could both copper-rich ores and tin-rich ores be found close to the surface, the manufacture of bronze required wide trade-networks and long trade-routes. If you had your own copper you probably had to import the tin; if you had your own tin you probably had to import the copper. This necessity contributed to what we think of as "civilization" and also to what we think of as "history". The upper class anywhere relied on the help of some upperclass somewhere else to remain "upper". Upperclasses were therefore rather "cosmopolitan"; not compared to modern "shuttle diplomats", maybe, but still, compared to "if he speaks with an accent he must be stupid" yokels like the "civilized Greeks" (actually a bunch of Iron-Age barbarians by comparison with their Bronze Age predecessors).

The "Iron Age" (actually better called the Steel Age, IIANM and IMHO) was an equalizing development. Anyone who had enough iron to make steel, probably also had enough charcoal to make steel too. You never needed to learn another language or go try to talk to someone who had something you needed; or, at least, you could actually make your steel weapons first, and then go talk to them. It was a lot easier for upstart societies, who didn't already have a rep with the existing ones, to shove their way into the spotlight. This was a disaster for the Late Bronze Age civilizations.

The Iron Age also didn't happen at the same time everywhere. In fact as I understand it in Bantu Africa it happened about the 12th Century CE. I don't know whether or when it happened in Papua, New Guinea, Australia, or the Pacific. Does anyone know?

Has anyone heard of "the Early Bronze Age Disaster" and "the Late Bronze Age Disaster"? What were these?
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Lambuzhao » Tue 27 Nov 2012, 01:39

Wow! What a topic.

So much to discuss, Eldin.

A couple of things that caught my eye.

To which civilization do you refer when you talk of the Amazon River?

The Inca Civilization developed in the Andean Highlands.
The Aztecs were "lacustrine" if anything, developing and building within Lake. The Cahokian Mound Builders, well, they could've developed around the Mississippi-Missouri region.
We have some examples of peoples, and sometimes of large settlements, which have a highly-developed Old Stone Age culture without any agriculture (I say "some" when I can think only of the one in Greenland). We also have some highly-developed New Stone Age cultures, some nomadic and some settled, with record-keeping etc., in the New World. I think the tendency is, or at least was, to call the nomadic and non-agricultural cultures (mostly the Native North American e.g.) "high barbarism", that is, highly-advanced but not "civilized", but to call the settled agricultural cultures (mostly Meso-American and South American) "civilization".
Two points here.
1) There were plenty of partially to completely sedentary settlements among the Native Americans. They not only raised crops of their own (3 Sisters in some shape or form, sunflowers and some others), but they also seemed to keep tabs on semi-domesticated crops as well (Wild Rice, Wapato, Persimmon, to name three of many).

2) Scribes & Accountants in the Inca Civilization recorded large amounts of information on quipus, which are knotted cords. The way the knot was tied, and a knot's position on the cord recorded numerical (quantity, date) and also verbal information. Just about all knowledge of how to read the quipus is lost, unfortunately.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Tue 27 Nov 2012, 23:47

Lambuzhao wrote:
To which civilization do you refer when you talk of the Amazon River?

2) Scribes & Accountants in the Inca Civilization recorded large amounts of information on quipus, which are knotted cords. The way the knot was tied, and a knot's position on the cord recorded numerical (quantity, date) and also verbal information. Just about all knowledge of how to read the quipus is lost, unfortunately.
On the first: we now know that there were pre-colombian civilisations along the Amazon River. Early spanish travellers reported dense population along the amazon; we have sophisticated pottery and evidence of mount building at the mouth of the river; researchers now believe they have found evidence of dense population along the upper xingu; there are extensive deposits of artificial terra preta throughout the basin, some covering quite large areas; and of course there are the hundreds of giant geoglyphs in Acre. We don't know much about these cultures, and I'd take what we do know with a lot of salt - information seems limited and at risk of sensational or political spin. We also don't know whether these civilisations developed locally, or whether they represent a later expansion from the Andes, particularly along the Amazon itself from west to east.

On the second: yes, and therefore just about all knowledge of what, if anything, the quipus actually recorded is also lost. There are all sorts of theories positing that the quipu represent a complete and sophisticated writing system, but there is little reason to believe any of it.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Lambuzhao » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 00:14

Well, the mathematical aspects of it seem to be pretty well understood. Years ago, I participated in workshops for children that taught about the quipus. What I can say is that it is an extremely tactile system. It's like braille on a string. One's fingers palpate the cord, feeling the different knots, their sizes, the spaces between, how many knots. (Hey, Sano!)

If quipus were used to represent concepts (personal names, toponyms, names of various goods), or even language, that aspect of the quipus is still mostly mystery.

But a very interesting addendum is that quipu strands were found at the Caral-Supe pyramid site in Peru, that date to approx. 5,000 years ago. The quipu know-how predates the Inca Empire by centuries!
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Jules Grant » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 12:44

Lambuzhao wrote:Well, the mathematical aspects of it seem to be pretty well understood. Years ago, I participated in workshops for children that taught about the quipus. What I can say is that it is an extremely tactile system. It's like braille on a string. One's fingers palpate the cord, feeling the different knots, their sizes, the spaces between, how many knots. (Hey, Sano!)

If quipus were used to represent concepts (personal names, toponyms, names of various goods), or even language, that aspect of the quipus is still mostly mystery.

But a very interesting addendum is that quipu strands were found at the Caral-Supe pyramid site in Peru, that date to approx. 5,000 years ago. The quipu know-how predates the Inca Empire by centuries!
Ooh, quite a good way to look at it. The Inca made the quipu famous, but it is much older. If it were to represent concepts, it then can be argued they had a literary and even standard language before that of Europe. I can only remember the oldest dictionary being from the mid 15th century, and that was for Castillian.

The quipu seems more versatile than an abacus however, as it has many capabilities.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 15:53

Jules Grant wrote:
Lambuzhao wrote:Well, the mathematical aspects of it seem to be pretty well understood. Years ago, I participated in workshops for children that taught about the quipus. What I can say is that it is an extremely tactile system. It's like braille on a string. One's fingers palpate the cord, feeling the different knots, their sizes, the spaces between, how many knots. (Hey, Sano!)

If quipus were used to represent concepts (personal names, toponyms, names of various goods), or even language, that aspect of the quipus is still mostly mystery.

But a very interesting addendum is that quipu strands were found at the Caral-Supe pyramid site in Peru, that date to approx. 5,000 years ago. The quipu know-how predates the Inca Empire by centuries!
Ooh, quite a good way to look at it. The Inca made the quipu famous, but it is much older. If it were to represent concepts, it then can be argued they had a literary and even standard language before that of Europe. I can only remember the oldest dictionary being from the mid 15th century, and that was for Castillian.
Bad way to look at it, for several reasons:
- we don't know that the Norte Chico artifact was a quipu. We just know it was a 'knotted textile artifact'. There's only one of them, and if it was a quipu we have to believe the quipu was invented, then disappeared for four thousand years, then reappeared again with the Inca.
- if it was a quipu, that doesn't mean its use was a sophisticated as the later use of quipus
- sophisticated later use of quipus is entirely hypothetical and without serious evidence or theory to support it
- having a way of representing concepts is not literary - literary means being able to represent words, not concepts. Important difference.
- having a literary language is not the same as having a standard language
- having a standard language doesn't mean having a dictionary. Rome had a standard language (Latin) but it didn't have dictionaries (apart from specialised lexicons - eg philological dictionaries to aid in understanding the stranger words in Homer date from the Greek golden age)
- the massive explosion of modern-style dictionaries in Europe does date to the 15th and 16th centuries. However, occasional or limited dictionaries go back a lot longer. The earliest known dictionaries are Summerian-Akkadian bilingual dictionaries that date from a similar time period to Norte Chico.

The quipu seems more versatile than an abacus however, as it has many capabilities.
No, it COULD have many capabilities. We can imagine all sorts of things you COULD do with a quipu. But there are also a great, great many things you can do with an abacus. [Eg you can also use abacuses as a form of writing, if you tie or stick the beads in place]. You can do all sorts of things with all sorts of things. But that doesn't mean that anyone actually DID any of these things.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by ABC » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 16:17

It is difficult to define what is and what is not "civilization". Measuring technical sophistication is easy: we are superior to the Romans, but they were superior to the Native Americans. However, measuring philosophical or artistic advancement is more risky. Is Venus of Milo superior to many pieces of "modern art"? For me it is, but many critics would disagree.

"Beginning of history" for me means the origin of the human species. I see no reason why hunter-gatherers et. al. should be not part of history.
The Iron Age also didn't happen at the same time everywhere. In fact as I understand it in Bantu Africa it happened about the 12th Century CE. I don't know whether or when it happened in Papua, New Guinea, Australia, or the Pacific.
I don't think it ever happened in these part of the world.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 18:08

Hunter gatherers simply aren't (generally) part of history. This is an empirical fact - look in a history book. There is no history from these societies, because they made no written records (i.e. histories). We can of course try to write our own histories of prehistoric times, but our ability to do so is very limited in accuracy and detail, and these attempts should probably be considered 'archaeology' or 'anthrophology' or suchlike rather than 'history'.


I think it's relatively easy to define civilisation, in concept, if not in details. Civilisation is the condition of societies that show considerable social stratification and extensive and highly complex divisions of labour. These are obviously qualitative terms, but they're also more or less objective and measurable facts. These things, of course, are continua, although in practice they are somewhat quantised (they don't just creep up, there tend to be relatively sudden leaps with few societies 'in the middle'). Conventionally the boundary for 'civilisation' is set somewhere between the megalithic cultures of prehistoric europe and the early state societies of mesopotamia.
If we define civilisation through the division of labour, other things can be used as indicative of civilisation, either because they are required for, or because they require, the complex division of labour. Urbanisation, for instance, both requires (because it is only possible with sophisticated management of land, labour and food, as well as a high degree of legalisation) and is usually required by (because it permits more complex social networks and a larger surplus population not required for manual labour) sophisticated divisions of labour. Writing, likewise, both enables this (because written records allow more control over both people and goods) and is enabled by this (because writing requires either an extensive educational system (with dedicated teachers), or a limited educational system combined with a specialised class of scribes).

I don't think the relative artistic merit of rennaissance and modernist sculpture has anything to do with this.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by cybrxkhan » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 18:22

Thanks for the interesting topic, Eldin. I don't have time to read through all of it for now, but I do want to make a few comments about your initial statements:

1. I always thought of "history" referring, though often unintentionally, to recorded history - for better or worse. Anything "before" that is "prehistory", whatever that means. Yet if we define history as, well, the past, then everyone has had a past.

2. Definitely, different places not only developed at different paces, but in different ways - and in different aspects they developed at different paces, which is why I think it is difficult to really judge whether any group is more "civilized" or "developed" than another, at least for most of recorded history (even for European imperialism, I still consider the idea of so-called European "superiority" questionable when it comes to the 15th-18th centuries, for instance, although afterwards it's hard to argue against). Different cultures adapted differently to their surroundings, so certain cultures didn't have bronze and/or iron as early as in certain parts of Eurasia - or not at all. Yet most of us won't deny that the Incans, for instance, were any less "civilized" than their Eurasian counterparts simply because they were a few hundred or thousand years behind in metallurgy - in fact, the Incans were even as or more advanced in a different type of metal-working, namely gold-working and the like.

Anyhow I want to say more but I'll have to read Eldin's post first.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by ABC » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 18:34

cybrxkhan wrote: Yet most of us won't deny that the Incans, for instance, were any less "civilized" than their Eurasian counterparts simply because they were a few hundred or thousand years behind in metallurgy - in fact, the Incans were even as or more advanced in a different type of metal-working, namely gold-working and the like.
What do you mean by their Eurasian "counterparts"? If you mean contemporaries, they were vastly superior - Pizarro with a group of adventurers could conquer the entire Inca empire.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by eldin raigmore » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 20:25

Lambuzhao wrote:Wow! What a topic. So much to discuss, Eldin.
Thanks! and, Yeah.
Lambuzhao wrote:To which civilization do you refer when you talk of the Amazon River? The Inca Civilization developed in the Andean Highlands.
I think I meant the Incas and the Mayans. It's been a few days so I can't be sure I remember exactly.
Thanks for the correction.

I had thought that the "cradles of civilization" were mostly near navigable water and(/or?) near water usable for irrigation.
I thought for most of them that meant a river mouth or river delta, or a pair of such mouths or deltas close to each other.
I know that it wasn't necessary that they be near an Ocean.
I also know there were other great cities built near rivers that for some reason aren't usually considered "cradles of civilization".

How did the Incan civilization manage to rise to greatness? Did they irrigate? Did they navigate? If they didn't navigate, how did they get around? How did they transport goods?

Lambuzhao wrote:The Aztecs were "lacustrine" if anything, developing and building within Lake.
Now that you mention it, I think I knew that. Thanks for pointing it out.

Lambuzhao wrote:The Cahokian Mound Builders, well, they could've developed around the Mississippi-Missouri region.
I thought of them. For some reason they're not considered a "cradle of civilization". Any idea why not?

In what sort of terrain did the Mayans' civilization arise? Do we call it a civilization or not? They were in Guatemala (Meso-America), weren't they? I know they irrigated; I also know they traded in knives made from stingrays. So they must have been near both lots of freshwater and some saltwater. And they wrote, didn't they?
Do people who write about the beginnings of civilization usually call the Mayans' area a "cradle of civilization"?
What other peoples in the same (or nearby) areas also had civilizations and/or also wrote?

Lambuzhao wrote:1) There were plenty of partially to completely sedentary settlements among the Native Americans. They not only raised crops of their own (3 Sisters in some shape or form, sunflowers and some others), but they also seemed to keep tabs on semi-domesticated crops as well (Wild Rice, Wapato, Persimmon, to name three of many).
Thanks for the information. BTW what were "the three sisters"?

Lambuzhao wrote:2) Scribes & Accountants in the Inca Civilization recorded large amounts of information on quipus, which are knotted cords. The way the knot was tied, and a knot's position on the cord recorded numerical (quantity, date) and also verbal information. Just about all knowledge of how to read the quipus is lost, unfortunately.
I sort of knew most of that, but not all of it and knot in such detail.
For instance I didn't know that quipus could record verbal information.
Was there anything like writing going on? That is, could narrative be recorded?

[hr][/hr]
ABC wrote:It is difficult to define what is and what is not "civilization".
If you think of civilization as more advanced or more complex or superior or whatever to non-civilization, then maybe it's pretty tough to delineate a sharp cut-off point.
But if you treat "civilization" as a neutral term, then, in order to talk about the distinction between civilization and non-civilization at all, it's pretty simple to define it one of these ways.
Any peoples who built cities to live in were civilized;
any peoples who wouldn't live in cities were not civilized.
The only fuzziness is, what about peoples who live in, maintain, and grow cities, but never found any new ones?

OTOH, if you try to delimit the difference between one civilization and another, different civilization, it's a lot fuzzier.
In the first place; how do you know there are two instead of one? That is, how can you be sure they aren't the same civilization?
But even given that, in the second place, how do you know where one stops and the other begins?

ABC wrote:"Beginning of history" for me means the origin of the human species.
For purposes of this thread I think that would be an unhelpful definition of the beginning of history. For one thing it just puts the onus on paleontologists, anthropologists, and primatologists instead of historians and archaeologists. How do we tell when the human species began? The first humans must have had relatives; which of those relatives were human and which were not? And so on.

Your definition would make the idea of "pre-historic Man" a contradiction in terms.

For a helpful notion of "the beginning of history", for purposes of this discussion, it is very helpful to think of history as a group of true stories about things that actually happened.
One technical definition of the word "legend" is, a story originally based on true events, which for at least part of its lifecycle was never transmitted hand-to-eye (that is, written and read), but rather only mouth-to-ear. It's generally condeded that "the palest ink is stronger than the strongest memory", so legends are not usually regarded as reliable, on the average, as written history. Perhaps legends should nevertheless be considered part of history, though.
For purposes of the previously-ongoing-off-board discussion this thread was started about, people usually talk about the beginning of historiography as if it were the beginning of history. I think that may be too restrictive; if we allow "oral history" as history, then, the time of the events in the earliest surviving true legend, is the beginning of history. Or, at least, so I am proposing.
"History", though, would start at different times in different places, and/or at different times for different peoples or cultures or languages.

ABC wrote:I see no reason why hunter-gatherers et. al. should be not part of history.
I agree. IMHO if they have a set of true stories of the past that get preserved and handed down, they have a history, no matter how they preserve it and hand it down. Or at least that's my proposal on this thread; I invite anyone else to improve it or replace it or criticize it (or, for that matter, argue in its favor). Possibly someone else has a better idea.

ABC wrote:I don't think it (the iron age) ever happened in these part of the world.
I'm pretty sure "it never happened" in some of those places. I'm not so sure it didn't "happen" in some others of those places.
Certainly there were places in the world where the first time anyone used anything made out of steel was when people from modern (that is, post-Renaissance) "advanced civilizations" came in.
There are still places where steel implements can't be manufactured. There isn't a way to mine enough iron, or there isn't a way to mine enough coal or burn enough wood.
In fact, the Inuit's Stone-Age technology was much superior to the Scandinavian settlers' Iron Age technology in Greenland.


[hr][/hr]

@cybrxkhan: What you said.
Last edited by eldin raigmore on Wed 28 Nov 2012, 20:59, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 20:36

ABC wrote:
cybrxkhan wrote: Yet most of us won't deny that the Incans, for instance, were any less "civilized" than their Eurasian counterparts simply because they were a few hundred or thousand years behind in metallurgy - in fact, the Incans were even as or more advanced in a different type of metal-working, namely gold-working and the like.
What do you mean by their Eurasian "counterparts"? If you mean contemporaries, they were vastly superior - Pizarro with a group of adventurers could conquer the entire Inca empire.
I wouldn't leap to that conclusion so quickly - firstly because in war, one single random technological advance can have a massive impact, and secondly because outsiders conquering places is actually surprisingly easy. Famously, Castro landed in Cuba with eighty men, sixty of whom were dead in the first week, and until the final weeks never had more than 200-300 men under his command, with limited equipment and supplies, yet he militarily defeated an army of 40,000 heavily-armed trained soldiers. Collins never had more that 3000 men serving under him at one time, yet defeated an army of 40,000, backed up by the almost limitless resources of the greatest empire in the history of the earth. In 1922, the Communist Party of China had 300 members; by the end of the Long March, Mao still had less than 10,000 men... for context, that was only a tiny fraction of the army a single warlord could raise - the Second Zhili-Fengtian War saw 200k Zhili troops take on 250k Fengtian troops.

In pre-modern times it was even easier - basically, what matters is not how many men you have, but how many motivated and well-trained men the enemy can organise effectively against you, which in pre-modern countries is often extremely limited (medieval kings could in theory raise armies of tens of thousands of men... yet many lost their crowns against armies of hundreds or a few thousand. They simply could reliably and rapidly raise a large army and employ it against their enemy - organisation was far more important than 'power').


---

However, i'm nitpicking. Yes, in every measurable way European countries were vastly more developed than the Incas.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by ABC » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 21:17

Your definition would make the idea of "pre-historic Man" a contradiction in terms.
True.
firstly because in war, one single random technological advance can have a massive impact, and secondly because outsiders conquering places is actually surprisingly easy.
I thought someone will bring the Vandals conquering Rome. However, the Vandals were well-acquainted with Roman weapons and the Romans were decadent at this point.
Any peoples who built cities to live in were civilized;
any peoples who wouldn't live in cities were not civilized.
Good definition, though there are people who prefer to live closer to nature for ideological reasons (e.g. hippies).
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 21:25

Cahokians weren't very socially or technologically advanced - they look like neolithic europeans on perhaps a slightly bigger scale. Mississipian culture is also not considered a 'cradle' of civilisation, because, even if we accept that they were civilised, it appears that a great deal of this civilisation derived from the civilisations of mesoamerica. For context, Cahokia became a city about four thousand years after Uruk.


The known cradles of civilisation are Mesopotamia, the Yellow River, and Norte Chico, as well as probably the Indus River, possibly the Nile River, probably 'Mesoamerica', and possibly the Andean Highlands. And possibly, I suppose, the Ganges.

In the cases of Mesopotamia, the Yellow River, and Norte Chico (the Peruvian coast), as well as the Indus and the Nile, what these places have in common is a fairly arid climate in which control of water is very important.

Mesoamerica is a bit more complicated. Civilisation is generally thought to have begun there with the Olmecs, who lived in a wet, tropical region. However, there are some arid regions nearby where perhaps their ancestors may have come from, and it's also possible that the Olmecs weren't fully 'civilised' - information is limited. The larger, more obviously civilised mesoamerican civilisations developed in the more arid parts of mexico, around lakes and rivers. The Maya also derived from the Olmecs, and also lived in a wet location. However, water could still be scarce, as they tended to live in very limestone-based areas, where there was ample rainfall, but limited access to water reserves (water tends to fall through limestone rock). The Maya do look as though they were civilised - they had lots of large-scale architecture, they had writing and mathematics, they had lots of cities. On the other hand, it seems as though their cities may have been mostly ceremonial, and they lack the high-density population that most other 'civilisations' have had. In this respect (and in respect of their monumental pyramids, for that matter), they are maybe more like the Old Kingdom in Egypt, rather than the Mesopotamian heartland or later imperial Egypt. The Maya were not a cradle of civilisation because their civilisation derives from that of the Olmecs.


In South America, it's known that there were sophisticated urban cultures a very long time ago in Norte Chico. Whether this is enough to call it a civilisation depends on the unknown facts and on the details of classification. In any case, this 'civilisation' appears to have disappeared. Later on, civilisations emerged in two arid areas: first on the Peruvian coast, and then on the Altiplano (where civilisation was built around lakes and canals). Whether this represents a single source of civilisation (ie both of these represent organic developments of the Norte Chico civilisation), or whether they represent two distinct civilisations that happen to have been born near each other (or three, if you assume total discontinuity between norte chico and later civilisations in that area) is up for debate. I think the most reasonable interpretation is that civilisation in northwest peru developed trade links that influenced a large area, and that encouraged other agricultural societies to develop along similar lines. Later, of course, the northwest and southeast forms of peruvian civilisation are combined when both are conquered by the Inca.

[Worth pointing out: yes, Pizarro conquered the Inca. But the Inca had themselves been a very small mountain tribe who had conquered the entire known universe, starting little more than a century before the Spanish got there]

It's also likely that Mesoamerican and Peruvian civilisations had, at least later on, trade contacts with each other, which may have caused some cultural interchange. This probably didn't have any impact on the original development in either place, however.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by eldin raigmore » Wed 28 Nov 2012, 21:29

@Salmoneus: Thank you for the informative post.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Jules Grant » Thu 29 Nov 2012, 03:56

ABC wrote:
Any peoples who built cities to live in were civilized;
any peoples who wouldn't live in cities were not civilized.
Good definition, though there are people who prefer to live closer to nature for ideological reasons (e.g. hippies).
Actually, a bad view I think. Living in a city is typical of civilization, but not absolutely needed. I mean, you can consider the Aztec people a civilised society, but keep in mind that a vast majority of their cities most likely were not like Tenochtitlan. They were villages with smaller populations and cultures. I don't think they must live in a city for a civilisation. Typical, but not needed. That's my view though.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Jules Grant » Thu 29 Nov 2012, 04:04

Salmoneus wrote:
Jules Grant wrote:
Lambuzhao wrote:Well, the mathematical aspects of it seem to be pretty well understood. Years ago, I participated in workshops for children that taught about the quipus. What I can say is that it is an extremely tactile system. It's like braille on a string. One's fingers palpate the cord, feeling the different knots, their sizes, the spaces between, how many knots. (Hey, Sano!)

If quipus were used to represent concepts (personal names, toponyms, names of various goods), or even language, that aspect of the quipus is still mostly mystery.

But a very interesting addendum is that quipu strands were found at the Caral-Supe pyramid site in Peru, that date to approx. 5,000 years ago. The quipu know-how predates the Inca Empire by centuries!
Ooh, quite a good way to look at it. The Inca made the quipu famous, but it is much older. If it were to represent concepts, it then can be argued they had a literary and even standard language before that of Europe. I can only remember the oldest dictionary being from the mid 15th century, and that was for Castillian.
Bad way to look at it, for several reasons:
- we don't know that the Norte Chico artifact was a quipu. We just know it was a 'knotted textile artifact'. There's only one of them, and if it was a quipu we have to believe the quipu was invented, then disappeared for four thousand years, then reappeared again with the Inca.
- if it was a quipu, that doesn't mean its use was a sophisticated as the later use of quipus
- sophisticated later use of quipus is entirely hypothetical and without serious evidence or theory to support it
- having a way of representing concepts is not literary - literary means being able to represent words, not concepts. Important difference.
- having a literary language is not the same as having a standard language
- having a standard language doesn't mean having a dictionary. Rome had a standard language (Latin) but it didn't have dictionaries (apart from specialised lexicons - eg philological dictionaries to aid in understanding the stranger words in Homer date from the Greek golden age)
- the massive explosion of modern-style dictionaries in Europe does date to the 15th and 16th centuries. However, occasional or limited dictionaries go back a lot longer. The earliest known dictionaries are Summerian-Akkadian bilingual dictionaries that date from a similar time period to Norte Chico.

The quipu seems more versatile than an abacus however, as it has many capabilities.
No, it COULD have many capabilities. We can imagine all sorts of things you COULD do with a quipu. But there are also a great, great many things you can do with an abacus. [Eg you can also use abacuses as a form of writing, if you tie or stick the beads in place]. You can do all sorts of things with all sorts of things. But that doesn't mean that anyone actually DID any of these things.
True, I made several unclear references and all. The abacus however, I still find almost impossible to represent an idea, seeing the Chinese and other Oriental cultures had a writing system. By standard language though, I mean according to modern standards (eg. A recognized dictionary (standardized spelling and vocabulary), recognized grammar, standard pronunciation (educated speech), linguistic institution defining usage norms, e.g. Académie française, or Real Academia Española, constitutional (legal) status (frequently as an official language))

I'm not very familiar with the Mesoamerican cultures apart from the Aztec, which I have loved for since forever. However, it's clear that the idea that one knotted artifact some how means a written language is absurd, it's too shaky.
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by ABC » Thu 29 Nov 2012, 13:42

Jules Grant wrote:
ABC wrote:
Any peoples who built cities to live in were civilized;
any peoples who wouldn't live in cities were not civilized.
Good definition, though there are people who prefer to live closer to nature for ideological reasons (e.g. hippies).
Actually, a bad view I think. Living in a city is typical of civilization, but not absolutely needed. I mean, you can consider the Aztec people a civilised society, but keep in mind that a vast majority of their cities most likely were not like Tenochtitlan. They were villages with smaller populations and cultures. I don't think they must live in a city for a civilisation. Typical, but not needed. That's my view though.
I would say the Aztecs were borderline between non-civilization and civilization. If the Spaniards did not invade, they would probably reach full civilization in a few centuries, like the classical Mayans did. I actually like the Mesoamerican cultures.

What about including writing in the definition ?
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by eldin raigmore » Thu 29 Nov 2012, 22:17

Jules Grant wrote:Actually, a bad view I think. Living in a city is typical of civilization, but not absolutely needed. I mean, you can consider the Aztec people a civilised society, but keep in mind that a vast majority of their cities most likely were not like Tenochtitlan. They were villages with smaller populations and cultures. I don't think they must live in a city for a civilisation. Typical, but not needed. That's my view though.
I thought of that problem too; but I thought of different solutions.

In the first place; most cities during most of history were supported by a hinterland of more-or-less-rural people, somewhat more numerous and scattered over vastly more area than the city-dwellers. (The inhabitants of the hinterland usually outnumbered those of the city by about two to one.) We call the society "civilized" if it has cities and city-dwellers, even if the majority of its people are not city-dwellers.

In the second place, the definition of a "city" has changed over time.

A "city" has always been one of the major population-centers of its time. But in the 1776-1789 time-period, Philadelphia was North America's biggest city and its population was only about 40,000. I don't think all scholars would call a modern American settlement that size a "city".

In Medieval Europe the difference between a "city" and just some large settlement was that a "city" contained a cathedral.

I suppose even a settlement of 2,500 people could have been considered a "city" for some of our purposes, at certain times in past history, provided they were settled densely enough and had whatever the right amenities (whatever we would choose instead of a cathedral) were -- a town wall, for instance, and/or a public water system, and/or a market or fair, and/or a system of roads or highways or viaducts including at least one intersection or cross-roads, and/or a public system for storing grain, and/or a public-health system. It would all depend on the time and the place and the comparison with other settlements at nearby times and places.

One might want to set some minimum, though, so that we could say that during a certain period (even a long period) there were no cities in a certain area (even a large area) even though that area had inhabitants.

What would be the right definition -- anyone know?
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Re: The Beginnings of History in Different Places

Post by Torco » Tue 04 Dec 2012, 18:15

Salmoneus gave pretty much the right definition posts ago, even if its not a very clear-cut one [because civilization is not a very clear-cut concept, mainly]; I propose an equally fuzzy but perhaps more concise one: any group that exhibits highly diverse and temporally stable [throughout generational timespans: say, a few centuries] system of social differentiation is a civilization.

It doesn't have to be division of labour [even though its hard to imagine a highly differentiated society where its members perform the same labours but otherwise lead really different lives] or any other specific sort of differentiation, but they will tend to co-occurr, that is, if some people have more power than others they will surely use their power to get for themselves the best jobs even in a not so differentiated economy, and if people tend to perform very different jobs that will in turn influence their cultures, skillsets, and all that good stuff. The thing is, all the things that are generally given as indicators of civilizations are correct because they're correlates of social differentiation, either because they probably cause, are caused by, or co-occurr with it, mostly through the big factor in social differentiation: coordination.

For example, cities. Surely an urban society requires some economical diversification: there's no point in moving to a city if everyone does the same thing: only when trades appear that can be performed better next to other people and worse next to rivers and animals do cities become a reasonable idea, and then only when theres enough food surplus to keep those dudes and dames alive and moderately healthy. Cities, in turn, make it much more likely to differentiate the society even further because, well, there's more people to coordinate with, so there's more opportunities to coordinate different roles [e.g. 'okay, you make the bread and I'll ground the flour; my woman will go trade the grain for the bread you make', that arrangement works so it keeps on happening for a while, people start imagining that arrangement as a thing <technically, an institution or social fact>, they start replicating it and BAM, you get culturally stable differentiation, one step closer to what we call civilization; get enough of those institutions together and its a fair bet to say its a civilization].

Or social stratification: differences in the relative level of power between groups, as well as differences in the spheres of influence of the power of this or that group are themselves forms of social differentiation, but not the only ones: in particular political differentiation allows for further opportunities for differentiation of other sorts through coercion or control over communications. Same thing with writing, same thing with technology. However, these are all correlated: its possible to imagine highly differentiated, culturally continuous groups without writing, without agriculture, without cities, and, if we imagine them sufficiently complex in other ways, we'll end up with something that can easily be called civilization. We can imagine nomadic civilization, non-agricultural civiliations, civilizations without math, civilizations without writing, even civilizations without cities, but nothing without social differentiation conforms to our idea of a civ.
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