Monday, August 27, 2012

The First Civilization

What was the very first civilization? How did it form? How do we even define a "civilization"? All these are questions that we might find ourselves occasionally asking, but is there really an answer? Do we even have an answer, or is the first civilization too far back for us to know anything about? Well, I'm not sure we can call it the very first civilization, as it is possible there was another before it that simply didn't leave any records, but I believe a place called "Sumer" to be the first civilization.

That's "Sumer," like Sumerian, not like the season (i.e., Summer). - It's pronounced, "Soo-mur". - It is likely that Sumerians started out like most people of the time: hunting and gathering in order to stay alive. In fact, it's a guarantee they started out this way. The main change that would have needed to take place for them to develop into a civilization would be for them to discover farming, which they did. It may not seem all too miraculous in today's World, but back then, figuring out that you could poke holes in the ground with a stick, plant seeds, and things would actually grow, would indeed seem to be a miracle. - It's also worth noting here that the first farmers; those who figured out the whole practice of farming, where likely women. Just goes to show that us guys don't have everything figured out. - But, this very simple form of farming couldn't begin to produce the amount of food required for an entire civilization to form. Not only that, but the slash-and-burn technique that farmers were using was cutting down forests and sending the animals that used to live there, and who used to be hunted, looking for a new home.

This resulted in the first herders. The very first herders would have seen the lack of wild game, and then decided to catch and domesticate the few remaining animals, in order to have a near-by supply of meat, should they need it. Herders and these primitive farmers were able to trade meat for grain; meat to give the farmers protein and strength, and grain so the herders could feed their animals. But even with this advance, they still didn't have enough food to feed an entire civilization. That's when people discovered Sumer (though, of course, it wasn't named that yet), a place inside Mesopotamia, which is surrounded by the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. People discovered that the soil around these rivers was very rich and ideal for farming, as a result of the rivers flooding, and then receding, to leave behind flat, wet, and nutritious soil. The main problem being that sometimes the river would overflow the banks it had made for itself (called "levees") at unfortunate times, and flood the crops.

This is when someone had the bright idea of building up the natural levees the river had made for itself, thus effectively stopping it from flooding at inconvenient times. This discovery, coupled with the discovery of the foot plow, which they found could be attached to animals to have them pull it, were huge discoveries. The next discovery though was a real breakthrough: irrigation. The Sumerians learned that by digging trenches around their crops, and then pocking holes in the levees, they could water crops that where far away from the river. When all of these discoveries where combined, it created a surplus of food, quite possibly for the very first time in all of history and prehistory. - People now could produce more than they could eat by them-self.

This lead to the creation of quite possibly the first ever, official civilization. This is because, as soon as people discovered that only a few people where required to produce food, others began building permanent homes: they built the first city. Once this city was built, they could be really, genuinely be called a civilization.

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