There are entries relevant to this chapter in the blog for these lecture notes
The first lecture provided the definitions needed for the study of science and civilization. This lecture continues to lay the basis for the study by providing a very brief overview of the civilizations of the world.
The emergence of the first civilizations coincided with the development of the first cities, which occurred some time before 3000 BC. It is instructive to briefly summarize what the human species had achieved up to that point in time.
It is well established from genetic studies of today's world population and archaeology that the first humans came from Africa between 8 and 6 million years ago. They lived in tropical and subtropical regions until about 1.6 million years before present, when they learnt the use of fire and could expand their living range into colder climates.
Another 1.5 million years passed before major new development. The first remnants of permanent dwellings are recorded from about 50,000 BC. Domestication of animals followed around 30,000 BC and the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years later. The use of fibre for clothing began to replace animal skin at the same time, and the making of sails for simple boats was well known before civilization began. Compared with the early years of the human species this period, known as the "New Stone Age" or Neolithic period, was a time of quite rapid development, but it is still slow when we consider the development of civilization, which evolved from the first cities to today's megacities in the time span of 5,000 years.
Humans took the step from the New Stone Age to civilization in two independent developments and at about the same time. The people of the Indus valley in today's Pakistan had lived in small villages, planted wheat and barley and kept herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Shortly before 3000 BC they began with the construction of cities. At the same time the Sumerians began to build cities in Mesopotamia - the region between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in today's Iran and Iraq - where they had moved from Anatolia and encountered a local people engaged in agriculture, weaving, metalwork, pottery and other industries who had developed a drainage system for the marshes of the region. Both civilizations took the giant step of developing a script, which they used to record economic transactions - as well as their first epics - on clay tablets. The script of the Indus valley, known as Dravidian, had some 250 - 500 characters, which have not all been deciphered to date. In Mesopotamia there is evidence that writing developed independently in Sumer and neighbouring Elam but that the Elamites eventually abandoned their own script and adopted the Sumerian cuneiform writing.
There are many parallels between the two civilizations. Both had an advanced division of labour based on a high level of agricultural productivity in a fertile river valley, both used wheat and barley as their main staple food, brick as the basic building material, and clay for seals and other documents, both invented the wheel. Archaeological estimates of the size of their cities, which were surrounded by a wall, range from 23,000 to 41,250 for the Indus civilization and similar for Mesopotamia. In both civilizations the cities incorporated large public buildings such as temples and warehouses for the storage of food supplies (granaries).
There were of course differences. The Indus civilization developed its own specific Indian traits; its bullock carts with framed canopy and its river ferries are designs that changed little over time and can still be seen in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today. It excelled particularly in its design of domestic bathrooms, flush toilets and sewer and water drains with the use of burnt and glazed bricks. Its construction of large public basins, built with two layers of bricks with gypsum mortar and sealed by a layer of bitumen in-between, has no parallel in Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamia, on the other hand, developed seaworthy vessels, which allowed its people to develop far-reaching trade contacts. A large brick basin of 219 by 37 m with a depth of 4.5 m located alongside the loading platform of the granary in Lothal, a trading port of the Indus civilization, had a small sluice at one end. It has been proposed that this was a dock for ships that plied the seas between India and Mesopotamia. The presence of Mesopotamian seals in Indian excavations and Indian seals in Mesopotamian cities is clear evidence for trading contact between the two earliest civilizations.
Evidence for trading contact along the land route came to light in 1976, when the Soviet archaeologist Sariandi found the remains of a civilization in the Karakum region of Turkmenistan, today one of the largest deserts of the world. It developed from 2200 BC and flourished for some 500 years. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Sariandi's discovery became known to western Europe, and several archaeological teams now work to uncover large cities in the desert sands. Seals and artifacts from Mesopotamia and from the Indus region, storehouses and goods inventories document this as yet unnamed civilization (commonly referred to as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex or the Oasis Civilization) as a trading place between east and west. Extensive irrigation systems indicate that the fortified cities were also supplied with agricultural produce from the region.
It has often been said that lush and fertile river valleys provide particularly good conditions for the development of civilization. They make agriculture a relatively easy task, provided that the annual floods can be controlled. Managing the distribution of water to the fields appears indeed to be the major reason for the development of an administration that covers an entire valley.
The rise of the Egyptian civilization supports this analysis. It developed only a few centuries later than the civilization in Mesopotamia. Menes, the first king of Egypt's recorded history, reigned at some time between 3100 and 2850 BC; but at that time the kingdom had already been unified by an earlier king and had developed its hieroglyphs (script). Menes founded Egypt's capital Memphis (the site of the Great Sphinx and the Giza pyramids) some 25 km south of today's Cairo. He introduced an efficient administration and initiated the keeping of political records and of economic and environmental data. The records of the Nile River flow provide today one of the longest environmental data records of the world.
In the context of this course it is worth reflecting on the significance of the script. The invention of writing was clearly an administrative necessity. The common people would not know what to make of it; the benefit they received from written records came through administrative actions such as the annual allocation from the state's grain reserves. Less than one percent of the population were literate in the early civilizations, so the script was a tool for the ruling class, taught only to those who were destined to enter the state's administration.
The priests were the second literate group, and teaching reading and writing (and, as we shall see in the next lecture, arithmetic) took usually place in the temple compound. The script was thus also a central tool for scientific research, where it played a different and much more important role than in administrative matters: Keeping administrative records is a daily necessity but changes little from year to year. Writing down the results of scientific study has an accumulating effect; it allows the next generation of priests to "stand on the shoulders" of their predecessors. This accelerates the development of a civilization.
Without a script science has to rely on aural instruction and memory. The navigational skills of South Pacific Islanders, who can cross entire oceans navigating by the stars, the flight of birds and the direction of waves and swell, are a clear demonstration how scientific knowledge can be sustained for centuries without a script. But it can only survive as long as an individual lives that can instruct the next generation. Without a script scientific knowledge is lost when the continuity of tradition is broken, and not much accumulation of knowledge is possible without it.
The need to be able to read and write excluded the great majority of people from scientific activity. Science was essentially a prerogative of the ruling class, and the vast potential of talent available in the general population went mostly unused. As a result the development of new scientific ideas was very much slower than it could have been. This situation only changed with the introduction of general education systems in the early 20th century.
The monopolization of science by the ruling class increased the separation between science and technology. Technological inventions were the area of the urban tradesmen, who handed their skills on to apprentices through practical demonstration. The scientist-priests had no technical skills, nor were they normally interested in the daily activities of the lower classes.
The first European civilization developed on Crete, an island of today's Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. Known as the Minoan civilization, it originated shortly after the beginning of civilization in Egypt. At its widest point Crete is only 60 km wide, in some places its width is reduced to less than 15 km. It is not surprising therefore that the people of Crete were excellent seafarers - seaworthy ships with many oars and a single mast and a sail were known in Crete before 4000 BC. The Minoans used them to trade along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean, where they came into contact with both the Mesopotamian and the Egytian civilizations and brought home the technological knowledge for metal smelting.
The Minoan civilization is an early example of a civilization that developed through learning from others. But it had its own core achievements, particularly its own script. Many researchers believe that the Minoan script is the ancestor of the Greek alphabet, from which our own alphabet evolved. The Minoan language itself suggests that the Minoans migrated from Anatolia, which would indicate a connection to even older traditions than Egypt and Mesopotamia.
A continuous line leads from the Minoans to Greece, Rome, modern Europe and the USA. There will thus be more opportunities during the course to reflect on this sequence of civilizations.
It is remarkable that the step from the Neolithic age to civilization occurred in eastern Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa at about the same time in independent developments. It suggests that the human species had reached a stage in its development where civilization had become the next logical step. For a long time it was thought that no similar development occurred in America. The fact that the first American civilization developed also not much later than on other continents has only come to light in the last decade of the last century with the discovery of Caral, officially announced in 2001. Though located on a permanent river, it is situated in a desert some 150 km north of todays' Lima and proves that fertile rivers are not a necessary condition for civilization building. Its civilization was based on the rich fishing grounds of the Pacific Ocean. The coastal waters of Peru are one of the most fertile coastal upwelling regions of the world. The inhabitants of Caral grew cotton on irrigated fields that were located in the Supe Valley about 25 km from the sea, surrounded by desert but next to a permanent watercourse. The used the cotton for the production of fishing nets, which were traded against fish with the fishermen of the coastal villages.
As our timeline shows, by the middle of the 3rd millennium BC major civilizations existed in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. After about 2500 BC new civilizations did not have to evolve out of the Neolithic age any more, they could build on the achievements of others. Our timeline groups them as families: The Japanese civilization developed from Chinese influence, the Persian civilization from Assyrian influence, Rome from Greek influence.
The only occasion were a new civilization took on an independent character of its own was the founding of Islam in the 7th century AD. Originally a religious movement of the Arab world, it soon became a force for the founding of new empires and expanded from the Arabian peninsula west into Europe as far as Spain and Vienna, south into sub-Saharan Africa and east into the Indian subcontinent. In all these regions the new Muslim rulers found highly developed civilizations. The Islamic civilization developed by selecting the best achievements of all continents and combining them into something new.
Muslim readiness to adopt ideas and achievements has given the Islamic civilization its own characteristics. It kept, preserved and greatly refined what others had developed. Its importance for the development of science and technology cannot be underestimated. For several hundred years, when Europe had sunk into the Dark Ages and could no longer make sense of its own achievements from the times of ancient Greece and Rome, the European scientific tradition was kept alive under Islam and expanded into a civilization that embraced many cultures from the ocasts of the Mediterranean to the Bay of Bengal.
Our timeline places the beginning of civilization in black Africa at around 500 AD. Whether this is correct or just an indication of our ignorance is impossible to establish. Africa has suffered greatly during the colonial period and has not yet had much opportunity to establish its early history.
That great empires existed before and at the time of arrival of the first Europeans is beyond doubt. Ruins of stone houses, walls and fortifications found across today's' Zimbabwe and Mozambique date from the 8th to the 15th century AD. The people had smelters for gold, which they traded along the Indian Ocean coast. Chinese porcelain found in their buildings testifies for their extensive trading contacts.
The Muslim kingdom of Mali flourished in West Africa from the 13th to the 16th century. Its wealth and advanced state of development can be judged from the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by its emperor Musa in 1324. On his trip through Mauritania, Algeria and Egypt he was accompanied by 60,000 men including 12,000 slaves. The infrastructure required to feed such a convoy during a long desert voyage is in itself an achievement of an advanced civilization. Everyone including the slaves was wearing the finest brocade and Persian silk. The emperor was on horseback, and 500 slaves walked in front, each carrying a staff with gold decorations. 80 camels at the end of the caravan each carried 300 pounds of gold. Musa's generosity with gold as presents caused the collapse of the Cairo gold market; it took more than a decade to recover.
Musa's voyage effectively put Africa on the world map. The Arab historians of the time could not praise Africa's wealth and culture high enough. Mali's first university was established under Musa's rule.
Unfortunately little is known about the scientific achievements of Africa even from its Islamic times, so systematic has been the destruction when the colonial powers arrived. The kingdom of Benin was known throughout western Africa as a centre of exquisite brass and bronze art. Benin City was ransacked and burnt by British colonial troops, who had arrived to depose the last king of Benin in 1897 and annex his empire to the British colonial possessions in Niger. The loot, thousands of bronze plaques, is now on display in the British Museum in London. The government of Nigeria and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are demanding its return to Africa, so far without success.