Saturday, May 2, 2009

The History of Civilization

A new kind of post I've decided to try. Let me know what you think.

Chapter One: The Neolithic Revolution

How old is mankind? Not an easy question to answer. Primates resembling humans have existed for about 8 million years. These earliest human ancestors were called Australopithecus. Lucy, the most famous Australopithecus (right) is one of the only near-intact skeletons of early man ever discovered.

There were several other species of human-like creatures: Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal man are the most famous examples. Finally, about 200,000 years ago, modern man was born.

For the vast majority of this time, humans have lived like animals. The discovery of sewn clothing allowed them to move out of the Tropics and into the Temperate Zones. Pottery allowed them to spread all over the map: it was no longer necessary to live directly next to fresh water.

Stone Age man had the ability to make crude stone tools such as arrowheads for hunting, and axes for cutting meat off of carcasses. They had also developed some spoken language: for example, giving each other names. Language is completely unique to humanity: there's nothing like it anywhere else in the animal kingdom.

But people stilled lived as nomads, wandering from place to place in search of food. During this period they could only survive by hunting and gathering wild fruits and vegetables. One of the most important developments of the later Stone Age is the Neolithic Revolution, when people stopped wandering.

The discovery of agriculture (farming) made this possible. No one really knows what ancient genius discovered agriculture, but a reliable food source meant that people could settle down in one area. This has several advantages: You can only have one child at a time as a nomad: you need to be able to keep up with the group. Settling down allowed our ancestors to have larger families.

This also allowed economic specialization: instead of providing for all your needs yourself, you could rely on the rest of the community for some of your needs and become very good at one job.

To be continued...

Interested in the Stone Age and ancient humanity? There's a great book called Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond

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