The First Civilizations in Perspective 1



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Chapter 15

The First Civilizations



Civilizations in Perspective 1

  • The appearance of the first cities laid the foundation for our modern way of living.

  • The term civilization is not another word ‘culture’ or ‘society’ and is also not the same as ‘state’ or ‘city. Nor is it a term used to describe “advanced people”.

  • Cities

    • Six or seven thousand years ago there was a complete absence of cities this would have seemed just as normal to our ancestors as London and Paris do to us today.

    • Cities, when they developed in ancient states, were often the center of ancient states. Prominent cities dominated the smaller, dependent towns and villages.

    • Cities are also characterized by social complexity, formal (non-kin) organization and the concentration of specialized, non-agricultural roles, production, trade, religion, and administration centers, and prominent ceremonial or civic buildings

    • The roots of urbanization are best known from the Near East. In this region settled communities have existed since the start of the Neolithic and true agriculture.

      • For instance, the Natufians, at Jericho, never reached the size and status of a true city, it did anticipate what was to come and exhibited social stratification.

      • They did trade in salt, sulfur, shells, obsidian, and turquoise. Jericho is also famous for the wall that surrounded it and the trench that was cut around it. May not have been for protection from war, but from the flood waters that were common at this location.


Civilizations in Perspective 2

  • Cities (continued)

    • Another example is at Catalhöyük (CatalHuyuk, a 32-acre site in south-central Turkey).

      • A large early Neolithic site in southern Turkey; the name is Turkish for “forked mound.”

      • This location, 9,000 years ago, was a center of trade and religion.

      • Each house had a roof-top entrance, plastered walls, and differences that let us see social stratification.

      • Many of the shrines at this site are associated with cattle.

    • While both Jericho and Catalhöyük were exceptional because of their specialized trade and religious activities, they were not true cities, nor were they connected any state organization.

    • The first true city yet discovered is Uruk in southern Iraq, linked to the Sumerians

      • This city was positioned on the Tigris-Euphrates, housed tens of thousands of people, after 5,500 years ago.

      • Excavated sites suggest that, in both northern Iraq and in Syria, urbanism was getting underway across this region in the 4th millennium B.C.E.

        • One term used in this part of the world is tell (Mounds of accumulated rubble representing the site of an ancient city.) A tell differs in both scale and content from a midden.

        • The primary reason tells do not appear in other places, generally, is that settlements are usually more dispersed.


Catalhöyük (Not pictured)
Civilizations in Perspective 3

  • States

    • How to define a state has been a rigorous discussion in anthropology for many decades.

    • One view of what is called ‘the evolution of political society’ is that of Morton Fried

      • Morton Fried suggested the idea was that there was an “evolution of political society’

      • His hierarchy of political organizations was structured as follows:

        • HGs organize in an egalitarian fashion, so that the ‘best idea leads’ the band.

        • Ranked societies are ones in which some social differentiation are present; the roles are inherited, but there are not social classes.

        • In stratified societies, both social differentiation and social classes exist

        • In state systems, there are social classes and some concept of citizenship, true administrative bureaucracies, monopoly of force, and other institutions.

      • The main point of this view is that it is progressive and this is a major drawback.

        • As we have discussed, cultures are not advancing.

        • They are adding more choices to their options.

    • For this class, we will take state to mean a governmental center that: Persists by politically controlling a territory, acts through a generalized structure of authority, makes certain decisions in disputes between groups, and undertakes defense and expansion of the society.


Civilizations in Perspective 4

  • States (continued)

    • When states emerged, so did social stratification (Class structure or hierarchy, usually based on political, economic, or social standing). This was usually accomplished through the presence of social classes.

      • There are a variety of elite and commoner classes divided into a variety of specific roles and specializations.

      • Elites controlled access to goods and services

      • Usually, gods sanctified such elite leadership and endowed elites with the authority to create and enforce laws, collect taxes, store and redistribute food, and defend or expand the state’s territory.

    • An important point is that such organization was not based on kinship, as in “simpler” societies. The state is responsible for some matters that in previous societies were handled by family or lineage authority.

  • Civilizations

    • They comprise “the largest social order and set of shared values in which states are culturally embedded (Yoffee, 2005, p, 17 as cited in textbook).

      • While cities and states are building blocks of civilizations, the civilizations of which they are a part may comprise considerable diversity, though there will be a set of shared values.

      • Archaeologists must be alert to differences of culture, technology, history, external relations, and even terrain.

    • There is no single developmental sequence in the archaeological record from villages to cities to states.


Why Did Civilizations Form? 1

  • In the early 1900s, V. Gordon Childe defined civilization according to several criteria. However, his definition did not account for many civilizations discovered after his time.

    • He created a long list of traits.

      • The primary traits (organization of a state): Increased size and density of cities, full-time specialization of labor, concentration of surplus (social surplus), class-structured society, and a state organization.

      • The secondary traits (the material expression of the primary traits: Monumental public work, long-distance trade, standardized monumental artwork, writing, and arithmetic/geometry/and astronomy.

    • His list reflects more what was seen in the Near East, so that when prehistorians tried to use this list to discuss other civilizations it did not work.

      • First, Childe’s list of criteria (carts, draft animals, sail boats, …) was not adequate to describe New World civilizations.

      • But more importantly, a simple descriptive approach to defining a civilization is not adequate to understand it more fully.

      • While it is still important to know as many details as possible about any specific ancient civilization, scholars now also focus on broader questions such as: Why did it form?; How did it form? More specifically, “Why and how did it form when and where it did?”


Why Did Civilizations Form? 2

  • Modern explanations (Mostly from the Near East)

    • As we discovered in the previous chapter, with regard to the rise of agriculture, there are two basic categories of explanations: environmental and cultural. Likewise for the rise of civilization.

    • Again, the extremes are characterized by “determinism:” environmental determinism versus cultural determinism. And, again, we will probably decide that extreme positions are not satisfactory.

  • Environmental explanations

    • There are two categories of hypotheses, each of which favors an environmental approach.

      • One is called “strong” because it assumes that environmental factors have a very strong effect on the rise of a civilization. The strong hypothesis is rather specific in that it names specific cultural responses to changes in the environment: They include: Increased production, surpluses, a ruling classes, presence of a military, a bureaucracy, and use of writing

      • The other is called “weak” because is considers environmental factors to have a weak effect on how a civilization might arise

    • Your text points out in detail how one study of the Near East claims that cultural factors of rising civilizations were direct responses to climate changes, yet a separate group of experts maintain climate change may or may not effect how a civilization develops.


Why Did Civilizations Form? 3

  • Environmental explanations (continued)

    • The work of Arie Issar and Mattanyah Zohar is an example of the strong hypothesis.

    • Arie Issar and Mattanyah Zohar argue that fluctuating availability of water resources with major changes in climate are responsible for civilizations in the Near East

      • They have identified several times between 6-5,000 years ago where the Near East was drier and/or colder than the present.

      • When they are correlated with major cultural changes the climate can explain both production surpluses and concentration of the surpluses in the hands of elite.

      • This control successful administrative institutions and inventions such as writing in Mesopotamia

      • Whether this explanation works for the Near East, it does not seem to be as causal of any strength in other regions

  • Cultural explanations

    • In these explanations, human culture is a ‘force to be reckoned with’.

    • In China, Kwang-chih Chang suggests that it is differential access to the means of communication that made the difference.

      • It was the monopoly of shamanism that enabled rulers to gain access to divine and ancestral wisdom

      • He argues the same for all other civilizations, EXCEPT Mesopotamia (there controlling the means of production was the prime factor)


Why Did Civilizations Form? 4

  • Cultural explanations (continued)

    • Bruce Trigger looked at both environmental and cultural explanations and found:

      • No evidence of control of communication in China

      • He did find a relatively uniform conception of kingship, class systems, support of upper classes by control of force and control of means of production

    • Trigger found there were only 2 types of political organizations and 2 types of general administrative institutions present in early civilizations

      • These findings are surprising in that if culture were the primary mover, than there would be diverse in organizations and institutions

      • If nature were the prime mover, why does this hold over a wide range of environments?

    • Trigger argues that with the shifts from villages to cities, increases in institutions are needed to deal with the increased complexity.

      • Also, that new decision-making institutions need to be created

      • “For societies to grow more complex they may have to evolve specific forms of organization.”

      • Trigger suggests humans only found a limited number of ways of doing so.


Old World Civilizations 1

  • The list of OW civilizations presented is neither representative or exhaustive.

    • We will look at sites on Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, Indus, and the Huang He.

    • Each has captivated researchers and each has left an extensive record of itself.

  • Mesopotamia

    • In the centuries after 8,000 years ago, farmers settled the alluvial plains bordering the lower Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamia.

      • They were likely the direct ancestors of Samarran farmers who had practiced small-scale irrigated farming at the edge of the central Tigris Valley

      • These Ubaid farmers began to redirect the river’s flow and channel floodwater onto low-lying fields.

        • This irrigation unlocked the fertility of the silt that had accumulated on the floodplain for millennia.

        • This transformed the landscape and the nature of the agricultural societies.

      • By about 6,500 years ago, Ubaid villages were beginning to prosper.

        • There was a degree of uniformity which marked their settlements.

          • Each of the more populous towns of Nippur, Eridu, and Uruk in the southern valley were based on this plan organized around a central platform-based temple.

          • The smaller towns also had central shrines

        • The Ubaidians traded decorated pottery, obsidian, ornamental stones, copper, and may grain to outside groups.


Old World Civilizations 2

  • Mesopotamia (continued)

    • At about 5,500 years ago, important changes occurred.

      • The population swelled into the thousands as the more rural groups concentrated together

      • Expanding irrigation systems in the lower Tigris-Euphrates produced more food.

      • This is the birth of the first true cities (Uruk being the first).

      • Was this change peaceful or a response to military threat? Not known

    • Sumerians

      • Over several centuries, Uruk’s population expanded to possibly as many as 20,000 people.

      • Today, nearly 1 square mile of dissolved brick foundations identify the site of this urban center in southern Mesopotamia, 150 miles southeast of modern Baghdad, Iraq.

      • Developments associated with Uruk and other urban centers were a stimulus to a new order in southern Mesopotamia around 4.900-4,350 years ago

        • Inscribed tablets, large populations, and religious structures indicate that essential elements of civilization had come together.

        • The temple distributed food and controlled nearby croplands as one example of the growing social and religious complexity (kings and priests).

      • The region known as Sumer encompassed about a dozen largely autonomous units, called city-states in the southernmost Tigris-Euphrates valley.

      • In the north, near present-day Baghdad, about the same number of Akkadian city-states were positioned.


Old World Civilizations 3

  • Sumerians (continued)

    • Each Sumerian city-state had a major population center (e.g.; Ur, Lagash, Umma, Nippur, Eridu, and Uruk) as well as satellite communities.

    • Farmers and other food producers tended to live in the urban center and work their fields on the outskirts of the city on irrigated land.

    • Technological accomplishments

      • There were among the first to refine metals (gold, silver, copper) and to make bronze alloys.

      • They used the true arch and the dome in their architecture, as well as using wheeled carts, draft animals, the plow and sailing boats.

      • They were in contact with many groups outside of Sumeria as they traded prestige goods out to northern Iraq, Turkey and the Nile Valley.

    • The elite were buried in elaborate tombs, among them were some excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley.

      • The Royal game of Ur was found in one of the tombs and may be the oldest board game in the world.

      • They did think they could take it with them

    • They placed bring walls around their cities for security and built grand temples to their deities (such as this ziggurat reconstructed at Ur)

    • Outside the central religious areas, size and quality of one’s home was a reflection of one’s social status.



Old World Civilizations 4

  • Sumerians (continued)

    • With the Sumerians we see the advent of historical archaeology. Much has been learned form their writing.

      • At about 5,000 years ago, the pictograph form of writing evolved into a more standardized set of hundred of signs into cuneiform. Cuneiform is the type of writing that evolved in Sumeria

      • Cuneus (means wedge) and refers to the mark that was made on clay with a wooden stylus. The script was produced by pressing a reed stylus into damp clay ‘tablet’ and then baking it for durability. This is a fun website where you can learn to write your initials in cuneiform: http://www.penn.museum/cgi/cuneiform.cgi

      • Writing is highly important in the development of a civilization. In this case the writing was initially developed to handle economic, legal, and administrative matters typical of complex bureaucratic societies.

      • Most of the early tablets were about economic, legal and administrative issues. Later, as the written language grew, it expanded to handle historical and literary works.

    • Among the famous legends is the story of an early Uruk king, Gilgamesh.

    • The Epic of Gilgamesh was written about a Sumerian hero
      (about 2750 BC).

    • He went in search of immortality.


Old World Civilizations 5

  • Mesopotamia (continued)

    • After about 4,500 years ago this loss group of city-states hit hard times.

      • Perhaps the reliance on irrigation affected the fertility of the soil

      • They also spent significant energy on internal competition.

      • Both the Sumerians and the Akkadians vied for supremacy

      • After about 2,334 B.C.E., a minor Akkadian official, Sargon, began the unification of the two parts and created a territorial state

    • Babylon

      • About 3,800 years ago Hammurabi of Babylon completed the unification of the region power for the Babylonian Regime.

        • Early Babylonian king ; ca. 1800–1750 B.C

        • He is famous for his code of laws

      • Soon after the state was subsumed under Assyrians

        • Not until 2, 600 years ago did Nebuchadnezzar regain control for the Babylonians.

        • Late Babylonian king, ca. 605–562 B.C.


Old World Civilizations 6

  • Egypt

    • Egyptian culture was rooted in the Nile Valley long before the pyramids

  • Preservation of these early cultures is poor due to the instability of the river floodplain.

  • These early farmers grew Near Eastern varieties of wheat and barley, and they raised sheep and goats.

  • Around 6,000 years ago Neolithic villages dotted the landscape around the Nile in what is called Upper Egypt (remember the discussion about increased aridity in this area discussed in Chapter 14)

      • There is a Mesopotamian influence in Upper Egypt

      • Perhaps the gold resources of this region drew in traders.

      • Unlike the Euphrates-Tigris or Indus irrigation areas, the Nile is known for its predictability in the timing and intensity of its floods.

      • No problem with salination

      • No need for complex irrigation and drainage systems

    • Even in early times, the peoples of the delta (Lower Egypt) were differentiated from those of the Upper Nile.


Old World Civilizations 7

  • Egypt (continued)

    • By about 5,300 years ago, chiefdoms dotted the pre-dynastic Upper Egypt.

      • There were walls around Naqada and Hierakonpolis.

      • Social stratification is evident in burials

      • Pottery-making and trading were now specialists’ work

      • There remained continuous contact with Mesopotamia

    • Over the next several centuries, this region became a strong territorial state.

    • One of the Upper Egyptians chiefs, Narmer, grabbed control of this region and that of Lower Egypt.

      • This begins the First Dynasty by 5,000 years ago.

      • This represents the world’s first nation-state.

        • Over the next 425 years we see the first flowering of Egypt under the Old Kingdom.

        • Most of the 1-3 million people lived in the south under the rule of the pharaoh.


Old World Civilizations 8

  • Egypt (continued)

    • They adopted a hieroglyphic style of writing.

      • Generally speaking, hieroglyphics is a form of writing that combines the use of some symbols for ideas with other symbols for sounds.

      • Egyptian writing developed to record the concerns of the elite classes and bureaucrats. From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, we learn much about royalty but little about commoners in the Old Kingdom. Later in Egyptian history, however, Egyptian society is more thoroughly documented.

    • Most of the pharaohs maintained court at Memphis (near Cairo)

      • Some 25 pyramids were build during the Old Kingdom

      • The first step pyramids of stone were raised after 2630 B.C.

      • Within the next century, the tomes of Khufu and Khafra (4th Dynasty rulers) were built

    • The Egyptian civilization was remarkably resilient, surviving for thousands of years until finally defeated by the Persians about 2,500 years ago, then being conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally coming under Roman rule.


Old World Civilizations 9

  • Indus

    • The Indian subcontinent includes: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Indus River flows through what is now Pakistan and you can see Afghanistan and India, too.

    • Cereal agriculture in the Indus Valley area depends on the flooding of the Indus river.

      • About 8,000 years ago, the people of Mehrgarh’s village were farmers and herders.

      • Later, about 5,300 years ago, farmers began to focus on the Indus floodplain where there was

        • One of those places was Kot Diji.

        • As Kot Diji and other villages like it grew, they dug irrigation canals for their fields and built massive retaining walls or elevated platforms to protect themselves from the Indus’s seasonal floods.

      • By about 4,600 years ago, there were urban centers along the river where trade in specialized crafts linked them to distant places. Their distant trade partners were found as far away as Sumer and Oman in the Mesopotamian sphere of influence.

        • Each of these cities had populations numbering in the tens of thousands.

        • There were at least five urban centers that were parts of the Indus civilization.

        • There were also hundreds of small farming villages in the countryside that supported the urban centers


Old World Civilizations 10

  • Indus (continued)

      • As the populations increased, they encountered deforestation and flooding which may have prompted larger settlements.

      • The cities of Mohenjo-Daro (An early Indus Valley city in south-central Pakistan ) and Harappa (A fortified city in the Indus valley of northeastern Pakistan) are especially important and we will look at them specifically.

      • The cities were planned around a grid system that organized public areas and residential blocks.

        • They had the world’s first efficient sewer system and some of their houses had indoor toilets and baths.

        • City planning was one of the strengths of the Indus civilization.

        • These cities did have complexes of large public buildings, but generally, there is little evidence of monumental religious structures or rulers’ palaces.

    • In fact, the Indus civilization has been described variously as “… an elaborate middle-class society…” and “…lacking evidence of the state form of political organization.”

      • There is only weak archaeological evidence to indicate the important criteria by which the state is usually recognized in ancient cities.

      • These criteria include: class-based social hierarchy, state bureaucracy, monopolization of power, and a state religion. These are not readily identifiable in the ruins of these ancient Indus cities.


Old World Civilizations 11

  • Indus (continued)

    • The Indus civilization did develop a writing system but we can’t read it. It remains a mystery predominantly because Indus writing has been found in only very brief texts where they are found on stone seals and pottery. There are no long texts yet discovered that would be more useful to language scholars.

    • All of the following are among the changes in material culture apparent with the advent of Urban Indus society:

        • Standardized system of weights and measures

        • Standardized types of ceramics

        • Writing system apparent on amulets and seals

        • More luxury goods from rare materials

    • The Indus cities lasted roughly 600 years until they declined. Farms and towns in the countryside remained, though. So far, we know little about why the cities dwindled.


Old World Civilizations 12

  • Northern China

  • The root of China’s early civilization was the loess uplands and alluvial plains

    • Specialized production and exchange of valued ritualized goods came to characterize the farming families along the Huang He (Yellow River)

    • Trade caused greater contact between these peoples. This was the situation at the end of the Neolithic period

    • During this Longshan period (4,600-4,000 years ago), Chinese culture was distinctive for social differentiation, ritualism and warfare

    • The Xia dynasty is not yet fully confirmed to have occurred and may be the expression of legends.

  • This period is seen as a semi-legendary kingdom or dynasty of early China.

    • Prior to the Longshan, the Xia Dynasty was in oral histories, but no archaeological evidence was found of it until 1959

    • Some Chinese archaeologists suggest that the site at Erlitou is documentation of the Xia Dynasty (around 4,000 years ago).

  • With or without the presence of a dynasty, there was differential access to information and an elite that came to control the farming communities.

    • The economy was based on the farming of rice, millet, wheat, barley and soybeans.

    • There was also an extensive trade in utilitarian and ritual goods.

    • China’s first wheeled vehicles are recognized archaeologically in the form of wagon ruts preserved in a road near the palace. Further, bronze casting continued to develop.


Old World Civilizations 13

  • Northern China (continued)

    • The Shang Dynasty is the first historic civilization in northern China.

      • Dates to 3,600 years ago, and endured for 6 centuries

      • The Shang dynasty covered multiple cities and a large territory

    • The powers and actions were directed through the power of divination

      • The development of writing during the Shang dynasty in China was typically associated with the process of divination or prophecy

      • The divination called scapulamancy, where cracks were created on animal bones by heating and then cooling.

    • The two capital cities of the Shang dynasty were Zhengzou and Shixiannggou

      • At Zhengzou we find evidence of the elite in the walls and residences

      • Both were located in the Henan Province

      • Shang artwork included the production of bronzes

      • At a later Shang capital at Anyang, we see royal tombs

        • The digging of one of the tomb’s grave pits would have kept 1,000 workers busy

        • Bronzes, horse-drawn chariots and human sacrifices were found in these tombs.


Old World Civilizations 14

  • Northern China (continued)

      • Shang bronze vessels are perhaps the most well-known artifacts of Shang times.

          • The casting techniques were complex and yielded elaborately decorated vessels such as this one.

          • Cast bronze vessels were made for use in ancestor worship rituals that honored the dead and other deities.

          • Most examples have been recovered from the tombs of their owners along with many other riches such as jade carvings, chariots complete with their horses and drivers, and other human sacrifices.

    • Other dynasties succeeded the Shang, starting with the Zhou dynasty, who expanded the cultural and social innovations of the Shang. Primarily rule by a group of warlords.

    • With time this led eventually to the first unification of all China under Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty.

        • He is also responsible for the building of the Great Wall of China.

        • In the tomb of Shi Huangdi we see the famous clay soldiers.


New World Civilizations 1

  • Vegetable not animal

    • The earliest New World civilizations were often supported by farming a combination of maize, beans, and squash.

    • These “Three Sisters” formed the basis of many of the Mesoamerican cultures as well as those of Amer-Indian cultures of the present-day Southeastern and Northeastern regions

      • In some ways, New World civilizations resembled those of the Old World such as relying on agriculture, long-distance trade, powerful leaders, social classes, monumental constructions, state religion, public art styles, record keeping, and warfare.

      • Points of difference include little reliance on domesticated animals, lack of utilitarian metal technology, and notably that neither the wheel nor watercraft were important for transportation. These differences reflect the unique traditions, resources, and geography of the New World.

  • It is likely that many of the New World civilizations are not going to be “household names” for you.

    • This is because we often learn more about the cultures that were present at the time of the European invasion rather than their predecessors.

    • But, remember the focus in on the first civilizations in this chapter.


New World Civilizations 2

  • Lowland Mesoamerica: The Olmec

  • Before Olmec times, maize and pottery appear followed by true farming, and then sedentary farming villages at roughly 3,500 years ago.

  • Prehistoric chiefdoms in the Gulf Coast lowlands of Veracruz and Tabasco, Mexico, with a highly developed art style and social complexity; flourished from 3,200 to 2,400 years ago

  • After that La Venta and San Lorenzo flourish as Olmec centers.

  • By 3500 ya, the residents were sedentary farmers in the Mesoamerican lowlands

  • The political organization of the Olmec is controversial with no consensus coming soon.

    • Some state the Olmec were the America’s first civilization

    • Other archaeologists state they were a collection of chiefdoms, NOT states and so La Venta and San Lorenzo are labeled as civic-ceremonial centers by the text.

    • The Olmec did produce some imposing monuments and impressive art. At both San Lorenzo and La Venta, earthworks substantially altered the landscape.

        • San Lorenzo sports wide courtyards, plazas, and artificial ponds.

        • La Venta has a 100-foot-high cone-shaped earthen pyramid.

        • Both sites are surrounded by hundreds of residential “house-mounds.”


New World Civilizations 3

  • Lowland Mesoamerica: The Olmec (continued)

    • They did have expansive architecture, especially seen at San Lorenzo and La Venta

    • The Olmec art tradition produced jades, figurines, and a number of colossal Olmec heads.

      • It seems that the boulders were brought from 60 miles away to be carved into the likenesses of, perhaps, individual rulers.

      • They were also famous for their anthropometric carvings, such as human-like felines

    • The Olmec had a hieroglyphic notations and there is a controversy as to whether Olmec glyphs may represent the oldest writing in Mesoamerica (not yet conclusive)

    • At its maximum size, it extended east through Guatemala, and west into central Mexico

    • The Olmec strongly influenced the later cultures, according to some researchers. Others disagree with this interpretation.

  • The pictures on the next slide are by Pictures of Record


Olmec (Not pictured here)
New World Civilizations 4

  • Lowland Mesoamerica: Classic Maya

    • The Classic Maya ( A.D. 200-900) civilization MAY have begun with the Olmec or a reorganization of the Maya society itself. Remains unclear.

    • By 2100 years ago the elements of the Classic Maya were in place:

      • Trade allowed for acquisition of building materials

      • A social elite was strongly entrenched, validated by religion.

    • The Maya are best known for their impressive Classic period urban centers, including Tikal, Copán (Honduras), and Palenque (Mexico).

      • For instance 27,000 peoples were linked Copán.

      • While many were the elite or specialists, over 2/3 were farmers who supported the center.

    • The largest settlements were the focus of sociopolitical activity, religious ceremonies, and commerce.

      • Large-scale architecture dominated the cities, which had tens of thousands of residents. In addition to pyramids, there were plazas, palaces, and ritual ball courts.

      • Tikal had over 50,000 residents and over 3,000 structures at the core.


New World Civilizations 5

  • Lowland Mesoamerica: Classic Maya (continued)

    • Discoveries, such as the buried Maya community at Cerén, El Salvador, give us details of village life. Cerén lay entombed for 1,400 years beneath 18 feet of ash discharged from a nearby volcano.

    • Traces of Maya peasant life were preserved, including a harvest of maize, beans, squash, tomatoes, and chilies stored in baskets and pots, arranged as if they had just been gathered from nearby garden plots.

    • The Maya collapsed

      • Individual Mayan city-states rose and fell during the centuries but around A.D. 900, the civilization as a whole was collapsing.

        • Construction of palaces, temples, and monuments ceased and the major cities were abandoned.

        • Archaeologists are not sure what happened or why but many explanations have been considered; none of which seem adequate. So far there is no clear answer.

      • Reasons given for the collapse is along list, including: Hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, overpopulation, malnutrition, peasant revolts, mass migrations, droughts, and deforestation

        • Some researchers suggest that the Classic Maya city-states collapsed mainly because they simply did not integrate into a single, unified, territorial-state like those of the Aztecs or the Inca.

        • The pictures on the next slide are from John Montgomery for Pictures of Record


Maya (Not pictured)
New World Civilizations 6

  • Highland Mesoamerica, also called Highland Mexico, is located to the far northwest of the Maya area.

    • The region is an elevated plateau surrounded by two great mountain ranges and many volcanoes. Within it is the Valley of Mexico which once held a huge lake.

    • The lake is now filled with Mexico City. This huge plateau is where several major civilizations developed, starting with Teotihuacan, followed by the Toltecs, and finally by the Aztecs.

  • Highland Mexico: Teotihuacán (means “City of the Gods” in Nahuital (Aztec language).

    • The northern region of the Valley of Mexico, home to the site of Teotihuacán, was desirable for settlement due to a series of springs and proximity to obsidian deposits.

    • Small, permanent villages are present by 1400 B.C.E., with Teotihuacán flourishing by 2,200 years ago.

    • The city of Teotihuacan rose to prominence when its closest competitor, the ceremonial-center called Cuicuilco was buried under a lava flow.

      • Soon Teotihuacan was the most important city in the Valley of Mexico.

      • Its influence is recognized archaeologically as far away as Guatemala The Valley of Mexico is one of the most intensively studied archaeological regions

      • Development of urbanism and state formation parallels those in the Oaxaca Valley

    • Culture at its height between 1700 and 1400 years ago



New World Civilizations 7

  • Highland Mexico: Teotihuacán (continued)

    • Teotihuacan was big, covering nearly 8 square miles and occupied by over 100,000 residents. Groups of multi-family compounds for 60 to 100 people, surrounding temples, forming neighborhoods (or barrios). There were about 2000 apartments in the city

    • Unlike Mayan centers, Teotihuacan was planned around a grid pattern that was oriented on a north/south axis.

    • It had thousands of apartment compounds organized into neighborhoods based on occupation or social class.

    • At its heart was a civic-ceremonial precinct that covered about a square mile.

      • The main north-south street, the Avenue of the Dead, is lined with approximately 20 temples

      • The Avenue of the Dead is intersected by an east-west street, forming quadrants

      • The Great Compound was a major marketplace

      • The Pyramid of the Sun rivaled that of Egypt’s Khufu

    • Teotihuacan flourished during roughly the same time as the Maya. Long-distance trade was important and included the Mayan area.

      • But so was warfare and violence.

      • Teotihuacan seems to have been destroyed by a revolt when the belief system that supported the state lost the confidence of the people.

    • The pictures in the next slide are provided by Pictures of Record


Teotihuacán (Not pictured)

New World Civilizations 8

  • Highland Mexico: Toltec

    • During a few centuries after the fall of Teotihuacan, other groups, including the Toltecs, struggled for regional dominance.

      • and The Toltecs, with their city of Tula in the northern part of the Valley of Mexico, prevailed.

      • Tula was about half the size of the former Teotihuacan but it was a city-state with an important ceremonial center commercial and military interests throughout the region.

    • We know from archaeological evidence that they even traded with the Southwest region of North America where we find copper bells and Mesoamerican style ball courts on Hohokam sites.

    • From the Southwest, the Toltecs acquired the highly valued blue turquoise that is available no where else.

    • Toltec power declined during a prolonged drought that effected most of the continent.

  • Highland Mexico: Mexica (Aztecs)

    • “Mexica” is the original name by which the Aztec people were known before their rise to power.

    • Militaristic people who dominated the Valley of Mexico and surrounding area until the European conquest.

    • The city of Tenochtitlan was built on an island in the huge lake in the Basin of Mexico.

  • The Aztec civilization ended abruptly in 1519 when the Spanish conquistadors conquered them.

    • The lake is gone now and the whole area is occupied by Mexico City.

    • Remnants of ancient Tenochtitlan are still found archaeologically beneath parts of modern Mexico City.


New World Civilizations 9

  • Peru

    • The geography of Peru would seem to preclude the presence of any civilization as it is characterized by extremes

      • The coast is a long narrow desert, the Andes jut up into the heights.

        • The coast of Peru is one of the world’s driest deserts, most areas receiving no appreciable rainfall throughout the year

        • Coastal areas are covered with a thick fog for much of the year, producing fog meadows (or lomas), which can support a variety of animal and marine life

        • Irrigation is necessary to support agriculture in the coastal desert

        • The Andes mountains are divided by rivers, the valleys of which are suitable for agriculture and a possible source of irrigation for the lower slopes

    • What it does do is create a dynamic tension between the fishers and the farmers

      • Crops, potato and the grain quinoa, initially cultivated in the Andean highlands

      • Early herders and farmers used different elevations for different purposes

      • The diverse environments of Peru required radically different subsistence systems in different areas

        • The site of Paloma (6,000-4,500 years ago) illustrates the transition to sedentism, from mobile hunting and gathering, in Peru

        • Marine resources and cultivation of plants at this site provided a regular source of subsistence and enabled early inhabitants to become sedentary


New World Civilizations 10

  • Peru (continued)

    • Later, during roughly 5,500 to 3,800 years ago in the Norte Chico region, as agriculture intensified and social differentiation developed these settlements built large and had platform mounds.

      • Aspero (north of Lima) we see a 37 acre settlement dependent on depended on both marine resources, food crops and cotton

      • South of Aspero, at Chillón Valley we see the El Paraiso site which may have required 1 million people to build.

      • Excavations at Norte Chico region revealed more than 20 major preceramic sites with monumental architecture and large residential area

      • The inland urban center of Caral seems to have relied mainly on small ocean fish, such as sardines and anchovies, for food.

    • Toward the end of this time, about 3,800 years ago, Peruvian communities relied on intensive agriculture with maize, peanuts, potatoes, and irrigation.


New World Civilizations 11


  • Peru (continued)

    • Chavín (around 3,200-2,850 years ago)

      • Archaeological culture that developed in the northern Peruvian highlands and coast during 2,900-2,500 years ago

      • The Chavin culture spread through a large area of the northern Peruvian highlands and coast.

      • Chavín is a term associated with:

        • Widespread prehistoric religious cult in Peru

        • Ancient art style featuring anthropomorphic beings. Chavin art featured jaguars, snakes, birds of prey and mythological creatures.

        • Elaborate sites high in the Andes. Best known example of Chavin iconography was the civic-ceremonial center known as Chavín de Huantar.

      • Influenced by earlier art and architecture.

        • The most striking feature of this site is a monumental stone sculpture, featuring a unique style and distinctive iconography

        • This style spread over large areas of northern and central Peru, appearing to represent the expansion of a religious cult, which brought with it a number of important technologies

        • The technological innovations included introduction of heddle looms for textile production.


New World Civilizations 12


  • Peru (continued)

    • The period prior to 1,400 years ago saw the development of regional states, including the Moche on Peru’s north coast, the Wari state in the central highlands, and Tiwanaku in the south-central Andean high plains.

    • Later, after about 1,000 years ago, Chimor and the Inca flourished.

    • Moche (Mochica) culture

      • Between 1,900 and 1,300 ya, Moche consolidated its hold over its neighbors through warfare and then by expanding agricultural lands in the conquered areas.

      • Among its monumental works, the city of Moche’s Huaca del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) incorporated 100 million hand-formed bricks and was one of the largest prehistoric structures in the Americas

      • Among Moche art there was a tradition of representing portraits, buildings, everyday scenes, and imaginative fantasy scenes in the form of ceramic vessels.

      • There were also skilled metalsmiths who created beautiful items of gold, silver, and copper. Interestingly, metal was not fashioned into tools, only art or status symbols.

      • Elites were buried in elaborate tombs where many such items are now found.


New World Civilizations 13

  • Peru (continued)

    • The Wari and the Tiwanaku

      • When the Moche faded around 1400 years ago, the Wari state in the central highlands, and Tiwanaku in the south-central Andean high plains expanded

        • The city of Wari appears to have exercised political control over a large area of the Peruvian highlands, with the development of labor taxation (Isbell 1988)

        • Tiwanaku in the southern Andes employed a raised field system with canals to prevent killer frosts, creating a highly productive agricultural system which required large amounts of coordinated labor for its construction and maintenance

          • A regional state, city, and valley of the same name near Lake Titicaca, in Bolivia. The ancient state developed around 2,400 – 1,000 years

          • Among Tiwanaku’s religious symbols is the Staff God Deity, in the slide, whose origins go back to the Norte Chico region as early as 3,250 years ago.

    • Chimor

      • A powerful culture that dominated the northern Peruvian coast between about 1,000 – 500 years ago.

      • The Moche Valley was dominated by the capital of the Chimú state, Chan Chan at this time

        • Chan Chan’s central core was comprised of a series of compounds which “combined the functions of royal entombment, elite residence, centralized storage, and closely administered redistribution” (Parsons and Hastings 1988)

          • Each compound served as a palace, storehouse, and tomb for successive monarchs.

          • Tens of thousands of urban peasants lived in crowded spaces nearby.

      • According to oral histories Chimor, or the Chimú state, fell to the Incas about A.D. 1470


New World Civilizations 14

  • Peru (continued)

    • The Inka (Inca)

  • People whose sophisticated culture dominated Peru at the time of the European arrival.

  • Also, the term for that people’s highest ruler.

  • The Inca empire began about 1,000 years ago and expanded rapidly until it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores.

  • The Inca capital city was Cuzco. When the Spanish arrived, the Inca empire included all of Peru and adjoining regions.


Summary of Main Topics

  • The earliest civilizations developed independently in several world regions directly after people achieved sustainable food resources.

  • Environmental and cultural factors are insufficient by themselves to explain the rise of the earliest civilizations.

  • The earliest civilizations found only a limited number of ways to create new decision-making institutions and the distribution of power and authority.

  • Broad similarities exist between the earliest Old and New World civilizations, but there are also important differences.

  • New World civilizations emerged in more ecologically diverse locations than those of the Old World.

  • New World civilizations relied less than their Old World counterparts on domesticated animals, wheels, or metal for technological purposes.




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