Cradle of civilization  

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"With one paramount exception, Athens is peerless among the existing monuments of the ancient civilised world. The ruins of Rome may be more gorgeous ; of Babylon, more mysterious ; of Persepolis, more romantic ; of the Egyptian Thebes, more vast; but in all that is interesting to thought and feeling - in memories and associations, deep, affecting, sublime, Athens transcends them all." --The Antiquities of Athens

 This page Cradle of civilization is part of the Ancient Greece series.   Photo: western face of the Parthenon
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This page Cradle of civilization is part of the Ancient Greece series.
Photo: western face of the Parthenon

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The term "cradle of civilization" refers to locations where, according to current archeological data, civilization is understood to have emerged. Current thinking is that there was no single "cradle", but several civilizations that developed independently, with the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt) understood to be the earliest. Other civilizations arose in Asia among cultures situated along large river valleys, such as Indo-Gangetic Plain in the Indian subcontinent and the Yellow River in China. The extent to which there was significant influence between the early civilizations of the Near East and those of East Asia is disputed. Scholars accept that the civilizations of Mesoamerica, mainly in modern Mexico, and Norte Chico in present-day Peru emerged independently from those in Eurasia.

Scholars have defined civilization using various criteria such as the use of writing, cities, a class-based society, agriculture, animal husbandry, public buildings, metallurgy, and monumental architecture. The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iran, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western Civilization—even when such sites are not understood as an independent development of civilization, as well as within national rhetoric.

Contents

History of the idea

The concept "cradle of civilization" is the subject of much debate. The figurative use of cradle to mean "the place or region in which anything is nurtured or sheltered in its earlier stage" is traced by the Oxford English Dictionary to Spenser (1590). Charles Rollin's Ancient History (1734) has "Egypt that served at first as the cradle of the holy nation".

The phrase "cradle of civilization" plays a certain role in national mysticism. It has been used in Eastern as well as Western cultures, for instance, in Hindu nationalism (In Search of the Cradle of Civilization 1995) and Taiwanese nationalism (Taiwan — The Cradle of Civilization 2002). The terms also appear in esoteric pseudohistory, such as the Urantia Book, claiming the title for "the second Eden", or the pseudoarchaeology related to Megalithic Britain (Civilization One 2004, Ancient Britain: The Cradle of Civilization 1921).

Rise of civilization

The earliest signs of a process leading to sedentary culture can be seen in the Levant to as early as 12,000 BC, when the Natufian culture became sedentary; it evolved into an agricultural society by 10,000 BC. The importance of water to safeguard an abundant and stable food supply, due to favourable conditions for hunting, fishing and gathering resources including cereals, provided an initial wide spectrum economy that triggered the creation of permanent villages.

The earliest proto-urban settlements with several thousand inhabitants emerged in the Neolithic. The first cities to house several tens of thousands were Memphis and Uruk, by the 31st century BC (see Historical urban community sizes).

Historic times are marked apart from prehistoric times when "records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations"; which may be in written or oral form. If the rise of civilization is taken to coincide with the development of writing out of proto-writing, the Near Eastern Chalcolithic, the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age during the 4th millennium BC, and the development of proto-writing in Harappa in the Indus Valley of South Asia around 3300 BC are the earliest incidences, followed by Chinese proto-writing evolving into the oracle bone script, and again by the emergence of Mesoamerican writing systems from about 2000 BC.

In the absence of written documents, most aspects of the rise of early civilizations are contained in archaeological assessments that document the development of formal institutions and the material culture. A "civilized" way of life is ultimately linked to conditions coming almost exclusively from intensive agriculture. Gordon Childe defined the development of civilization as the result of two successive revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution, triggering the development of settled communities, and the Urban Revolution, which enhanced tendencies towards dense settlements, specialized occupational groups, social classes, exploitation of surpluses, monumental public buildings and writing. Few of those conditions, however, are unchallenged by the records: dense settlements were not attested in Egypt's Old Kingdom and were absent in the Maya area;Template:Citation needed the Incas lacked writing altogether; and often monumental architecture preceded any indication of village settlement. For instance, in present-day Louisiana, researchers have determined that cultures that were primarily nomadic organized over generations to build earthwork mounds at seasonal settlements as early as 3400 BC. Rather than a succession of events and preconditions, the rise of civilization could equally be hypothesized as an accelerated process that started with incipient agriculture and culminated in the Oriental Bronze Age.

Single or multiple cradles

A traditional theory of the spread of civilization is that it began in the Fertile Crescent and spread out from there by influence. Scholars more generally now believe that civilizations arose independently at several locations in both hemispheres. They have observed that sociocultural developments occurred along different timeframes. "Sedentary" and "nomadic" communities continued to interact considerably; they were not strictly divided among widely different cultural groups. The concept of a cradle of civilization has a focus where the inhabitants came to build cities, to create writing systems, to experiment in techniques for making pottery and using metals, to domesticate animals, and to develop complex social structures involving class systems.

Current scholarship generally identifies six sites where civilization emerged independently:

  1. Mesopotamia
  2. the Nile River
  3. the Indus River
  4. the Yellow River
  5. the Central Andes
  6. Mesoamerica

Cradle of Western civilization

There is academic consensus that Classical Greece is the seminal culture which provided the foundation of modern Western culture, democracy, art, theatre, philosophy and science. For this reason it is known as the cradle of Western Civilization. Along with Greece, Rome has sometimes been described as a birthplace or as the cradle of Western Civilization because of the role the city had in politics, republicanism, law, architecture, warfare and Western Christianity.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cradle of civilization" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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