Sunday, February 22, 2009

Origin of civilisation


by Nayyar Hashmey


 Samuel Huntington, (who died last year) in his treatise ‘Clash of Civilisations’ propounds a hypothesis of two different worlds, two civilisations opposing each other, and who, said he, sooner or later are going to clash against each other. Western civilization with its democratic institutions, liberalism and a respect of law is bound to come into conflict with Islamic civilisation. A civilisation based on tenets of Islam according to Huntington will be the next enemy of the West. Consequent to this hypothesis, a new charter for NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which was principally constituted to fight out Communism, was chalked out. How far this concept is relevant in today’s world, is a debatable question. No wonder it’s being contested all over, but my present post is not about this clash of civilisations but civilisation itself.

‘Civilisation’ is derived from the word ‘civil’ which itself means development of humanity’s social life during different periods of history.  From the very start, man’s life as Homo sapiens, in the Old Stone Age, was more on an ‘animalistic’ pattern than human. No written language had he, living in caves, stone was the only element man knew; the element that played a deciding role in his existence, knowledge of fire and metals came much later.

Civilisation brought the stone man from a sate of savagery and ignorance to a higher one by education, moral standards and methods of good governance.


Earliest human development started about 2 million years ago. Generally termed as the Old Stone Age, the Paleolithic period had the longest phase in human history.  Roughly coextensive with the Pleistocene Geological Era, its most outstanding feature was development of Homo sapiens (the man). The Pleistocene Geological Era is spread over 65-37 million years; the time our earth and its habitat started taking a shape suitable for early human life. A monumental withdrawal of seas from the major part of this planet took place, various volcanic forms came up and the Rockies emerged in Americas. Archaic life forms like animals, birds and plants developed. In such habitat the Paleolithic man generally lived as nomadic hunter and gatherer who sheltered in caves, used fire and fashioned stone tools.

The Old Stone Age was followed by Middle Paleolithic, associated with Neanderthal man (type of early man existing 100,000 to 40,000 years ago). The Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic Period Cultures included gradual domestication of plants and animals, formation of settled communities, use of the bow, development of delicate stone microliths and the pottery. After Mesolithic period came the Neolithic Period or the New Stone Age, which started with the retreat of the glaciers (ca. 10, 000 years ago). The time period and cultural contents of Neolithic Period varied according to different geographic locations on the earth. 

The earliest known Neolithic culture developed in SW Asia between 8,000 and 600 BC. People lived in settled villages, cultivated grains and domesticated animals, developed pottery and did weaving. From this phase evolved urbanization of the Bronze Age. In S.E. Asia, a distinct type of Neolithic culture cultivated rice, before 2000 BC. By now man had gained fair amount of knowledge on metals and some sort of industries too had developed. In the ancient region of W. Asia around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, on the plains rendered fertile by canals, settlements were found. These settlements probably date back to 5000 BC. Since these settlements were the earliest found, hence the area was termed ‘the cradle of civilization’.

Later in the southern part of the same region (Mesopotamia), urban settlements arose in city states like Erech, and Ur. Here Akkad emerged (ca.2300 BC) as the region’s first empire followed by Babylonia and Assyria.

Till recently it was taken as universal truth, that the Indus Valley Civilisation emerged after the Mesopotamians—somewhere between 3000–1000 BC. However, elaborate archeological work by researchers like Jarrige, Cucina and Dani totally altered this picture. Their works revealed the startling fact that the IVC people started building their cities much earlier than the Sumerians and Mesopotamians. Their studies traced the origin of IVC to excavations in Mehrgarh, Balochistan to a period as far back as 9000 years BC. Following timeline shows the development of human settlements and the IVC in Mehrgarh, from where it becomes evident that IVC which started in Mehgarh is by far the oldest one in history.

The Cultural Time line

Mehrgarh Culture
8000–3300 BC
1700–1300 BC
1500– 500  BC
 1200–700  BC
  700–300   BC
   684– 26   BC
   321–184  BC
230 BC–1279AD
  230 BC–199AD
    60–240    AD
 It should be recalled that before these studies, the first agricultural villages in these regions did not seem to date from any time earlier that 4000 BC. Their emergence was credited to colonies arriving from either the Iranian plateau or from southern central Asia. But today the work at Mehrgarh has enabled a complete re-evaluation of the archaeology of these regions and particularly of the antecedents to the large urban settlement of the Indus valley.

Mehrgarh’s archaeological area spans nearly 300 hectares, containing traces of successive settlements since the aceramic Neolithic period (the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 7th millennium BC) until about 2600 BC, before the beginning of the second phase of Indus civilization. Evidence of nine levels of building, with nine corresponding levels of burial grounds, has been found in the Neolithic aceramic (without the use of pottery) sector (phase I). Houses of crude rectangular brick, some decorated with paintings on the external walls, were built to a roughly similar design. The agricultural economy was dependent on the cultivation of barley, but the staple meat diet was provided by hunting, even though the beginning of the domestication of goats was recorded at this time.

During this same period, livestock farming overtook hunting and not only was the Indic zebu (Bos indicus) domesticated, the farmed variety became more common than the wild. Palynological studies have shown that plant growth was less lush then, than what exists today. The excavation of nearly 360 tombs has enabled a detailed study of funerary effects, which provides a wealth of anthropological and social indicators.

The funerary effects include utilitarian objects, but also especially an abundance of ornaments of a quality which bears witness to the skill and energy of craftsmen using materials from relatively faraway regions, notably several seashells, lapis lazuli, turquoise, steatites and calcites. The dead were sometimes buried with tarred baskets at their feet. Amongst the layers at the end of phase I were found ornaments with copper beads, one of which still carried the trace of a cotton thread, the oldest known example of this fibre being used.

With the dawn of phase II-A, about 6000 years BC, the first pottery made from unrefined clay began to appear. The development of agricultural activity is clearly borne out by the presence of impressive collections of buildings containing crates and partitions, identifiable in many cases as being used for the storage of cereal crops. In the phase II-B, pottery becomes more refined. But it is not until a little after 5000 BC that geometric designs painted onto increasingly elegant receptacles begin to appear.

The ancient chalcolithic period (phase-III), between 5000 BC and the first half of the 4th millennium, is distinguished by remarkable advances in crafts and ceramics in particular.
Ceramics made from fine-quality clay, mounted on a turntable, are lavishly adorned with pictures of wild beasts and birds. Also noteworthy is the production of beads of steatite, baked and then varnished with a green copper-oxide glaze. Metallurgy progressed, and remains have been found of studios where lapis lazuli and turquoise were worked.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Custom Search