From Hunting and Gathering to Civilizations, 2.5 million–1000 B.C.E.: Origins
Overview. The first human beings appeared in east Africa over two million years ago. Gradually humans developed a more erect stance and greater brain capacity. Early humans lived by hunting and gathering. The most advanced human species, Homo sapiens sapiens, migrated from Africa into the Middle East, then into Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Over time, they learned to fashion tools and weapons from stone, bone, and wood, and were, therefore, able to move away from hunting-and-gathering practices to form larger groups. The beginnings of agriculture, about 10,000 B.C.E., were based on improved tools during the New Stone Age (Neolithic). The development of agriculture was a radical change in humans’ way of life. By providing a dependable source of food, people could stay in one place, develop toolmaking technologies using metals, and, by increasing agricultural output, free individuals to specialize in other kinds of work. More elaborate political and cultural forms slowly emerged. Civilization emerged in five different regions. While focusing on the agricultural revolution, we must not lose sight of the many areas in which other systems prevailed. Hunting-and-gathering was not only a different economic system, it brought with it differences in gender relations, daily life, and social complexity.
Big Concepts. Each of the key phases of the long period of early human history (2.5 million B.C.E.—1000 B.C.E.) can be characterized by a central topic or Big Concept. The first of these is the development of human hunting skills, the adaptation of those skills to the shift geography and climate of the Ice Age, and the patterns of human migration. The second Big Concept is the rise of agriculture and the changes in technology associated with the Neolithic revolution (9000 B.C.E. and 4000 B.C.E.). These changes set in motion the agricultural phase of human experience that lasted until just a few centuries ago. The final Big Concept is the appearance of increasingly distinctive human societies through agriculture or nomadic pastoralism and the early contacts among these societies, particularly after 3500 B.C.E. when larger and more formally organized societies, often with early cities as well, emerged and began to develop more consistent patterns of interregional trade.
Triggers for Change. The phase of human history talked about in this chapter is mainly the story of accommodating different environments, especially in the search for food. Around 10,000 years ago, near the Black Sea, humans turned to agriculture, as hunting became less productive. The reasons for the change are not clear, but possibilities include population pressure, and shortages caused by accidental or deliberate over-hunting. Agriculture brought essential changes in social organization, tool-making, and specialization of occupation.
The Big Changes. Agriculture involved a different set of challenges and benefits than did hunting-and-gathering. The demands of farming meant a sedentary life and larger settlements. Social structures became more complex, and greater gender divisions of labor. Agriculture also made possible the key elements of civilization: states, towns, and monumental building. The first four civilizations arose in river valleys that made irrigation, and, hence, large-scale agriculture possible.
Continuity. This transition took place over millennia. Many peoples adhered to their traditional economy, which meant, as well, adherence to traditional social and cultural ways. As they took to farming, traditionally women’s work, men developed ideas of superiority over women. This can be interpreted not as innovation, but as a way to compensate for change.
Impact on Daily Life: Children. Hunting-and-gathering societies necessitated small families, because of the migratory lifestyle and limited resources. With farming, however, not only were...