Growth of Early Civilizations

Topics: Bronze Age, Civilization, Ancient Egypt Pages: 5 (1667 words) Published: December 4, 2006
Despite the fact that archaeology has been a long-standing area of scientific study, one of the most seemingly basic questions in the field is still unanswered: how do civilizations arise? Although the great nations of the past have left scientists clues and indicators as to their existence, history is still laden with inconsistencies and discrepancies. These irregularities have created a plethora of theories that attempt to explain how civilizations were born and how they developed. Margaret Murray, a British anthropologist who studied witch culture in Western Europe, attempts to explain the variety: "Archaeology has in it all the qualities that call for the wide view of the human race, of its growth from the savage to the civilized, which is seen in all stages of social and religious development." This "wide view" is reflected by the abundance of theories in archaeology. Looking at the various nations of the past, however, trade is a ubiquitous quality. From Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica, evidence indicates that trade was a driving influence on the specialization of labor, the division of classes, and the centralization of power in ancient times. The two prevailing authorities on trade theories are William Rathje and Colin Renfrew. William Rathje, in his study of Mayan civilization, realized that in ancient times, Mesoamerica was a network of trading groups, in which scarce goods were able to overcome distance barriers. In his theory, Rathje identifies certain areas within these networks as the "Core Area," or the area, which consumes the majority of the resources in the region. The "Core Area" is surrounded by "Buffer Zones," regions with a multitude of resources. This system produces a centralized, trading hot-spot in which the resources are pooled to one area. As the system progresses, however, the "Buffer Zones" become more complex and autonomous. Slowly, the former "Core Area" fades out, and a number of new trade networks are born from the former "Buffer Zones." In the context of Mesoamerica, the lowlands – deficient in vital resources – needed to draw important goods from the resource-rich highlands. As trade continued, luxury goods began to pass between the regions, apparent in the presence of similar ceramics styles throughout Mexico. These transactions yielded an order in which only certain people – who, ultimately, formed the upper tier of society – could have access to the luxury goods; social stratification was a result. Colin Renfrew's research from the Minoan Civilization on Crete contains a similar interpretation on the impact of trade. During the times of ancient Crete, demand for luxury goods, like grapes (for wine) and olives, was high, but the goods were not available on the island. As a result, the Minoan civilization established overseas trading; Crete's location in the Aegean Sea became a strategic advantage as many ships stopped through the islands' ports. Minoan influence, in fact, is present in Egypt, Mesopotamia and even Spain. This boom in trade quickly created social divisions within the society; those in control of the trading became the wealthy class of Minoan civilization. The influence of trade, however, was not only applicable to Crete; states in contact with Crete increasingly specialized in order to meet Crete's consumption habits. Renfrew's theory, like Rathje's, acknowledges that trade was a driving force behind civilizations' development. Both Renfrew's and Rahtje's theories, however, contain fallacies that are worth mentioning. In the case of the Minoan civilization, chronology is the issue. Although scientists can agree that the domestication of grapes and olives – as a result of trade – greatly impacted the growth of Minoan society, evidence reveals that grape and olive production did not intensify until the Late Bronze Age; the rapid increase of complexity within the Minoan society, however, occurred during the Early Bronze Age, about 300 years...
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