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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The origins of civilisation

The origins of civilisation - History Extra

"We have this idea of the Middle East as being an arid zone in which if you have agriculture at all you have it because of irrigation. When in fact at, oh, six thousand, six thousand five hundred BC, the southern alluvium of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was a wetland. That is to say the level, the sea levels were of three hundred feet or more above what they are today. And the result was that this was a wetland, an abundant wetland or region in which it dried out partially for part of the year, but the, the amount of marine resources in these wetlands, the migrations of animals, birds, fish and so on and the different ecological zones both a brackish water zone and a fresh water zone that shifted often. The, because it is a very flat plain so the tide comes in very very far and the water level in Mesopotamia was much higher. It came up to the doors if you like of Ur and Uruk and Eridu, the very earliest agrarian civilizations...

The official ideology of all of these states is an ideology of we are the civilized people and the people outside the state are the barbarians and that is often linked to grain eating. That is to say the Romans thought of themselves as wheat eaters and barley eaters and the Gauls as consumers of animal flesh and dairy products. Of course it wasn't quite the truth - the Gauls also planted crops as well but if you like this civilizational symbolism was that the people in the civilization are basically grain eaters and the people outside it are not civilized partly because of their dietary habits and partly because of other characteristics like the clothes they wear and the fact that they move around...

In eighteen hundred before the steam ship it's faster to go from Southampton England to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa than it is to go by stage coach from London to Edinburgh...

All of the early civilizations are based on flood plains - alluvial flood plains. That is the only place in which you can concentrate monocrop cereals and human beings in one place and have a kind of surplus that the state can appropriate. Notice by the way that there are no taro states, no potato states, no cassava states. And that's because those crops grow underground. Although they get ripe in a year they could be left in the ground safely and be eaten two or three years later. The advantage of cereal crops for the state is that they all grow above ground, they get ripe at almost exactly the same time. If the tax man wants them they can come and take them or better yet wait till you put them in the granary and confiscate the contents of the granary or if they don't like you they can burn your crops when they're ripe in the field and you have to disperse"
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