Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

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Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on August 13th, 2009, 5:41 am 

Did anyone notice the following phenomena?
1. The rise of civilizations are virtually simultaneous, considering the large time gap between the beginning of speaking (around 120 thousands years ago) and the first civilization in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago.
2. After Mesopotamia, the rise of various civilizations around the Afro-Eurasian Continent is related to the distance to the political center of Mesopotamia: the greater the distance, the longer the delay. Thus, the order is: Mesopotamia (ca. 5500 BP), Egypt (ca. 5200 BP), Indus Valley (ca. 4500 BP), Minoa (ca. 4000 BP), Yellow River (3400-3200 BP). This relation also holds if your add Maya and Inca to the list.
These phenomena suggest that the rise of the early civilizations is a synchronized historical event; it spread from the original center in southern Iraq to the rest of the world. Therefore, all the early civilization except the Mesopotamian civilization could be regarded as “derivative” in the sense that they are recreation in different localities based on the same concept. For example, the idea of writing could be adopted by various nations although the pictographic signs are different. As matter of fact, I even noticed some similarities between the early cuneiforms and the oracle script in China. There is a word in cuneiform meaning God or Heaven, it also exists in Chinese (both ancient and modern); it is lacking in English. And their signs are somehow similar as well. Could it be coincidental?
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on August 13th, 2009, 5:47 am 

It seems the jpeg file is not accepted. Try again.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on August 13th, 2009, 7:11 am 

I would strongly suggest getting a copy of Bruce Trigger's (2003) "Understanding Early Civilizations" Cambridge University Press. What you are suggesting was known as diffusionism and has since been thoroughly discredited.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on August 13th, 2009, 9:58 am 

What concerns me is not about whether this type of theory existed before but if anyone actually considered the specified points shown above.

Any way, thanks for the information. I will try to get hold of his book (and others). But I doubt 7 civilizations could be treated properly in a book, and whether anyone could be in a position to consider so diverse a field.

In general, few, if any, archaeological theories could be regarded as the final word.

As far as diffusion theories are concerned, Wikipedia has the following statement:

“Diffusion across cultures is a well-attested and uncontroversial phenomenon. ... ...”

“Types of cultural diffusion
Expansion diffusion: … …
Relocation diffusion: … …
Hierarchical diffusion: … …
Contagious diffusion: … …
Stimulus diffusion: an idea or innovation sparked by an idea that diffused in from another culture. The specific trait may be rejected, but the underlying concept is accepted. “

I believe what I meant in the original post belongs to the last type - stimulus diffusion. The idea, or merely the news of invention of writing in certain part of the world, should be sufficient to stimulate similar development in the rest, given proper environment. Of course, you could argue that all the apparent synchronization was caused by the underlying economic factors, but I think that is hard to believe.

Wikipedia also mentions the dispute, which I merely quote a few interesting sentences:

"Diffusion theories also suffer from being inherently speculative and hard to prove or disprove. ......" (Well, few theory about prehistory is easy to prove or disprove, or uncontroversial.)

"Another criticism that has been leveled at many diffusion proposals is the failure to explain why certain items were not diffused. For example, attempts to "explain" the New World civilizations by diffusion from Europe or Egypt should explain why basic concepts like wheeled vehicles or the potter's wheel did not cross the ocean, while writing and stone pyramids did." (Maybe it is a matter of probability.)

It seems some of the criticisms on diffusion theories are related to political correctness - such theories tend to devalue the later civilizations, many in the 3rd world. But that is not my concern since it has no merit.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on August 13th, 2009, 10:58 am 

line wrote:But I doubt 7 civilizations could be treated properly in a book, and whether anyone could be in a position to consider so diverse a field.


Interesting questions here. I might note that, if you believed it difficult for anyone to consider so diverse a field, would it not be at least as difficult for you? Bruce Trigger, however, was certainly a well-known scholar in the field. His book, referred to above, actually provides a very detailed comparison of the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Shang China, the Aztecs, Maya and Inca of the New World and the Yoruba of Africa. There is also a historical overview of scholarly interest in the rise of civilizations, of course, since Trigger is also known for his masterful history of archaeological theory. Along those lines, it might be worth considering that, originally, proposals of diffusion like what you are entertaining may have simply been expressions of the "political correctness" of a century or so ago. I would certain suspect that "political correctness" is as subject to change as anything else but what differs now is that there has been abundant excavation and study since diffusion was an interpretive norm. But now think, rhetorically, if there was nothing new to learn and argue, then what could you add to the picture?
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on August 13th, 2009, 9:53 pm 

I am not even comparing the civilisations, but merely the relation in term of time and space.

In regard to the new findings, they will affect the conclusions. But the story is not nearly as simple as you would like to have it.

First of all, the authenticity of each findings - that kind of debate could last for centuries. I am aware of such many cases where the artifacts are in doubt, and above all, the interpretations. You probably know by now that I am a native Chinese speaker. When I examined the ancient records to determine what I can learn from it, I have to go to the original photo records because I cannot just rely on the transcripts published by others as they contains many mistakes. For this purpose, I have to learn to read ancient scripts all the way back to 3000 BP. And I need to make judgments on which artifacts are authentic. I have participated in debates on many critical issues on Chinese prehistory. These issues are in one way or another related to the current topics. And the debate have been raging on for 2000 years, and it will certainly continue - it is getting more heated with every new discoveries. I don't know how many foreign scholars are able to grasp the subtle details of such debates. When I looked at the Cambridge history of China recently, I found nothing more than superficial treatments and all the unsettled issues were avoided. Prof. Nivison, a well-known sholar from Stanford (he is retired now) also participated in the debate, but I found his theory just as biased as those from China. Prof. Shaughnessy from Chicago is also in the picture; his opinion is closer to mine. Prof. Chang (a Chinese) from Harvard has been attacked recently. In any event, foreign scholars are mostly relying on 2nd hand information, and whose conclusion would they rely upon? That is always tricky. As far as I know, the situation in China is not unique in this regard.

Therefore, constructing any kind of grand theory involving cross-cultural comparison is often like building a house on sandy beach. The sand shifts every century or so. The 20th century has negated most of the 19th century theories (including Marxism), but the 21st century will produce a negation of negation, I am sure. Nothing is going to last forever. It is overly optimistic to think any one book (or even an entire life-time research) will put this big issue to rest.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on August 14th, 2009, 6:49 am 

You might also take a look at the May 2009 "Archaeological Record", the newsletter of the SAA. The issue was devoted to the topic of collaborative research in East and Southeast Asia. I know some of the authors and have worked with graduate students from China.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Total Science on December 5th, 2009, 12:34 am 

line wrote:Did anyone notice the following phenomena?
1. The rise of civilizations are virtually simultaneous, considering the large time gap between the beginning of speaking (around 120 thousands years ago)

What evidence do you have that suggests man began to speak 120,000 years ago?

and the first civilization in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago.

That's a myth. There were hundreds of civilizations that existed prior to 5000 BC.

Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic........48.620129°N,14.668420°E........c.26,000 - 20,000 BC
Mal'ta, Russia........................52.816176°N,103.517610°E.......c.21,000 BC
Mezhirich, Ukraine.....................49.632797°N,31.400185°E........c.13,000 BC
Mureybet, Syria........................36.733191°N,38.058379°E........c.11,000 BC
Odai Yamamoto I Site, Japan............41.048127°N,140.556918°E.......c.10,680 BC
Ohalo II Site, Israel..................32.703515°N,35.571452°E........c.21,000 BC
Ust-Karenga 12 Site, Russia............54.433333°N,116.500000°E.......c.10,180 - 8600 BC
Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site, Russia......70.572385°N,134.946753°E.......c.26,250 BC
Ain Mallaha, Israel....................33.303833N,35.512569E..........c.10,000 - 8200 BC
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey...................37.199424°N,38.918858°E........c.9500 BC
Jerf el-Ahmar, Syria...................37.057466°N,37.958595°E........c.9600 - 8500 BC
Sahneh, Iran...........................34.480133°N,47.705425°"E.......c.9800 - 7400 BC
Tell Abu Hureyra, Syria................35.866242°N,38.400275°E........c.9500 - 7000 BC
Wadi Faynan 16 Site, Jordan............30.626000°N,35.445000°E........c.9600 - 8200 BC
Cramond, Scotland......................55.966059°N,3.299265°W.........c.8500 BC
Djade al-Mughara Site, Syria...........36.202780°N,37.158610°E........c.9000 BC
Jericho, Jordan........................31.847266°N,35.471849°E........c.8350 BC
Karahan Tepe Site, Turkey..............37.125415°N,39.432301°E........c.9000 BC
Kfar HaHoresh, Israel..................32.702100°N,35.274297°E........c.8500 - 6750 BC
Kunda, Estonia.........................59.487639°N,26.555145°E........c.8500 BC
Maroulas Site, Greece..................37.443524°N,24.422617°E........c.8800 - 8600 BC
Nabta Playa, Egypt.....................22.530292°N,30.700982°E........c.9000 BC
Nevali Cori, Turkey....................37.585919°N,38.630241°E........c.8400 BC
Pulli Settlement, Estonia..............58.430552°N,24.388946°E........c.9000 BC
Shillourokambos, Cyprus................34.731573°N,33.126491°E........c.8200 - 7500 BC
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Paralith on December 5th, 2009, 4:27 am 

I believe that by "civilization" line is referring to sedentary agricultural communities. I do not pretend to be an archeaological expert but, just looking up the first "civilization" you mention, Total Science, it comes from a Gravettian era settlement which I understand to be a temporary settlement of largely nomadic hunter gatherers. Though I would be very interested to see your source for that data, if I am wrong in my understanding.

Line's estimates for the beginning of the Mesoptamian archeaological record are also, I think, a bit conservative, and in general significant levels of agriculture begin to appear around the world around 10,000 years ago.

Genetic estimates place the origination of the modern human allele of the FoxP2 gene at around 120,000 years ago. This is probably what Line is referring to. Though I would say this by no means tells us certainly that language began then; probably only that truly modern human language began at some point after 120,000 years ago. My understanding of the molecular action of human FoxP2 suggests that it was probably one of several necessary components to modern human language, but is not sufficient for modern human language. Meaning, you probably need human FoxP2 to get human language, but it's certainly not the only thing you need. And depending on when those other elements arose, we can't be sure that fully modern language and human FoxP2 arose at exactly the same time.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on December 5th, 2009, 7:28 am 

Yes, part of the question here is in relation to civilizations and how they are defined. There are certainly archaeological sites going back millions of years. Sites with houses can be old (but often debated). Catalhoyuk is generally argued to be the oldest town or even city excavated but "civilizations", which do have debates over meaning, are more recent and date to around 5,000+. Gobekli Tepi, mentioned in the list, is a pretty cool site and there is a thread on it here somewhere but I am not aware of anyone seriously suggesting is was part of a civilization.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby linford86 on December 12th, 2009, 7:41 pm 

Total Science,

I'm not an archaeologist, but I googled all of the sites you posted. They're all paleolithic or neolithic in origin. My understanding is that some of them reflect early agricultural communities while others are remains of small nomadic groups. Why are you claiming that these groups are civilizations?

Forest,

How do archaeologists define "civilization"? I understand from what you wrote previously that there is no agreed upon definition. What are the more respected possibilities for the meaning of the word? Do any of the sites that Total Science posted fit any of those definitions?
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on December 12th, 2009, 10:28 pm 

Definitions vary, of course, but main features usually include monumental architecture, usually associated with large urban centres; full time specialist soldiers, priests, craftspeople, bureaucrats, etc.; primary producers paying tribute/taxes to central authorities (according to Childe); an inherited ruling class; a written language, etc. The latter is a key, of course, because with written records, everything else can be figured out. One wild card here has been the Indus Valley, Harrapan civilisation because the written language turns out to be a totally different kind of language that has not been worked out well and they don't appear to have had the same evidence of a central political authority (the bearded figure of a man, which shows up, does not appear to have been a king or similar. Of those sites mentioned, the only one that I know had a "civilisation" as one of the occupations is Jericho - but not at the earliest levels. Some are important sites, many have evidence of population aggregation but not evidence of complex society. Sites like Gobekli Tepe are certainly cool and are monumental architecture sites but again not what we would call part of civilisations any more than Stonehenge was. There are certainly some who would call just about anything "civilisation" and I understand the point but the term looses its meaning if applied too broadly. In archaeology, civilisation means complex state-level society.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby wolfhnd on December 13th, 2009, 2:35 am 

http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/harder ... pter15.pdf

In the chart cut from the above document there seems to be a coincidence of the time that civilization arose and climate?
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Paralith on December 13th, 2009, 3:17 am 

Wolfhnd, that's exactly the hypothesis one of my professors has. He thinks that the change in climate changed the cost:benefit ratio of long-term agriculture, which resulted in the rise of these big nation-states based on intensive agriculture.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby linford86 on December 13th, 2009, 2:01 pm 

It seems like the data during the holocene on that graph is more accurate than the later data. I say this because qualitatively it looks like there are more data points in the holocene. Is there a reason that there is more older data and less newer data?
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Paralith on December 13th, 2009, 2:04 pm 

Haha, look at the x-axis, linford. It's years before present. The Holocene is the current era.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby linford86 on December 13th, 2009, 2:23 pm 

Paralith wrote:Haha, look at the x-axis, linford. It's years before present. The Holocene is the current era.


Doh! I guess that reveals how much I know about palaeontology...
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby wolfhnd on December 13th, 2009, 3:09 pm 

I also noticed that the time line of 120k suggested for speech development coincides with a major cooling which could have provided an evolutionary nudge.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on December 13th, 2009, 4:32 pm 

Hmmm. Okay a few points might be in order here. First, the posted graph only goes back to 20 kya. Language is older than that although some (including me) might say not more than 50 kya outside of Africa. But then, no real direct evidence of when language came about, just speculation.

Depending on definitions of civilisation, not many would say that there is any real evidence before 5-6 kya and some are much more recent. I don't really see anything significant on that graph around that time. I would agree that there is a change correlated with the appearance of domestication (end of the Pleistocene) but it was probably along slow process. There would likely have been at least a thousand years of slowly changing plants and animals as well as people. During that time we do see population increases and aggregation but as much as 5 thousand years or more before we get really complex societies.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Paralith on December 13th, 2009, 4:47 pm 

I agree; it takes a while of practice and technological innovation to really get the intensive kinds of agriculture that result in big city states with social stratification and job specialization. But certainly the change in temperatures to something more consistently warmer could have made investment in agriculture worth it for people at the time - got the ball rolling, as it were.

And just to back up Forest, we really don't know when language began; just because FoxP2 originated at one point in time probably only means, as I described above, that language can be no older than that, since FoxP2 is probably one (of many) required elements for it. And even then the error range on the estimated date for FoxP2 is pretty wide.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby wolfhnd on December 13th, 2009, 5:32 pm 

5000 years really isn't that long and it took another 5000 years to get from agriculture to where we are today. Forest I was referring not to the graph but to the strong temperature spike of around 120k bp from Wikipedia. Everything being related and all and life being a chemical process increasing temperatures may fuel not only cultural but biological evolution in even more subtle ways than we suppose?

Note the error in my original post when I said cooling.
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Graph of CO2 (Green graph), temperature (Blue graph), and dust concentration (Red graph) measured from the Vostok, Antarctica ice core as reported by Petit et al., 1999. Higher dust levels are believed to be caused by cold, dry periods.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on June 8th, 2015, 1:50 am 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have virtually ceased to exist in forums in the last two years due to other personal affairs. Here, I only wish to clarify one point: my definition of civilization is based on mature writing as per archaeological findings – only the reliable ones are considered, since there are many suspicious claims in recent years. This is virtually simultaneous with the emergence of the state and monarchy. I am not so fashionable as to consider agriculture as “civilization”. As far as I know, ants also practice agriculture by planting fungi in their garden and tend their “cattles” (aphids).

Going back to the original point of infusionism, I found more evidence in recent years. The Filipino children of certain region in Luzon are still playing the games exactly as they were depicted in the Egyptian tomb paintings – I was so shocked to see the video. If you also take into account the fact that Papua mummy techniques are similar to that of the ancient Egyptians, and the fact that the earliest Chinese writing originated from Shandong, an coastal area near the hometown of Confucius, it becomes clear that the early civilization spread along the trade route of the sea, probably starting from the middle east, passing South Asia and Southeast Asia to China and Oceania. This is much more likely way of spread than the “Silk Road” through the harsh desert. I believe that the first native American tribes also arrived in their land via sea rather than via Siberia and Alaska.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on June 8th, 2015, 1:56 am 

Considering how much time for the earliest civilization to emerged in Mesopotamia – around 5k yr, and so little time (so suddenly) afterwards in the other lands, it is difficult to believe that all these civilizations took place without any borrowing from Mesopotamia, unless someone can prove that there is a fast shortcut for the emergence of writing etc.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Eclogite on June 8th, 2015, 3:24 am 

If you also take into account the fact that Papua mummy techniques are similar to that of the ancient Egyptians, and the fact that the earliest Chinese writing originated from Shandong, an coastal area near the hometown of Confucius, it becomes clear that the early civilization spread along the trade route of the sea,
Why do you feel this is more likely than the alternative? Civilisations arose independently, communication between them was established and some ideas were then exchanged. I do not suggest this did happen, but simply ask, what makes you favour one explanation over another?

Considering how much time for the earliest civilization to emerged in Mesopotamia – around 5k yr, and so little time (so suddenly) afterwards in the other lands, it is difficult to believe that all these civilizations took place without any borrowing from Mesopotamia, unless someone can prove that there is a fast shortcut for the emergence of writing etc.
It took less than seven decades to go from the first manned flight to the landing on the moon.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby Forest_Dump on June 8th, 2015, 9:00 am 

I agree that there was definitely some diffusion of ideas along trading routes. I remember being very impressed with the evidence of trade around the Indian Ocean including the trade in slaves from Africa as early or earlier than 1000 BC, long before there was evidence around the Med or Atlantic. And I certainly also think early civilizations were in contact with each other through trade, warfare, etc., as well as often stimulating "secondary centers". However, that there appears to be correlation between some of these processes through time definitely does not mean that the connections were all causal even when some were. I think it is worth looking at the Flannery and Marcus book (The Origins of Inequality) to get a sense of the cycling back and forth through levels of increased complexity (i.e., how often more complex levels failed and "fell backwards") to see how it was never really a smooth or continuous transition in any one region. In other words, even within Mesopotamia, the area where many firsts could be cited, it would be difficult to argue that they did it on their own or that dsiffusion went one way. As to written languages, I think you might be on even thinner ice there. While I am certainly no expert on the topic, I think you would have difficulty pointing to much stimulus through diffusion between Mesopotamia and Egypt; East Asia was definitely independent and the Indus Valley a completely different beast.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on June 21st, 2015, 3:11 am 

Regarding the connection between Mesopotamia and Egypt, much has been said by experts, I don't even need to repeat; your statement that "East Asia was definitely independent" need to be substantiated. I don't want to say anything about Indus Valley, that requires a lot more ground work. From my perspective, the only thing independent is the signs of language: Egyptian did not used those clay tablets for recording, but that's because they invented paper so they can afford to paint and write freely. The early Indus VC also used clay tablets, which they almost certainly borrowed from Mesopotamia, which is very close to them. Regarding the 1st question of Eclogite, I have to say that he/she chose to ignore all my statements above, so why repeat them? Regarding the 2nd question of Eclogite, the relation between Mesopotamia and the late comers such as Mesoamerica is not comparable to the process of airplane to Apollo, that is not a valid argument; anyone can see that. BTW, I have some doubt about the moon landing story, but that is not to be debated here.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on June 21st, 2015, 3:20 am 

A little more on the point of Forest_Dump, I have done statistical analyses several years ago using the chronology of each civilizations, and found connection between the Chinese and the Sumerian cultures in term of number worshiping, which lasted until the Imperial period in the Chinese history. Then it switched to the Indian system just around the time Buddhism took over China. This finding has been posted as part of my essay on early civilizations (in Chinese only). It is on page 13 of the following link:
http://www.historykingdom.com/forum.php ... 99176.html
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby zetreque on June 21st, 2015, 1:21 pm 

Nobody has mentioned Jared Diamond's theory here about geography/location being the key to "civilization" centers (I always put civilization in quotes because as pointed out it needs to be defined every time someone uses it). You can find all the guns germs and steel documentaries on youtube.

I have a personal theory about humans being travelers (no, not 5th dimensional kind or not having landed on the moon, anything weird like that), and with all my traveling over the past year to national parks seeing native american sites and ancient dinosaur fossils, the time scale of life (and the evolution of humans that has so much missing data) still blows me away. The often cited 10,000 years might not seem like that long, but spending time to truly try to grasp the time scales involved can be mind blowing. It doesn't take very long for a species to travel somewhere or do something when we wrap our heads around time scales involved. Maybe it helped when I was traveling myself. Sure I had a vehicle capable of doing over 100mph, but being out on the road a lot thinking about the speeds people walked and migrated over humongous time scales, doing many hikes myself, gives a person a new outlook on life too.

After reading this whole thread I am not really sure the exact OP that is inferred. That everything came from Mesopotamia? That seems way too simplified to the extreme.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on June 24th, 2015, 8:24 am 

Mesopotamia is certainly the source of inspiration for all, but everyone had to figure out the details themselves, and that's why every civilization is different (but not disconnected). So let's call it borrowing. For example, how much has the Chinese civilization borrowed from the earlier ones? In the essay I posted in History Kingdom, I have shown that the Chinese civilization has borrowed the following from Mesopotamia: the lunar calendar, , abacus, ancestor worship, number worship; and it has borrowed the following from the ancient Egypt: brush writing and calligraphy, watercolor painting, the concepts of the heavenly mandate, of totalitarian government, of yin-yang theory, of death rising to the heaven, of the concept of the western clean land, of reincarnation, which was fully developed in India. Taken together, these indicate that the Chinese civilization is of secondary and derivative nature.
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Re: Some Thoughts on Early Civilizations

Postby line on July 4th, 2015, 2:10 am 

I would like to add a few pictures from my essay (2009) mentioned earlier (not from kdbet), which show the influence of Egypt on the west particularly Greece, and Mesopotamia on Egypt. I welcome all kinds of opinions.
First the alphabets
http://imgcdn.kdnet.net/UploadFile/2010-1/2010117175231148.jpg
Last edited by line on July 4th, 2015, 2:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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