17 November 2006


Not much is clearly known about man’s evolution. Fragments of man’s early life are discovered almost every day, and archaeologists and historians, while putting the pieces together, are forced to apply their imagination to draw conclusions.

One of the important questions that British archaeologist Steven Mithen tries to answer in his book, ‘After The Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC’ (discussed in ‘Stepping Out’, my 4 June 2005 post), is whether man evolved equally progressively all over the world. So far, it seems, he did not. Evidence from archaeological digs suggests that man had evolved in different paces in different places.

Not only that, even when man had evolved enough to build settlements which grew into civilisations – i.e. urban, planned, flourishing, well-governed settlements – around 3500 BC, these ancient civilisations appeared only in a few places across the globe. And, they came to an end just as mysteriously within a period of 3,000 years. Written records found in these civilisations are still being deciphered. Hence, archaeologists and historians are, once again, left with their imagination.

As much as Gordon Childe’s definition of civilisation encapsulated human achievements in terms of discoveries like the plough, the wheel, irrigation, writing, a system of measurements, the sailing ship, etc. (see my previous post), other archaeologists and historians have proposed that human organisation must have complemented human achievements in order to make a civilisation stand on its feet.

Human organisation, they said, included a centralised government (along with territorial/state management); social stratification or a class system (an administrative class, a privileged class in control of production, a priestly class, a working class, and producers); an economy (more precisely, the use of money in trade and transactions); a division of labour (according to skills); and a military for defence. Some have even suggested a tax system and population sizes (a minimum of 5,000 people staying together).

These were, then, the foundations of our civilisation. It was only later that academics thought of including culture (art, literature, music, cuisines, clothing, language, etc.) and a system of shared values in defining our ancient world.

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