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Friday, 29 January 2016

World History: Ancient Mesopotamia

The last post of World History (Link here: I discussed the Three River Civilizations with the aim of going into detail about two of them. Located between the Euphrates and the Tigris Mesopotamia gave birth to many city states. Within these city states we saw the development of many ideas and technologies which would shape the Middle East and Europe for millennium to come. These include bureaucracies, writing, punishment based on severity of the crime and even the concept of empire. Last time I touched upon Sumer, one of the earlier developed city based cultures in the area, but this time we'll discuss some of the innovations developed by the Mesopotamian cultures, their life and how they rose and fell over a period of close to 3000 years.

The Most Important Innovation
You may be wondering what these strange objects pictured are. They were found at the Mesopotamian city of Uruk and are very important to how we live our loves today. Around 3200 BCE conical clay tokens were used by the people of Uruk and many have been found in refuse pits. Originally they were seen as being amulets or gaming pieces although several archaeologists, such as Denise Schmandt-Besserat, have created a theory about what they were. As time went on these tokens started to change shape and have patterns printed onto them. It turned out that these tokens these tokens represented items to be traded. The shape of the token and the amount determined how many of said items there were (one conical token might mean there was one jar of oil). Eventually they were placed inside the above pictured balls called bulla (bullae being the plural form). Quite likely the bullae were used by traders to ascertain if they were being fairly paid. They could crack open the bullae and inside if there were four cones but they had four items they knew that the middle man had taken one of them. Due to so many bullae being found unbroken we can imagine they had some trust between one another. Later bullae (which can be faintly seen on the above picture) had detailed images on them done by rolling a seal onto them before the clay was fired. Theories abound the reason to this but the most widely accepted one is that this represents a person like a family seal. Quickly after the bullae were being used people found it was much easier to carve the token images into flat pieces of clay creating a tablet. The images drawn into the clay within the next few hundred years started to be done to represent the items themselves. This was protocuneiform. This was the development of writing. 
Within a thousand years the amount of signs used on the tablets halved as signs were instead created to represent syllables or the occasional word. Two main languages were used in Mesopotamia: in the north was principally Akkadian, a Semitic language distantly related to Arabic and Hebrew, and Sumerian, a language with no relations today. The first people to actually transcribe Akkadian used Hebrew and Arabic texts to do this. Few people were literate, not even kings could read and write, but scribes instead wrote down many things which archaeologists would later use. Writing branched out from economic means with law codes (such as Hammurabi's above which shall be discussed soon) to hymns being produced. 5000 protocuneiform tablets have even been found at several sites including Uruk, Tell Uqair and Jemdet Nosr, although few could read this did not mean that they were not widely read. Soon Mesopotamian scribes were sent across the world to Egypt and India establishing trade with the far off lands.

Other innovations
Other than writing Mesopotamia saw many other innovations such as the above tablet. This tablet is one of the earliest multiplication tables. Like writing geometry and maths was invented for bureaucratic usage and was widely used by Mesopotamian scribes. The first abacus in fact was created in Sumeria between 2700-2300 BCE. Sumerian and later Babylonian mathematics was also just as widely used as it is today with a sexgesimal system (1,10,60,600) being used for discrete objects like cattle, a bisexagesimal system (1,10,60,120,1200) being used to distribute grain and rations and a time system (1,10,30) being used to tell the time. Some of the first calendars were in fact developed in Sumeria and Babylon. Calendars were very important to the Mesopotamian cities. Unlike the early farming urban areas of the Middle East like Jericho in Palestine or Catalhoyuk in southern Anatolia the cities of Mesopotamia could be massive; Lagash measured up to 12 hectares and Uruk had a population of over 400,000. Irrigation was widely used by cities to feed their large populations and calendars were an easy way to keep track of the date for growing crops. To create pottery in 3500 BCE the first wheel was created. However, Mesopotamia did not just create mathematical and engineering innovations. Warfare saw drastic advances. Wheels were added to carts around 3200 BCE and attached to horses creating some of the first chariots and in Mesopotamia more powerful and more accurate composite bows were created. Although the Mesopotamian cities traded with one another they often went to war.

Mesopotamian Life
A restored Ziggurat of Ur
Due to the amount of literature left by the Mesopotamians we know somethings about the lives of the powerful. As it is always the case in history the average people are often forgotten about. We do know somethings though. The overall bias of the elites in texts shows us that like societies up to and including the time of writing elites controlled the society. Farmers grew crops and then gave them to urban centers which were then distributed in the city to people in return for creating products like pots. However, this was brought through slavery (bought or taken in war) due to the fluctuating tides of the Euphrates and Tigris and with anger. They were angry because the city took the food that the farmers made. In fact this clash of urban-rural areas (something which would continue throughout history) is shown in the first fictional piece of literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Taxes were invented as well to distribute food: goods were taken to fund the elites in taxes and in return they got food. Today we pay taxes and in return the government funds schools and the police, (or if you live in the UK goes to the saving accounts of MPs in tax havens). 

Religion was also very important throughout all of Mesopotamia's history, as well as world history. Cities were often situated around temples called Ziggurats. Uruk's two main precincts were in fact centered around the Ziggurats worshiping Inanna, the goddess of war and love, and An, the sky god. Early cities were led by priests as they were seen as the direct link to the gods. When the Euphrates or Tigris flooded or dried up it was seen as the gods being displeased and political instability followed. In fact in the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods who are displeased send a flood to wipe out humanity and some scholars see this as the origin of the story of Noah. Some elites of city society literally got in bed with several high priests and priestesses (they even have accounts of it) and used that to become kings. The city kings would war between one another and we would then see the first empires.

Akkad, Babylon and Neo-Assyria
The above image is of the world's first emperor: Sargon of Akkad. Born around 2334 BCE Sargon of Akkad would shift from the simple battles over trade between cities and start conquering them with the aim of placing them all under his ruler. Until 2154 BCE the Akkadian Empire would control much of the modern day Iraq and Syria. Here Sumerian was replaced as the main language and culture to be replaced by Akkadian. In fact Sumerian did not return to its once powerful position until the rise of Uruk once more. Trade proliferated under the empire as the united cities were forced to trade with one another and with a united bureaucracy we see trade further afield. Lebanese cedar wood for example was widely traded through the empire. Art also was done to look more realistic although this may be due to Sargon and his successors wanting their victories 'accurately' depicted.  Around 2154 BCE a mixture of climate upheavals caused a decline in trade and Akkad's enemies started to become more powerful and the empire crumbled.

Babylon would replace Akkad as the main empire in Mesopotamia. Another Akkadian speaking culture they rose from a small city in 1894 BCE and would create an empire which would later be spoken about in the Bible. The law code tablet shown earlier was made by the person who made Babylon such a major city: Hammurabi. Written in Akkadian and dating to 1754 BCE it is the oldest text of its length and depicts slightly over 250 laws. These laws varied on severity and likewise the punishment for committing such laws varied. Often what was done to the victim was done to the perpetrator. These punishments are harsh by today's standards with a builder who builds a house which collapses and kills the owner's son the builder's son was then executed. The phrase 'an eye for an eye' was created by Hammurabi; the punishment for taking someone's eye was having your eye removed. Trade was extremely successful with them regularly trading with the Egyptians and the Harappans in the Indus Valley. However they were often attacked by the nomadic Kassites in the south. By 1595 BCE Babylonia had collapsed. Climate change had caused a dip in trade with the far reaching Egyptian and Harappan Civilizations on top of invasions from the Hittites in the north and the Kassites in the south. 

Finally we shall talk about the Neo-Assyrians which rose to power in 911 BCE. Speaking both Aramaic and Akkadian from their city of Assur in northern Iraq they would forge an empire covering most of Mesopotamia. They even managed to invade and conquer northern Egypt! They were known for an army which was a meritocracy attracting many people but the army was very ruthless. They were deport non-Sumerian, Aramaic and Akkadian speakers and to move their own people there instead as well as cutting off appendages of people who threatened to rebel. Bilingualism present in Neo-Assyrian texts however suggest that some tolerance was shown. Like other empires shown Neo-Assyria collapsed under the weight of invasion (some people including Babylonians, Persians and Scythians) and severe droughts by 605 BCE.

Why is this important?
Looking at Ancient Mesopotamia we can see how much our society came from them. Taxes, bureaucracy, calendars, organized religion and social distinctions developed in Mesopotamia and continue to shape our lives today. Mesopotamia established trade with far reaching places and created connections with these places which would be repeated throughout history. Hammurabi's Law Code, although very Draconian, is very similar to our own with the concept of punishment based on severity of the crime. Even the fall of empires shows us how our societies can fall: a lack of friends, war and climate change conquered Akkad, Babylon and Neo-Assyria and could conquer us. 

Thanks for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-The Human Past by Chris Scarre
-Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden that Never Was by Susan Pollock
-Crash Course World History: Mesopotamia
-The lectures of Professor Edgar Peltenburg and Dr Ulf-Dietrich Schoop of the University of Edinburgh 

Next time on World History we'll be looking at the last of the Three River Civilizations which you might recognize from their lavish tombs.
For a list of other World History posts please see here

Friday, 22 January 2016

Who are the FARC?

Recently (as of writing) the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in English) or better known as FARC have asked the UN to moderate talks between the two combatants. Who are the FARC exactly and why are they organizing a ceasefire with the Colombian government?

FARC originated through a variety of means. It can be traced back to a period of violence in Colombian history known as La Violencia, a civil war between the Liberal and Conservative party. After ten years of bloody fighting a power sharing compromise (called the National Front) was made between the two parties. However many of the future members of FARC who had fought in the Liberal bands quickly became disillusioned with the Liberal party, especially as the Colombian government's economic project evicted small farmers from their lands and that only the Conservatives and Liberals were represented. In all around 400,000 peasants were forced to move to cities. People turned to the Communist Party of Colombia including the founder of FARC Manuel 'Sureshot' Marulanda (real name Pedro Antonio Marin) and Jacobo Arenas. In 1964 Arenas and Marulanda formed FARC as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group with the intent of overthrowing the Colombian government to install one similar to that of Castro's Cuba. 
FARC operated on a same basis as other Marxist-Leninist guerrillas. Largely they would work in rural areas where they had support among the peasantry. Here they would stage attacks on the army and government forces. When the National Front collapsed in the 1970s they even entered politics moving to cities to gain small amounts of middle class support and alongside several other left-wing militias entered talks with the government. They even founded a party called Union Patriotica. However the UP was severely hindered by proto-paramilitary groups, drug barons and even members of the army acting above the law assassinated UP members, in the 1990 election 70% of presidential candidates were assassinated. In 1990 talks with the Colombian government broke down, both sides were at fault with the army attacking a FARC compound and FARC had continued with their military activities.

Following 1990, and the death of Jacobo Arenas, FARC went from being somewhat sympathetic to a major criminal organization. Many governments during the 1990s even labelled FARC terrorists. FARC went into almost open war against right-wing paramilitary groups and the government. FARC started using car bombs killing many innocent people and they did the bombings in cities such as Bogota. They had shifted from the rural areas to cities to enact their policies. During this time even the peasantry who had once supported the militia started to turn against them as FARC rule in areas turned increasingly authoritarian. FARC started to fund themselves through kidnappings and through drugs. It is thought 60% of the cocaine entering the US is from FARC and 50% of the world's cocaine as well. They earn between $500-$600 million annually through trading drugs. Other than drugs and kidnapping groups such as Amnesty International have accused FARC of human rights abuses. Child soldiers are often used by FARC as well as landmines, poison gas, extrajudicial killings, the killings and displacement of indigenous people and even sexually abusing their own female recruits. In 2000 alone 496 civilians were executed by FARC and since 2004 80,000 indigenous people have been displaced by FARC activities.  

Decline and why Colombia is negotiating
Alphonso Cano, one of the killed leaders
FARC has been in decline from the early 2000s when President Alvaro Uribe vowed to crack down on the group. From around 16,000 fighters in 2001 this has dropped down to around 8,000. This been put down to desertions, government arrests and the fact that FARC had alienated a wide proportion of the people who once supported them. In a short space of time three FARC leaders also died. Marulanda died of a heart attack in 2008 and his successor Jorge Briceno was killed in a raid in 2010. Briceno's successor, Alphonso Cano, was then killed in 2011 during a bombing and ground raid. 

Currently the government and the militia have entered talks because the people of Colombia are tired of the sustained violence. For close to 26 years car bombings, murders and kidnappings have caused death and destruction causing there to be annual protests. With FARC slowly going into decline this is the perfect opportunity to create a ceasefire. FARC is not the only paramilitary group in Colombia with the left-wing ELN and the right-wing AUC being active alongside FARC. By negotiating with FARC this could possibly remove one of the violent groups in Colombia today and bring the ever sought after peace a step closer.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post and follow the blog. The sources of information that I have used are as follows:
- Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism by Eric Hobsbawm

Next week will be the next part of World History where we'll look at Ancient Mesopotamia. I hope to see you there!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Comics Explained: Azrael

On this new series of Gotham the characters have to face the Order of Saint Dumas, a sinister order who vow to protect the city of Gotham by any means necessary. The most famous member of the Order is Azrael. Named after the traditional Angel of Death he is an assassin for the Order to save Gotham and has regularly fought or fought alongside Batman. There have been two Azraels: Jean-Paul Valley and Michael Washington Lane. 

Jean-Paul Valley
Jean-Paul Valley made his first appearance in Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 in 1992. Jean-Paul Valley was a test tube baby whose DNA had been spliced with that of animals to allow his body to do things normally impossible for a human. He was unaware of his destiny of becoming the assassin for the Order. While studying at Gotham University he found out his destiny when his father, the Azrael before him, came in bleeding. Before he died his father gave him money to go to Switzerland to train with the Order. Although it would later transpire that his father had really intended Valley to flee and escape the influence of the order. Valley traveled to Switzerland where he began training with The System: a process where he would become an expert fighter to save Gotham. Unlike Batman though he was trained to kill not only criminals but anyone else who prevented him from doing his duty. His first time donning the Azrael costume he started to investigate the murder of his father which brought him into contact with Batman. It transpired that Valley's father was killed by a renegade Order member who had turned into an arms dealer. Together with Batman they took down the arms dealer but Valley was changed seeing Batman's non-lethal methods. After learning that Bruce Wayne was Batman he went with Wayne and became a member of the Batman family. 

While in Gotham the legacy of The System was still with him. His actions as a crime fighter were far harsher compared to that of Batman and Robin. When Bruce Wayne was briefly out of action he even adopted the mantle of Batman for one night which ended in disaster. He was beaten badly by the villain known as Killer Croc. Following this he placed himself on a rigorous training regime which even caused Tim Drake (the third Robin) to feel uneasy around him. When Bruce Wayne was paralyzed by Bane Valley permanently took over the mantle of Batman.

People ranging from Commissioner Gordon to the Joker could tell that a new person was under the cape as soon as Valley took over. However The System was still partially controlling Valley's mind. His volatile attitude and violent nature alienated Batman's allies including Gordon and Robin. He chose to let innocent people die in order to catch criminals, he let a murderer called Abattoir fall to his death and he renegaded being a detective in favor of simply attacking criminals. When Bruce Wayne recovered he returned to reclaim his mantle from the violent Valley. After a brief fight Wayne beat Valley causing The System to lose its control over Valley. The shy university student returned vowing to redeem himself in Batman's eyes so readopted his Azrael persona. Although when he was in his civilian persona he would often suffer hallucinations caused by the remnants of The System. During the No Man's Land storyline when the US government abandoned Gotham causing it to become one large gangland after an earthquake he aided Batgirl in keeping order. Both raised by violence they worked effectively well with one another. During this time he also managed to end the splinter group of the Order which created him. However in Azrael: Agent of the Bat #100 his adventures would end. When one of his enemies tried to frame him for murder he was shot and died protecting someone. Thus ended the career of Jean-Paul Valley.

Blackest Night
During the Blackest Night storyline Jean-Paul Valley would make a brief return. During this story a new Lantern Corps called the Black Lanterns would resurrect and order them to murder the living despite what they were like in life. Primarily they resurrected deceased heroes and villains. Jean-Paul Valley was resurrected and was seen murdering someone saying 'You don't deserve a savior who sacrificed as much as I did to protect your corrupt and misled lives. You don't deserve Azrael!'. The Black Lanterns could only see through people's emotions but he was unable to see Scarecrow who had become antipathetic to life when he had become immune to his fear toxin. Presumably when the Black Lanterns were defeated he remained dead.

Michael Lane
The Michael Lane Azrael would appear in Batman #665. Lane's life was full of tragedy. He started off as a successful football played after receiving a scholarship from Gotham University and served briefly in the Marine Corps. When he left and became a cop he got married and had a son. Sadly his son was killed in a traffic accident and in grief his wife committed suicide. His siblings were then murdered by a cult which resulted in him having a mental breakdown. Eventually a joint military and GCPD project tasked him in possibly becoming a successor to Batman where he was experimented on improving the capabilities of his body. Soon after a branch of the Order named the Order of Purity chose him to become the new Azrael. After adopting the Azrael moniker he would regularly fight alongside Batman, Robin and other Gotham heroes. Like Valley he would come to blows with Batman. When Robin (the most recent one) was kidnapped with several other children he was chastised by Batman for going after cult members instead of saving the children. He responded by saying that only God could judge him. Where violence had consumed Valley religion had consumed Lane. Recently he was tricked by Ra's al Ghul. Ra's tried to convince Azrael to use two superpowered beings called Crusade and Fireball to destroy Gotham if Batman, Catwoman and Red Robin (Tim Drake) prove to be unworthy. Catwoman convinces Azrael to see what had happened: Ra's al Ghul had manipulated him into almost destroying Gotham and that it was not God's will that Gotham was to be destroyed. 

Fans of the Batman: Arkham games will recognize Azrael. He was briefly seen in Arkham City but had an expanded role in Arkham Knight. Here Michael Lane is Azrael but his and Valley's backstories have been merged. He had been brainwashed by the Order to become Gotham's protector from a young age with a fiery religious fervor. The Order also shows its true colors by wanting Lane to kill Batman...

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this.

Friday, 8 January 2016

World History: The Three River Civilizations

Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley civilizations are two of the three oldest 'civilizations' from around the world. Located in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East they represent some of the earliest examples of large scale trade, social hierarchy, law and even warfare. These Bronze Age civilizations show the earliest development of modern day cultures being developed around 5000 years ago. We shall start with the Indus Valley or Harappan civilisation.

Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization
 The Harappan Civilization has left vast amounts of architecture left since being founded around 3300 BCE. They were a very literate culture leaving vast amounts of pictographic inscriptions have been found (about 2000) each portraying small inscriptions. Unfortunately we have no clue about what these inscriptions say due to it being a completely separate language from anyone spoken today. It also disappeared before the development of Latin and they never interacted with the Greeks so unfortunately we lack a Harappan equivalent of the Rosetta Stone which was used to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics. Thanks to this we know little about their political, religious and social life.

As shown in the above images the seals often portrayed images of animals with cattle being a portrayed often. Tigers and elephants also were often shown indicating some sort of importance of these three animals in Harappan life. We do know that the Harappan civilization had large amounts of social cohesion. The top image of the archaeological site is of Mohenjo-Daro which was a city 60 hectares in size and is thought to have had a population of 40,000 when it was in use. The city was laid out in grid patterns and the buildings themselves were made of baked bricks, already a vast difference from the stone used to make Jericho 7000 years before. The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro is to be noted as it is the oldest known public water tank of the ancient world. At 2.43 meters deep it is also one of the largest. It seemed that the Harappan people enjoyed hot water baths just as much as the Greeks and Romans would later do thousands of years later. Very few weapons have been found at Harappan civilization sites indicating that their culture was largely peaceful but the presence of lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, cylinder seals from Mesopotamia and Indus seals being found in Mesopotamia show us that they were proficient traders. A large trade work must have been operated out of Harappan cities such as Mohenjo-Daro something which would not be replicated until the rise of Rome or the creation of the Silk Road. Our ancestors close to 5000 years ago were performing large scale trade. Around 2000 BCE the Harappan civilization seemed to vanish and to be replaced by agricultural and pastoral camps and villages. We know it was a gradual decline because the later Vedic religion and possibly even Hinduism had inspirations from the religion of the Harappan people (a possible god named Pashupati is said to resemble that of Shiva). Archaeologist Mortimor Wheeler had hypothesized that invasion had ended the civilization but we now know that this is not true. Recent theories have cited a dip in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia and a series of severe droughts caused the decline of one of the world's first city based cultures.

Mesopotamia was home to various successive cultures including Sumer, Assyria, Akkadia and Babylon. Unlike the Harappan civilization where most of what we know is down to speculation we know much more about the cities of Mesopotamia. Hence this week we'll look only at the first of these civilizations and go over the others in an ensuing World History post. Sumer is the oldest of the Mesopotamian civilizations and was founded sometime between 5500 to 4000 BCE. While in the Indus Valley we only had two cities that we currently know of Sumer instead had more known cities. There were at least five major cities and thirteen smaller cities including Ur and Akkad. The Sumer cities were each ruled by either a king or a religious governor where each city had a unique but similar religion. Located in the fertile plains between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers agriculture allowed these cities to thrive. However unlike the Indus river the Euphrates and Tigris were much more volatile. The rivers could dry up causing crop failure or burst their banks flooding the crops. With their lives at stake the Sumerians turned to their gods offering sacrifices to appease them in order to keep the two rivers flowing smoothly. As a result we see far more religious fervor in Sumer than we do Harappan. 
This tablet depicts Enlil, one of the Sumerian gods
With religion so important to Sumerian people it is understandable that the cities were ruled by either priests or kings who claimed to be the descendants of the gods. Before we balk at this idea we must remember how integrated religion was and continues to be in our lives. In many countries you must swear on a religious books in court, in the UK bishops sit in the House of Lords, Iran's Head of State is a cleric and until 1945 the Emperor of Japan was historically said to be descended from Amateratsu. Cities often revolved around the large temples known as Ziggurats (the top photo) with some, such as the Ziggurat of Ur, being three stories high! Warfare was common with the cities as evident by the fact that the cities were all surrounded by defensive walls. These walls were far large than the ones which surrounded Jericho during the Neolithic. Diplomacy however was very important between the cities. By 3500 BCE the city of Uruk had become a major trader with its pottery being found all across Syria and Susa. They even traded with the Indus Valley Civilization from all the way across the Iranian Plateau! Many of the Sumerian innovations we use today. Around 3500 BCE the wheel was invented to create the much desired pottery to be traded which was soon implemented into farming which revolutionized agriculture. They developed irrigation and were possibly the first people to drink beer. They developed metrology and by 2600 BCE were writing multiplication tables on stone slabs and around the same time the abacus was developed. Sumerian cuneiform is also one of the oldest written languages in the entire world predating both the inscriptions on Harappan seals and Egyptian hieroglyphics. They also developed calendars, chariots, saws, nails, chisels, boots, hoes and countless other innovations. Around 2500 BCE the Mesopotamian world would be changed. A language of a city replaced Sumerian as the main language and the ruler of the city started to conquer the other city states. By 2270 BCE what is regarded as the world's first empire was founded: the Akkadian Empire.

What we refer to as the Egyptian civilization lasted close to 3000 years and most of its history shall be left for a later World History post. Historians have conveniently divided Ancient Egypt into 32 dynasties which are grouped together into tidier blocks of time: the Early Dynastic (first and second dynasties, 3100-2686 BCE), the Old Kingdom (third to six dynasties, 2686-2181 BCE), the First Intermediate Period (seventh and eighth dynasties, 2181-2040 BCE), the Middle Kingdom (eleventh to thirteenth dynasties, 2040-1730 BCE), the Second Intermediate Period (the rest of the thirteenth to the seventeenth dynasties, 1730-1550 BCE), the New Kingdom (the eighteenth to twentieth dynasties, 1550-1069 BCE), the Third Intermediate Period (the twenty-first to twenty-fifth dynasties, 1069-664 BCE) and finally the Late Period (the twenty-fifth to thirty-second dynasties, 664-332 BCE). Today we'll focus on the Early Dynastic period and leave the rest for a future post. 

Although the first and second dynasties do not have the awe inspiring structures which characterized later Egyptian dynasties, such as Abu Simbel, the early dynasties are nonetheless still impressive. The above art which Egypt is now famous for started in the first dynasty and was continued throughout the entirety of the thirty-two dynasties. The famous hieroglyphics were firmly developed during the Old Dynasties and like the characteristic art style they were continued throughout the dynasties. The rulers of Egypt, the pharaohs, had deep religious significance. Unlike the Sumerian rulers who were either the voice of or were descended from the gods the Egyptian pharaohs were seen as literal gods. They were the god Horus incarnate and thus were deeply venerated by the Egyptians. This was so much that it was believed that the pharaoh could influence the lifeblood of Egypt, the Nile. Under the first dynasty the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt were unified under one ruler, the first being Menes, with a capital being at Memphis. Here the efficient bureaucracy of Egypt through scribes first developed which would stretch throughout Egyptian history until being conquered by Alexander the Great.

Why this is important
The first three civilizations (what we commonly refer to a civilizations that is) occurred upon the Indus, Nile, Euphrates and Tigris rivers all of which produced fertile land. Three civilizations rose independently of each other based through population growth spurred on by the success of agriculture in these areas. This helps us understand how our societies developed and how our cities developed. All three cities show social cohesion, the development of hierarchical religions vastly different from what was being worshiped in Europe or the Americas, the creation of bureaucracies which offered a blueprint for our governments today and most importantly trade. Thousands of years before the rise of Rome people were trading with one another over staggering distances which directly influenced one another. A decline in trade helped cause the collapse of the Harappan civilization just as how a decline in trade due to stock market collapse wrecked the fledgling German democracy in the 1920s and how China's current stock fluctuation are causing trade issues right now. All of this can be found in the three river civilizations.

The sources that I have used are:
The Times Complete History of the World by Richard Overy,
A History of the World by Andrew Marr,
People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory by Brian Fagan,
CrashCourse World History Mesopotamia, Indus Valley Civilization and Ancient Egypt (,,,
Thank you for reading. The next World History post will be about Mesopotamia after Sumer including the world's first empire. Now I will leave you with Sargon of Akkad, the forger of this empire.
For a list of other World History posts please see here

Friday, 1 January 2016

World History: Origins of Agriculture

Agriculture is something that we all need in our lives. To make a ham sandwich for example wheat has to be grown for the bread, pigs have to be reared for the ham and cows have to be milked to produce the butter. Then if we have lettuce or tomato on the sandwich then we have to grow and harvest both plants which in itself takes a matter of months. Agriculture is essential to our lives and many historians cite the development of agriculture as the start of civilization (although 'civilization' is a heavily contested term). What is curious also to note about agriculture is how it developed simultaneously around 10,000 BCE (Before Common Era) in the Fertile Crescent, Papua New Guinea, China, West Africa, Sahel, Ethiopia, Mesoamerica, the Andes, the Amazon and Eastern USA. For many years debates surrounded the origins of agriculture but before we look at them we have to look at to period of time between the gradual abandoning of hunter-gathering and the gradual adoption of agriculture.

The inbetween times: c.12,000 BC onward
The transition to agriculture from hunter-gatherer societies occurred at different times all across the globe. As Britain was adopting agriculture Mexico, China and the Middle East had long adopted agriculture by a good 5000 years. This inbetween period also has multiple names depending on where in the world you lived: the Middle East it was called the Epipalaeolithic, in the Americas the Late Paleoindian and in Europe the Mesolithic. During this period of time several societies started to settle in areas, sometimes permanently, and partially adopt agriculture. At Olsen-Chubbuck, USA there is a kill site of 190 bison from the Folsom culture dating to around 11,000 BCE which shows some signs of sedentary living. Lepenski Vir in Serbia is a good example of this mix between hunter-gathering and sedentary lifestyle. It was occupied between 9500-6000 BCE on a river where the inhabitants had created trapezoidal structures to live in. Bones of two meter long sturgeon have been found and the inhabitants have been believed to have worshiped a possible fish deity.
The image above is just one of the stone statues found at Lepenski Vir over graves. The people of Lepenski Vir had started to adopt a sedentary life but still based their livelihood on hunting and gathering.

Theories on Agricultural Origins
The above image is of celebrated archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe (he also happens to be one of the few real world archaeologists mentioned in Indiana Jones). Theories about the origin of agriculture had abounded before his time but he was the first person to devote extensive research to finding an origin. He split the Stone Age into two: the Palaeolithic (pre-farming) and Neolithic (farming). His theory was that agriculture originated in the Fertile Crescent in present day Israel and Palestine. Like the Industrial Revolution he imagined a Neolithic, or Agricultural, Revolution which then spread around Eurasia and eventually an Urban Revolution occurred at the start of the Bronze Age. The revolution was interpreted by Childe as being caused by droughts so farming would solve the issue of a lack of food caused by the droughts. This gained widespread support due to the appeal of the idea showing human progression. However in the 1950s with the development of carbon dating and palynology (the study of pollen) found Childe's evidence was far older than he imagined or not from the area at all. It was also found that the Fertile Crescent had not experienced droughts during the time that Childe had hypothesized. Robert Braidwood in 1948 created a new theory based on new research methods. Like Childe agriculture originated in the Fertile Crescent but in the 'Hilly Flanks' of the Tauros and Zagros mountains. The general consensus is that one of agriculture's origins is in this area but why many archaeologists disagree on. Barbara Bender (1985) put forward the idea that trading caused social connections and to keep these connections food had to be traded which in turn required a surplus and farming to achieve this. Ester Boserup (1965) argued that food production was flexible in the fluctuating climate so people hunted more, with more food population rose putting strain on resources so farming was needed to alleviate this shortage. Ian Hodder even suggested that farming originated due to humanity's urge to control nature! Hunter-gatherers only have to work six hours a day to in excess of twelve hours for farmers. These theories may explain why people abandoned an easy life for more strenuous work.

Farming in the Middle East, Asia and Oceania: 11,000-4,000 BCE
The above image is just one section of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey which was in use from 9500 BCE to 8000 BCE. It portrays multiple columns several meters high, detailed art and sculptures but with an apparent lack of pottery. At around 300 meters in diameter it is amazing to think that people who lacked pottery could create such impressive structures that rival that of Greece and Rome. It is the oldest known stone monument ever built.
Carvings and motives like the one above show leopards, vultures, snakes and scorpions but few animals which were readily hunted like antelope and goats. This has led to many theories surrounding the purpose of Göbekli Tepe such as one with the site being a house with the art representing family symbols.However, one theory proposed by the discoverer Klaus Schimdt is that it could be a temple and if true it would make Göbekli Tepe the oldest known temple. This can be found all across Anatolia and the Middle East. Hunter-gatherers seemed to adopt either basic cultivation of crops or herding of goats before building impressive stone structures with religious significance. Abu Hureyra in Syria is a prime example when in 10,000 BCE the locals were exploiting nearby nut trees and by 9,000 BCE they were planting wheat and herding goats. Tel es-Sultan (better known as Jericho) in Palestine was a early urban area dating to around 9,600 BCE and was in use until around 6800 BCE. It is fascinating as it lacked pottery but had a wall which went around the entire site. There was a tower named the Chock of Jericho inside the wall itself which has been interpreted as a religious tower or a tower to impress traders rather than a defensive one (due to it being inside the wall). Curious to note as well is how many skulls were found in houses. These skull were covered in plaster and seem to have been venerated by the inhabitants of the city in some form of religion.

Around 8,000 BCE in Northern China the domestication of rice and millet started quickly followed by soy, mung and azuki. Quite rapidly agriculture had spread across China so by 7,000 BCE all of China had adopted agriculture. Many of the irrigation channels that were used to create the first rice paddies can still be found. From China and India agriculture spread to southeast Asia and Japan. Like in the Middle East the adoption of agriculture in these areas brought elaborate burials and large villages such as at Khok Phanom Di, Thailand which covers 5 hectares and lies in a mound 7 meters deep. Over 150 burials have been found here covering a period of time of around 600 years. Large scale trade of metals bringing in an influence of Indian culture where sites such as Lamongan, Java and Hau Xa, Vietnam adopted Indian jewelry creation. Cultivation in Japan started around 5,000 BCE but they had pottery since 10,000 BCE with the Jomon culture. By 500 BCE all of Japan had adopted wet rice farming stimulated through emigrants from the continent. The similarity between Korean and Japanese sites have led to the idea that agriculture went through Korea from Machuria and into Japan.

New Guinea saw another origin of agriculture. Around 11,000 BCE at Kuk Swamp drainage ditches have been discovered. The earliest cultivation of taro and yams have been found at this site, at least a thousand years before the development of agriculture in the Middle East! Around 6,900 BCE bananas and sugarcane started to be domesticated in the lowlands and just over a thousand years later in Melanasia slash and burn techniques were being used. Agriculture was partially spread to Australia, Melanasia and Polynesia but the conditions in these areas meant that agriculture was only done to supplement people's diet in times of hardship. Gourd, taro and sweet potato were grown all across New Zealand's North Island and parts of the South Island. However dog domestication occurred with dingos being introduced to Australia and kuri (now extinct) to New Zealand.

Africa, Europe and the Americas: 11,000 BCE- 1200 CE
Agriculture originated in the Nile around the same time as it did in the Fertile Crescent based on wheat. The rich banks of the Nile allowed rapid crop growth and eventually one of the most famous ancient society. Around 7,000 BCE in Ethiopia coffee, noog and teff were domesticated, in Sahel sorghum was domesticated and in West Africa yams, oil palm and nuts were domesticated. From 1000 BCE and 1000 CE the Bantu people who originated in Sahul spread farming across central and southern Africa with it merging with various other cultures such as the Xhosa and Zulu.

In the Americas maize was domesticated from the crop teosinte and was quickly followed by squash and beans. One of the earliest sites dates to 8,000 BCE at Guila Naquitz where squash and maize were first domesticated. At Koster, Illinois burials of dogs were found dating as early as 6,500 BCE! The dogs had been buried with jewelry and tools indicating some sort of affection that we have with our own pets. Turkeys were even domesticated by 800 BCE at Jemez Cave, New Mexico. By 1200 CE maize, sunflower and squash were being grown all across the United States, Central America and South America leading to some of the most interesting societies in existence including the Mayans and Incas.

Europe is the only inhabited continent which did not see agriculture arise. Instead Europe adopted agriculture thanks to migration from the Fertile Crescent. Although at Franchthi Cave, Greece 7,500 BCE snails were actually being raised for food and Knossos in Crete had been known to trade obsidian with cultures in the Middle East. By 6,500 BCE at Thessaly, Greece the domestication of wheat started. Like in Asia the adoption of agriculture in Europe was rather rapid with all of Europe growing wheat by 4,900 BCE (Britain and Scandinavia were the last to adopt agriculture). By this time pottery was widely used and has been used to identify the various cultures. One of the most interesting originated on the Danube  in 5500 BCE and would spread all the way to central France. It has been named Linearbandkermaik (LBK) for the pottery is characterized by straight linear running across it. LBK sites are known for their longhouses which can be up to 12 meters long!
A scaled model of the LBK longhouses 
In northern Europe there seemed to be a reaction against agriculture. It has been seen as Mesolithic peoples keeping a part of their original culture in the form of stone monoliths and elaborate burials. Teviec in Brittany had large elaborate tombs dating from 5,000 BCE which could hold many people. In Ireland several monoliths align with the sun or stars at certain times of the year indicating some religious or spiritual significance, the Hill of Tara for example aligns with the moon on Halloween.

Why is this important?
Understanding the origins of agriculture allows us to define what it means to be a civilization. For years we called any culture with agriculture as 'civilized' or being a 'civilization'. Nineteenth century historians called the Native Americans uncivilized and called Genghis Kahn's Mongol empire a civilization. They also insisted that any culture that used agriculture to be a civilization. This insistence falls flat when we remember that the Mongols were nomads and that many Native Americas harvested maize and squash. Understanding agriculture helps us understand human society, helps us question what it means to be a civilization and helps us know where we have come from. 

Thank you for reading and next time we'll cover some of the first cities. In the meantime I'll leave you with one of the most famous of the monoliths created four thousand years ago. The sources which I have used include The Human Past by Chris Scarre, World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction by Brian Fagan, Earliest Civilisations of the Near East by James Mellaart, A History of Japan by R.Mason and J.Caiger, Complete History of the World by Richard Overy and History and Settlement in Lower Nubia and A History of Archaeological Thought by Bruce Trigger.

For a list of other World History posts please see here