AN01a3_Ch01: Beginning of Civilization- The Peopling of the World (Civilization and the advent of Writing/ Historic Period).
Timeline: ~10000 BP – 2200 BP (Neolithic Age to Iron Age)
FS: ‘Writing’ Helps in Planning Civilizations.
The Neolithic Age witnessed a transformation of Human communal living. Small, wandering bands began to take advantage of the knowledge and climate that encouraged a sedentary life over a nomadic one. As more and more decided to cast their fortunes into a common cause for survival, their agricultural output made village life possible. As the fledgling village communities grew, the resulting complexity of living together presented challenges. Among these was the need to record information for posterity as well for the use of others that were somewhere else.
I. Attributes of a Civilized Society
Communal complexity parallel’s population size, needs, goals, etc. To handle these challenges, a community develops broad, but distinct sectors. These sectors are generally identified as:
1. Government (Political Institutions)
2. Communication Systems
3. Commercial Activity
5. Social Striation (hierarchies based on specialization)
A. Presence of a Government (Institutions, Bureaucracies, etc.)
A system has to be devised to efficiently organize the community to successfully meet challenges to the common good. Forms of government devised over the past 5,000 years fall within a short list of main categories. There are major differences between the categories, but within the categories there are significant differences among the variants.
Categories would include, among others, … (1)
The growth of the community (soon to be a ‘society’) is expected to accelerate as learners to meet and overcome challenges. The growth will come from increasing births and migration. Once the community exceeds the norms of a village, it enters into the category of Town/ City.
1. Presence of Cities/ Towns
2. Increasing Population Density (Rising # of people per unit of land)
C. Presence of Communication System
What constitutes a ‘communication system’ can be quite diverse. It would be safe to say that any civilization would offer examples that reflect the diversity. Many of the examples listed are ‘complementary’ to each other. Together, they are supplemental to a ‘civilization’.
Examples would include…
1. Road Network (Travel, Transport)
2. Oral Data Transmission (Oral Tradition)
3. Literary Data Recording (Literary Tradition)
4. River Network (Travel, Transport)
D. Commercial Activity
Commercial activity is one of those actions that Humans must have participated in from the very beginning. In it’s simplest form, commercial activity permits Humans to acquire the things they need, from others, that they could not acquire on their own. Think about it; if you are farming, you may not have the time or energy to hunt. If you are hunting, you would not have the time to farm. The solution? Exchange what you have for what you don’t have. For this, you must have another party involved. Thus, ‘trade’ is born.
1. Presence of Markets
2. Gathering Resources
3. Create/ develop a Medium Of Exchange
4. Build and Maintain Ports (transport, distribution)
E. Social Striation
In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher describes the various developmental stages a community of people pass through before a polis is reached. One of those stages is when a community of people forms to meet common challenges. Each member of the community contributing their particular skill for the greater good. Thus, urban settings are made possible by a population that contributes it’s diverse set of skills and effort. Table 1, above, offers a couple of examples of skills that a community would need to prosper.
1. Evidence of Social Striation
2. Specialization of community roles.
3. Diversification of jobs
4. Hierarchies: Classes, Castes, Groups, etc.
A. Oral Tradition: The dominant tradition during the ‘prehistoric’ period (before ~6000 BP). The passing of a people’s history and knowledge from generation to generation. The information is often in the form of legend, myth, and stories. Qualities of this tradition include: Personal, a generation has a responsibility to preserve and pass-along the information, the information is only as accurate as the person speaking it.
B. Civilization: Any society containing the social complexities resulting from an advanced level of science and culture.
C. Literary (Written) Tradition
This marks the ‘Historic’ period (~5000 BP). Information is now recorded onto media. Qualities include:
1. Writing is ‘fixed’ onto media.
2. Less personal than Oral Traditions. It transcends ‘Time’ and ‘Place’
3. As permanent as the media it is recorded on.
III. Writing and Civilized Society
Increasing complexity makes the success of any developing community problematical. ‘Writing’ expanded the depth and breadth of the planning that’s necessary for civilization-building. Think of any instance in your life when you tried to get a group of people organized to complete a task. The more people involved, or ambitious the endeavor, the more difficult it became to get everyone ‘on task’ in an efficient manner.
Every segment of a fully developed civilization has writing as a essential data collection and transmission tool. We would find it strange indeed if we participate in our daily activities and NOT encounter written language.
IV. Developmental Trends in Writing
Table 2: Suggestion for the evolution of phonetic letters. Another variation is explained in the BBC video “The story of how we got our alphabets.” (2)
A. Written language attempts to parallel oral language. This could be phonetically based where the written form attempts to reproduce the ‘sound’ of the spoken language. On the other hand, it could be ideographically based where the written form attempts to reproduce the ‘thought, idea or sentiment’ of the spoken language.
B. Case Study: Chinese as an Ideographic Language
Given the difficulty of accurately isolating an ‘idea’ or ‘thought’ in a character, the interpretation and pronunciation of the character can vary somewhat.
C. Case Study: Ancient Egyptian as a Phonetic Language
Recent archaeological finds have presented historians with a new understanding about the birth of writing. The accepted view, prior to the findings, placed the genesis of the historic period in Mesopotamia- particularly Sumer (Cuneiform, c. 3100 BCE). However, findings made in the decade of the 1990s in Egypt suggest that a written language had already been in use as early as c.3250 BCE. This earlier Egyptian writing is associated with a previously unknown king who preceded Narmer (up to now, believed to be the first king of Upper and Lower Egypt- the first true Egyptian dynasty). The new king, referred to as ‘The Scorpion King’, is now challenging previously accepted views on Egyptian kingship and writing.
Egyptian writing developed from the use of pictures (pictographs) that at one time represented the objects drawn. As agricultural societies increased in complexity, the need to record abstract/ complex ideas or thoughts also increased. Soon, by the time of the Scorpion King, Egyptians abandoned the obvious meaning of the pictures and replaced it with sounds (phonetic). Sounds that would replicate the already advanced oral language. Now, the written language can tap into the existing meanings of oral language and begin to expand it further. This written language would become Hieroglyphics.
Table 3: This is a clearer example of the ancient Egyptian phonetic alphabet. (3)
A less-attractive example is offered by NOVA’s Pyramid website. (cited below)
Among the earliest orally transmitted data are Myths. Since myths were already ancient by the times civilizations developed, they carried great cultural importance. That importance earmarked myths as prime candidates for recording when writing became feasible. In written form, myths acquired immortality and represent some of the oldest and most sacred of religious texts.
Below, I offer other forms of data recording that have not become as popular as the two examples provided above (Phonetic, Ideographic). They definitely were the default method of data recording for their creators at a certain time, place, and under certain conditions.
The last table, Table 4, provides a peak into the media and writing tools that written languages require to meet the challenges of developing civilizations.
As need and expectations vary and evolve, the media upon which the data is recorded undergoes change. If the media changes, the writing implement evolves accordingly. The environment plays a significant role in determining the nature of the media as you might suspect from some of the examples.
– Chinese Gov’t efforts to change language (2 May 09) http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/02/chinese-language-ever-evolving/?th&emc=th
– Update: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/nyregion/22chinese.html
– Why are these 32 symbols found in ancient caves all over Europe? http://www.ted.com/talks/genevieve_von_petzinger_why_are_these_32_symbols_found_in_ancient_caves_all_over_europe
– Pyramids. PBS’ NOVA. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/hieroglyph/hieroglyph4.html (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/hieroglyph/hieroglyph4.html) Accessed 13 August 2016.
(1) This is NOT an all-inclusive list. Nor is it in any particular order relevant to chronology or popularity. I chose these forms because they are most likely the examples most familiar to my audience.
(2) The Story of How we Got our Alphabet. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14544388 Last accessed 12 August 2016.
(3) http://artsmart3.tripod.com/History/Egypt/Hieroglyph/alphabet.gif Accessed 13 August 2016.
(4) The Aztecs. “Indians of North America”. Frances F. Berdan. Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
(5) Code of the Quipu. Marcia and Robert Ascher. University of Michigan Press, 1981, pg. 3.
(6) Moche illustration from a clay vessel. Taken from literature published and distributed as part of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Exhibit, American Museum of Natural History 1994 – 1995. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/28/arts/arts-artifacts-dazzling-jewelry-from-peru-s-mystery-people.html