The Yellow River.

Report
The Great River Valleys &
Developing States
Trade enriches. Gold-laden
graves in a 6,000-year-old
cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria
lie by an inlet beside a woodbuilt village that is quite
different from mud-walled
settlements in the interior,
where the graves are under
the houses. The Varna
culture vanished—
overwhelmed perhaps by
horse-tamers from the
nearby steppes.
Why focus on Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley,
and China?
• Earliest large populations
• Development of monumental architecture
• Development of writing
– Social/economic relationships can be better
understood
– Religious beliefs
– Political/legal systems become clearer
Ecologies of Regional River Systems
•
•
•
•
Nile
– Regular annual flood
– Abundant sunshine, few storms
– Black earth
– Natural boundaries
Tigris and Euphrates
– Irregular flooding
– Violent, unpredictable storms
– Region open to invaders
Indus and Saraswati
– Two periods of flooding annually, thus two crops possible
– Monsoon
– Natural boundaries, but large expanse (half million square miles)
Yellow and Yangtze Rivers
– Irregular floods
– Loess in river replenishes nutrients in soil
– Isolation because of natural boundaries of desert and mountains
– Diversity of millet and grain crops (Yellow River) and rice (Yangtze River)
provides greater yields, protection against famine
Connections Between Ecology and Culture
•
•
•
•
Egypt
– God-kings, population spread along Nile River, wealthy from trade (less need for imports),
developed writing and literature, rigid social/economic classes, no written laws (moral
codes), belief in possible good afterlife
– Stable culture, government
– Regular changes in government and culture
Mesopotamia
– Kings governing rigidly stratified urban societies, developed writing and literature, wealth
from trade (but greater need for goods from elsewhere), written laws, belief that afterlife is
bad
Indus Valley
– Political organization unknown, writing undeciphered, urban societies (may have been
independent city-states), religious beliefs unknown, internal trade and trade with
Mesopotamians, highly organized cities with social stratification in some
– Cities collapsed in early 2nd millennium B.C.E.
China
– Kings with control over religion, developed writing, feudal control over expanding territory,
internal trade and wealth from abundant agriculture, social stratification
– Stable culture, government
“cultural divergence”?
Differences in political structure, religion, trade,
writing, social structure emerge alongside this
move towards states.
Nebamun’s
tomb from the
fourteenth
century B.C.E.
shows the
Egyptian vizier
hunting in the
lush Nile delta,
abundant in fish
below his reedbuilt boat,
prolific in the
bird and insect
life flushed from
the blue thickets
at his approach.
He grabs birds by
the handful and
wields a snake
like a whip.
© The British
Museum/Art
Resource, NY
Hatshepsut
Diplomatic gifts. Hatshepsut’s envoy presents swords, ceremonial axes, and strung beads to the king and
queen of Punt. More important, economically, than these diplomatic gifts were the vast amounts of grain and
cattle the Egyptians shipped to Punt in exchange for the costly aromatic trees they acquired for the garden of
the memorial temple Hatshepsut (r. c. 1503–1483 B.C.E.) was building for herself. (Fernandez-Armesto)
Making bread. Some of the activities portrayed in ancient Egyptian tomb-offerings seem humdrum.
Beer-making or—as in this example, nearly 3,000 years old—bread-making, are among the most
common scenes. But these were magical activities that turned barely edible grains into mind expanding
drinks and a life-sustaining staple food. (Fernandez-Armesto)
The ziggurat of Ur.
Gilgamesh, king of
Uruk, hero of the
world’s earliest known
work of imaginative
literature, shown in a
relief more than 3,000
years old, kills the Bull
of Heaven. The bull was
a personification of
drought. It was part of
a king’s job to
mastermind irrigation.
Royal Museums of Art
and History, Brussels,
Belgium. Copyright
IRPA–KIK, Brussels,
Belgium.
King Gudea (r. 2141–2122 B.C.E.) of
Lagash in Sumeria, was one of
ancient Mesopotamia’s most
determined propagandists,
distributing dozens of statues of
himself to other rulers. This
example is typical, with his head
bound by his characteristic lamb’s
fleece fillet, his overflowing oil
flagon (signifying abundance under
his rule), and the selfglorifying
inscription that covers his robe. But
the propaganda may have been
born of despair. After his reign,
Lagash vanishes from the historical
record. (Fernandez-Armesto)
Mohenjodaro
Harappan seals. In the
last couple of centuries,
scholarly code-crackers
have worked out how to
read most of the world’s
ancient scripts. But the
writing on Harappan
seals remains elusive.
The seals seem to depict
visions and monsters—
but the messages they
conveyed were probably
of routine merchants,
data-stock-taking and
prices. In most cases that
we know of, writing was
first devised to record
information too
uninteresting for people
to confide to memory.
(Fernandez-Armesto)
Dancing girl. One of a
collection of bronze figures
known as “dancing girls”
unearthed at Mohenjodaro.
Their sinuous shapes, sensual
appeal, and provocative poses
suggest to some scholars that
they may portray temple
prostitutes. They are modeled
with a freedom that contrasts
with the formality and rigidity
of the handful of
representations of male
figures that survive from the
same Civilization. Dancing girl.
Bronze statuette from
Mohenjo Daro. Indus Valley
Civilization. National Museum,
New Delhi, India.
Borromeo/Art Resource, NY
Harappan elite. Society and
politics of ancient Harappa
remain mysterious because
little art survives as a clue to
what went on, and we do not
know how to decipher
Harappan writings. A few
sculptures, like this one from
Mohenjodaro, depict members
of an elite. The embroidered
robe, jeweled crown, combed
beard, and grave face all imply
power—but is it priestly
power, political power, or
both? Andy Crawford ©
Dorling Kindersley, Courtesy of
the National Museum, New
Delhi
Harappan Civilization
Weighing the soul. About 4,500 years ago, Egyptian sensibilities
changed. Instead of showing the afterlife as a prolongation of life in
this world, tomb-painters began to concentrate on morally symbolic
scenes, in which gods interrogate the dead and weigh their good
against their evil deeds. (Fernandez-Armesto)
The Yellow River. The powdery, wind-blown soil from inner Asia that gives the Yellow River its name is highly fertile if
irrigated. In a climate slightly warmer and slightly wetter than today’s, it produced great quantities of millet in the third and
second millennia B.C.E. What we now think of as Chinese civilization took shape when this region combined economically
and politically with the moist, rice-producing Yangtze valley to the south. (Fernandez-Armesto)
Oracle bones in China in
the second millennium
B.C.E. were heated until
they cracked. Specialist
diviners—shamans at first,
later royal appointees—
read the future along the
lines of the cracks,
scratching their
interpretations into the
bone. Most predictions
were formal and even
banal. This example says
characteristically, “If the
king hunts, there will be
no disaster.”
Connections Between Ecology and Culture
 Egypt
 God-kings, population spread along Nile River, wealthy from trade (less need for
imports), developed writing and literature, rigid social/economic classes, no written
laws (moral codes), belief in possible good afterlife
 Stable culture, government
 Regular changes in government and culture
 Mesopotamia
 Kings governing rigidly stratified urban societies, developed writing and literature,
wealth from trade (but greater need for goods from elsewhere), written laws, belief
that afterlife is bad
 Indus Valley
 Political organization unknown, writing undeciphered, urban societies (may have been
independent city-states), religious beliefs unknown, internal trade and trade with
Mesopotamians, highly organized cities with social stratification in some
 Cities collapsed in early 2nd millennium B.C.E.
 China
 Kings with control over religion, developed writing, feudal control over expanding
territory, internal trade and wealth from abundant agriculture, social stratification
 Stable culture, government
Today’s Question
Is hierarchy necessary in complex human societies?
Consider
 Hierarchy in early complex societies responded to deficiencies in
communications technology and from differential control of scarce resources.
 Today, productive resources are sufficient to overcome scarcity.
 Today, global communications via the Internet can theoretically link everyone
together.
 Modern political theory vests sovereignty in “the people” and respects the
rights of all individuals.
 Have we created the conditions in which it is possible to put modern theory into
practice and do away with hierarchical leadership?
 What useful functions do leaders still serve?
 Can we at least make access to leadership more equitable and restrict the abuse of
power more effectively?

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