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The origins of ancient civilization

Early agricultural cultures were the true forerunner of ancient civilizations

Archaeological discoveries made after the Second World War, first in the Old World, and then on the American continent, proved that the origins of civilization go back to ancient times, during the existence of early agricultural cultures.

The formation of an economy based on agriculture and cattle breeding, and thus connected with the production of food, was a cardinal milestone in the history of mankind. Archaeological findings suggest that this break occurs during the Neolithic period. Back in the 30s of the XX century, the English archaeologist Gordon Child proposed to call the transition of human society to agriculture and cattle breeding the Neolithic revolution. At the same time, he was referring to qualitative changes in the economy, similar to the industrial revolution of the XVIII-XIX centuries.

Transition to agriculture, development of tools and domestication

The transition to agriculture, based on the cultivation of highly productive varieties of cereals (wheat, barley, corn, rice), led to stability in the provision of food to human collectives, contributed to the growth of the population. The cyclical nature of agricultural labor limited the time needed to provide society with food, and laid the foundation for social well-being. With the sedentary lifestyle and the development of specialized industries, living conditions have improved. Huts and semi-dugouts are replaced by solid houses — mud-brick in the arid zone and frame in the temperate zone. Numerous ornaments made of shells and semi-precious stones are now increasingly found in ancient burials. In them, the first mirrors made of shiny obsidian — volcanic glass, and stone palettes used to prepare various cosmetic ointments, which were stored in elegant seashells, also appear. Everyday life is increasingly decorated with richly ornamented pottery.

Bull hunting. Wall painting. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 6000 BC

Bull hunting. Wall painting. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 6000 BC

No less impressive were the achievements in the intellectual sphere. Spontaneous selection, which changed plant varieties and animal breeds, gradually became fixed in traditionally repeated techniques, while the agricultural cycle required the systematization of astronomical observations. As a result, positive knowledge was accumulated empirically.

In the field of artistic creativity, applied arts are widely used, especially the production of variously decorated ceramics. Many patterns reflect ideas of a cosmogonic nature, illustrating various kinds of myths. In general, with the entry into the agricultural era, the spiritual world of man became richer and more diverse.

The transition to new forms of economy, followed by drastic changes in culture, lifestyle and the spiritual sphere, was prepared for a number of reasons. Of primary importance were the factors that arose in the environment of human society itself. These included, for example, a fairly high level of technology, which distinguished primarily the tools of labor. In this sense, especially effective were tools in which the working blade formed thin sharp plates of flint or obsidian, inserted into a wooden or bone handle. They became widespread during the Upper Paleolithic and especially the Mesolithic, and could be adapted to various types of work.

It was on the basis of field equipment in the Middle East that such an important tool of farmers as the reaping knife or sickle was created. A prerequisite for further progress was the existence of a highly developed economic system aimed at appropriating food through hunting, fishing or gathering. The high population density was also significant, in which its further growth on the basis of traditional forms of obtaining food products was either difficult or completely excluded. Finally, the beginnings of positive knowledge were a necessary prerequisite for such a decisive invasion of the environment as agriculture and cattle breeding became.

Of course, any most successful combination of these factors could be the driving force of progress only in a favorable natural situation, and above all in the presence of the initial forms of potentially domesticated animals and plants. This factor was crucial in the early stages of the formation of a new type of economy. In the future, conditions conducive to the rapid development of highly productive forms of agriculture and cattle breeding began to play an increasingly important role.

Leopards. Painted wall relief. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 6000 BC.

Leopards. Painted wall relief. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 6000 BC.

Social and natural factors were manifested differently in different parts of the world, which, in particular, gave rise to a significant difference in the nature of societies and in the cultural complexes created by them. However, behind the colorful mosaic of archaeological sites, the main trends and patterns are clearly visible. Both in the Old and in the New World, highly efficient economic systems are gradually being formed, and the societies that created them are beginning their rapid ascent through the stages of progress. Now, in the vast world of hunters, fishermen and gatherers, who have mastered almost all the natural and climatic zones of the Earth, the societies of farmers and pastoralists are moving to the forefront of history. It is in their environment that a significant surplus product is created and material and spiritual values are accumulated accordingly. Early agricultural societies, which actively developed food production, became the initial layer of the first civilizations, although only a few of them independently passed this path.

Centers of formation of early agricultural cultures

Despite the undeniable and convincing recent discoveries in the field of archaeology in the countries of the New World, East and South-East Asia, the bulk of the information that allows us to study the formation of early agricultural cultures in a fairly versatile way is still provided by the Middle East and some areas that resort to it.

For the most Advanced Asia, we can now talk about the three most significant centers of the formation and development of early agricultural cultures.

Jordan-Palestine complexes

A special cultural zone was formed in the Middle East by the Jordanian-Palestinian complexes, which are an example of the gradual transformation of the hunting and fishing culture into a society of early farmers and pastoralists. Already in the X-IX thousand BC. e. here lived the tribes of the so-called Natufian culture. In the foothill areas, they were mainly engaged in hunting and set up their camps in caves and under rock canopies. For those living on the shores of the lakes, fishing played an important role. Among the flint tools, a relatively high percentage were the inserts of knives intended for the harvest of cereals. There is no doubt that we are facing a society that is “on the eve of agriculture”.

Apparently, these innovations were most widely used during the period under review. So, in Syria, 80 km south of Aleppo, the settlement of Muraibit was excavated, where oval-shaped dwellings with walls made of stone and smeared with clay were found. The inhabitants of Muraibit in the late IX — early VIII thousand BC were engaged in the collection of wild wheat and barley-during the excavations, grains of these plants were found in large quantities.

A female statuette. Baked clay. Tepe Sarob (Iranian Kurdistan). Around 6000 BC.

A female statuette. Baked clay. Tepe Sarob (Iranian Kurdistan). Around 6000 BC.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, there was also a qualitative leap associated with the transition to artificial cultivation of cereals. This has led to dramatic changes in culture and lifestyle. The so — called pre-ceramic Neolithic of Jericho is a vivid evidence of such changes. To the north of the Dead Sea, in the Jordan Valley, is the hill of Tell es-Sultan, which is the ruins of the city of Jericho mentioned in the Bible. However, Tell es-Sultan contains not only the remains of a settlement of the second millennium BC. Systematic excavations have revealed here a number of successive layers, combined into two complexes-pre-ceramic Neolithic A (VIII thousand BC) and pre-ceramic Neolithic B (VII thousand BC). They are” underlain ” by the ruins of the camp of the Natufian community. The collected materials confirm the thesis about the genesis of the local culture based on the Natufian traditions. The settlement of the pre-Ceramic Neolithic A occupied an area of about 4 hectares and was surrounded by a bypass wall made of stone. Near the wall was a massive round stone tower with a diameter of 7 m and a height of 8 m. Initially, it was assumed that this is the tower of the fortress wall. But obviously, it was a special purpose structure that combined many functions, including the function of a guard post to control the surrounding area. Behind the stone wall were houses built of mud bricks.

Jericho A, with its solid settlement and well-developed construction business, is already a typical early agricultural settlement. This, of course, is not yet the “first city”, as it seemed to some researchers at its discovery, which became a sensation of archeology in the 50s of the XX century. Neither the size nor the poorly differentiated production facilities support this conclusion. The presence of fortifications indicates not only a difficult situation of confrontation between different tribes, but also the accumulation of certain material values.

The neck of a painted jug with a pattern in the form of a human face. Hassouna. Around 5200 BC.

The neck of a painted jug with a pattern in the form of a human face. Hassouna. Around 5200 BC.

Further progress is observed in the period of Jericho B. Especially noteworthy are the successes in house-building. The houses acquire a rectangular plan that is more appropriate for such a building material as raw brick. The main type of housing is now a large rectangular room with an area of about 40 sq. m. The floor of the living areas was covered with lime plaster, often painted red or cream. In one place on the floor, archaeologists found even traces of a simple painting in the form of a branch of a plant. The walls were also painted red: up to a meter high there was a red panel, and above the wall had a cream color. Thus, there is one of the characteristic features of the new era — an increased level of well-being, concern for the improvement of homes.

Small figures of people and animals were molded from the clay. There were also larger human sculptures, made almost in full size. They were molded from the clay that covered the framework formed by bundles of reeds,and were painted red.

There was also a development in the field of nutrition. Two-grain wheat, apparently obtained by exchange from more northern regions, became more and more widespread. Hunting continued to play a significant role, as indicated by the significant number of gazelle bones found during excavations. The bones of a sheep, a goat, a pig, and a donkey were also found (the goat can be said to have been domesticated at that time). The dog, which was a companion of the Palestinian tribes back in the time of the Natufian culture, accompanied the inhabitants of Jericho. The third pet was a cat. Its appearance should be directly associated with the creation of grain reserves, which needed protection from numerous rodents.

Agricultural centers in Asia Minor

Asia Minor should be singled out as a special center of the early agricultural culture of the Middle East, where some features common to the Jericho tradition can be traced. The lower layers of the Khajilar settlement in the southwest of Asia Minor belong to the end of the VIII-beginning of the VII millennium BC. Mud houses have been excavated here, the floors and walls of which have been carefully smoothed and cleaned.

An important monument depicting the gradual formation of the agricultural and pastoral economy is the Cheyun-Tepesi in Asia Minor, dating from 7250-6750 BC and located in Eastern Turkey. As in the Jericho culture, its distinctive feature is well-maintained houses with decorated interiors. The floors of the houses are covered with a smooth lime coating and painted in orange-pink color. There are clay figurines of animals, but there is no pottery.

A birthing goddess and two animals guarding her. Baked clay. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 5750 BC.

A birthing goddess and two animals guarding her. Baked clay. Chatal-Hyuk. Around 5750 BC.

The evolution of the economy can be traced quite definitely. The first two phases are characterized by an agricultural-pastoral economy. The only domestic animal was a dog, the main prey of hunters — bison and deer. In the later phases of Cheyun-Tepesi, the economy becomes more complex. Hunting is supplanted, though not completely replaced, by the breeding of small cattle-goats and sheep. The farmers of Cheyun-Tepesi cultivated exclusively wheat — both double-grain and single-grain.

Archaic in the appearance of culture, located in the depths of the mountain ranges, the settlement of Cheyun-Tepesi demonstrates gradual changes in the methods of obtaining food, while the flourishing of early agricultural cultures is best represented by the settlement of Chatal-Huyuk on the fertile Konya plain, 11 km north of the city of Chumra, dating from the second half of the VII-first half of the VI millennium BC. There were more than 20 small settled settlements on the Konya Plain at this time, but it was Chatal Huyuk, which covers an area of 13 hectares, that most likely played the role of the capital for the Konya group of early agricultural tribes.

Mother and child. Baked clay. The El Obeid era. Around 4000-3700 BC.

Mother and child. Baked clay. The El Obeid era. Around 4000-3700 BC.

The basis of its economy was cattle breeding and agriculture. 14 types of plants were cultivated, with preference given to wheat of various kinds, as well as bare barley and peas. The seeds of pistachios and almonds may indicate the production of vegetable oils from them. Many seeds of the nettle tree were also found. Perhaps it was used to make wine, which was later distributed in Asia Minor. The herd consisted of small and large livestock. But as a kind of legacy of the archaic era, the hunting of the bull and red deer, often depicted on wall paintings, was preserved. Notable features of Chatal-Huyuk are the flourishing of art and a high level of well-being, reflected both in the decoration of the houses and in the set of items not directly related to production activities.

The settlement was closely built up with small houses built of rectangular mud bricks. Low platforms and bench-type seats were made of clay. A number of these houses, with their mural paintings and clay reliefs, were shrines. Funeral rites provided for the connection of living and deceased relatives. The remains of the deceased were placed under the floors of the dwellings with the preliminary cleaning of the bones from the soft tissues. The parts of the skeleton treated in this way were wrapped in mats or fabrics. The objects placed in the grave were varied. They reflected a high level of wealth, which is reflected, in particular, in the almost ubiquitous distribution of personal jewelry. Women’s burials were filled with necklaces, various bracelets, stone hoes, bone spatulas and spoons, while men’s burials were filled with stone pommels of maces, daggers made of large obsidian plates, javelin and arrow heads, and bone belt buckles.

Hasan Dag Mountains in the vicinity of Chatal Huyuk.

Hasan Dag Mountains in the vicinity of Chatal Huyuk.

The main tools of Chatal-Huyuk were made of stone. The main raw material for them was obsidian. The inhabitants of the settlement were also familiar with metal forging — this is indicated by copper and lead beads, but this innovation has not yet affected the main gun complex. There are tools made of bone. There are relatively few earthenware dishes, usually devoid of ornamentation. Only in the upper layers there is a ceramic painted with red stripes. The need for tableware was largely met by wooden products, which were found in large numbers in ancient tombs. Their forms are diverse: flat dishes with shaped protrusions-handles, and cups, and boxes of different types with tightly fitting lids. The outlines of wooden and wicker products also influenced the shapes of the clay vessels of Chatal-Huyuk.

The care of the ancient inhabitants of the settlement about their appearance was not limited to jewelry alone — it is on Chatal-Huyuk that we find indisputable examples of ancient cosmetics. These are baskets with blush, cosmetic spatulas, obsidian mirrors, fixed in the handle with the help of lime mass. Ochre was widely used for the toilet. In women’s graves, for example, it is placed in elegant Mediterranean shells mixed with some fatty substances.

Chatal-Hyuk shrines reveal the rich world of early agricultural culture. Along with the paintings, the walls were decorated with relief figures, sculpted from clay on a frame of reeds, as in Jericho, or made of wood. Sometimes these figures (if they depicted animals) were mounted with the skulls of a bull or a ram. Rows of such horned bull heads were placed on special elevations, giving the sanctuary a rather intimidating appearance. Stylistically, the paintings of Chatal Huyuk combine the ancient cultural traditions of Stone Age hunters and new trends. Murals that recreate hunting scenes, where numerous figures of beaters surround a bull caught in a trap, or overtake a rushing deer, are characterized by lively expression. However, most of the murals in Chatal Huyuk are conventional and schematic.

Chatal-Hyuk. Excavations.

Chatal-Hyuk. Excavations.

There are also large reliefs in the shrines of schematic female figures with arms and legs spread out to the sides. They undoubtedly indicate that one of the most important places in the ancient pantheon was occupied by the deity of fertility in female form. Sometimes in reliefs it was emphasized that this figure as if gives life to the head of a bull or a ram. It is possible that the image of the bull was already associated with a male deity. Later, this was traced in a number of Ancient Eastern religions. The picture of the cult of the goddess of fertility is complemented by stone and terracotta statuettes. There are many of them that depict naked women. In one stone relief, the figure of a woman is reproduced standing behind a leopard, which was considered, perhaps, a sacred animal. There is also a relief depicting two leopards with their heads facing each other. A statuette made of marble was also found. He is a seated man with bracelets on his forearms and a leopard-skin headdress. The special significance of this predator from the cat family in ancient religious beliefs is undoubtedly.

The Chatal Huyuk culture has generated considerable debate about its origins. Various interpretations were also given to it. Many Western European researchers refer to Chatal-Huyuk itself as a ” Neolithic city “or”agro-city”. However, having a significant number of inhabitants (according to different systems of calculation-from 2 to 6 thousand people), Chatal-Huyuk, meanwhile, was not a center of trade or handicraft production. The various kinds of crafts, with all the perfection of the products they produced, were nothing more than a primitive craft, not connected with commodity production. There is no reason to exaggerate the commercial function of this primitive settlement.

At the same time, the middle position in the system of small settlements indicates that Chatal-Huyuk, as the center of the agricultural district, could also perform organizational functions, even play the role of an ideological leader. Settlements of this type are at the origins of the formation of ancient Eastern cities — a process associated with a long cultural and socio-economic evolution. In Asia Minor, after the desolation of Chatal-Huyuk, significant centers appear only in the IV-III thousand BC. Nevertheless, the Chatal-Huyuk phenomenon is very significant as an example of the truly huge opportunities that the transition to agriculture opened up.

Early Agricultural cultures of Northern Mesopotamia and Western Iran

The third important center of the early agricultural cultures of Anterior Asia was Northern Mesopotamia with the adjacent mountainous regions of Western Iran. Here, in the VII-VI millennium BC, a culture of the Jarmo type developed. Among its monuments is the Jarmo settlement itself, the discovery of which in 1950 marked a new stage in the study of the early agricultural era, as well as Tell Shamshir in the Iraqi part of the Zagros Mountains and Tepe Sorab and Tepe Guran in Iran.

A ritual stone knife with a snake-shaped handle. Chatal-Hyuk.

A ritual stone knife with a snake-shaped handle. Chatal-Hyuk.

These were early agricultural settlements with solid mud houses, the foundations of which were sometimes laid out of stone. Only in the later stages does pottery appear, decorated with simple painted ornaments. But the stone vessels are extremely numerous and diverse, which do not disappear with the advent of ceramics. The clay was used to make cones and other pieces, most likely intended for games, as well as various animal figures. Realistic and figurines depicting sitting fat women with massive hips.

The agricultural and pastoral nature of the economy of the inhabitants of the mountain settlement of Jarmo is beyond doubt. Grains of two types of cultivated wheat and one type of barley were found here. There are also wild varieties of barley, peas and lentils. The number of domestic animals includes a goat, in the later stages-and a pig. The relatively constant supply of food provided the Jarmo community with a stable settlement. As a result, cultural layers of seven-meter thickness were formed here.

Relatively small settlements of mountain farmers and pastoralists were located in an area where the natural environment promoted an early transition to new forms of farming, but did not ensure their rapid rise. Thus, the presence of extensive thickets of wild cereals did not stimulate active breeding searches for new breeds.

The situation was different on the plain, where there are settlements with a more expressive culture. One of these settlements is Tel Magzalia in northern Iraq, near Mosul (on the Sinjar Plain), discovered by the Soviet expedition. The cultural layers of this monument are almost 8 m thick. The mud houses were built on a stone foundation. In the conditions of flat terrain, defense became particularly important. Therefore, the settlement of Tel Magzalia is surrounded by a wall made of massive stones, it had a tower and a specially designed gate. Thus, with the advent of the agricultural era, a special branch of the construction business is formed — primitive fortification.

Painted ornament on the west wall of room VII. 21. Chatal-Hyuk.

Painted ornament on the west wall of room VII. 21. Chatal-Hyuk.

At the same time, the Sinjar Plain was a cross between the cultural traditions of the East and the West. This can already be seen from the materials of the early agricultural complex of the Umm-Dabagiya — Tel-Sotto type, which dates back to the end of the VII-beginning of the VI millennium BC. Adobe houses with alabaster floors reflect the trend towards improvement, common to the entire era as a whole. The pottery is very peculiar. It is decorated with simple paintings with stickers, often made in the form of figures of people and animals. This unusual dishware is markedly different from the ceramics of the cultures of both the Zagros and Asia Minor areas.

The transition to new forms of economy, which gave such a significant effect, was made among tribal groups with different cultural traditions. With the discovery of more and more new monuments, archaeologists are able to consider this most important event in world history not only as a general pattern, but also as a concrete historical process. So, in the mountainous regions of Western Iran, monuments have been discovered, the culture of which is very different from Jarmo. This is, for example, Ganji-Depe, 37 km from Kermanshah, dating back to the second half of the VIII-beginning of the VII millennium BC. Its inhabitants have already moved to a solid settlement, as evidenced by the thickness of the cultural layers — 8 m. Figures of people, animals and a kind of pottery, not at all reminiscent of Jarmo ceramics, were made from clay. They were large storage vessels and small brown bowls with simple recessed ornaments.

A different direction of cultural development in the VII-VI millennium BC is established for Southwestern Iran by the excavations of such a multi-layered village as Ali-Kosh. It, like Tel Magzalia, is located in the foothill strip. Houses, starting from the lowest layers, were built of mud bricks, and their interior was often enlivened by painting in red. The process of economic evolution is interesting, drawing a gradual change in the agricultural and cattle-breeding economy, which develops forms that are optimal for this natural environment. Already in the lower layers, along with the collection of wild cereals, the cultivation of cultivated breeds — wheat and barley, as well as the breeding of goats-is practiced. Agriculture is gradually replacing gathering and becoming irrigated. The channels are indicated by changes in the flora and the appearance of massive stone hoes.

Early European farmers

The early agricultural cultures of Europe, in the light of new discoveries, look as ancient as the agricultural centers of the Middle East. However, the stages of the gradual emergence of food production through the cultivation of cereals and the raising of livestock, which we observe in the Eastern Mediterranean, are not yet traced here. Moreover, there is reason to believe that small cattle and a number of varieties of wheat and barley came to the Balkans through the early agricultural cultures of Asia Minor. In any case, in the south of the Balkans already in the VI thousand BC. There are settlements of settled farmers and pastoralists with mud houses, such as Nea-Nicomedia to the west of Thessalonica in Macedonia and Karanovo in Southern Bulgaria. The material world of the early agricultural Balkan cultures of the VI-IV millennium BC is characterized by a special richness of ornamented ceramics and expressive terracotta sculpture. The Balkan center has certainly played a stimulating role in the spread of agriculture on the European mainland. But he himself, for a number of reasons, in the IV millennium BC. It experienced a significant internal crisis and, except for Crete and the Peloponnese, there was no formation of civilization as a natural result of the economic and cultural evolution of early agricultural communities.

Early farmers in the former USSR

On the territory of the former USSR, there are three centers of early agricultural and pastoral cultures:

  • south-western, covering the territory of Moldova and south-western Ukraine,
    Caucasian, Central
  • Asian.
  • Along with local traditions, they trace a close connection with the oldest centers of Near Asia — the North Mesopotamian and partly, through the Balkan medium, with the Asia Minor.

At that time, the typical sedentary agricultural culture of Central Asia was the Jeytun culture, covering the southern regions of Turkmenistan and partly northeastern Iran. It belongs to the VI millennium BC and characterizes the society of sedentary farmers and cattle breeders. In the fields located in the lower reaches of the sub-mountain rivers and streams, barley and two varieties of wheat were sown. Agriculture was almost the main occupation of the Jeytuns. In any case, each house had sickles with flint inserts, the number of which in some villages was up to 30-40% of the total number of stone bone tools found. The domestic animals included goats, which were then supplemented with sheep and cattle.

The houses of the Jeytun settlements have much in common with the dwellings of the settled farmers of the Near East. Square in plan, they occupied from 14 to 40 sq. m. each of them was adjacent to a small utility yard and outbuildings. The floors of the houses, as a rule, were covered with lime coating and painted in red or black. The walls were sometimes painted in the same colors. Inside the house was a large wall hearth.

In the center of one of the Jeytun settlements — Pessedzhik-depe-a structure twice the size of the largest houses has been excavated. Its walls are covered with multicolored paintings depicting hoofed animals and animals from the cat breed, possibly leopards. There are also geometric figures, most likely it is a communal sanctuary. Adjacent to it was a vast courtyard and a granary. Perhaps, already at this stage, the priesthood began to perform the function of economic management, and the reserve seed fund of the community was concentrated at the sanctuary. Second in wealth to Chatal-Hyuk, the Jeytun settlements at the same time bear the same features of cultural development, indicating an increase in prosperity. There are numerous beads and pendants in the form of figures of animals, small clay figurines of animals and full-bodied matrons. However, the stage of stone and wooden dishes was left behind — in everyday life, clay dishes decorated with paintings, mainly geometric motifs, are widespread. The traditions of the Jeytun culture formed the basis for the further development of the early agricultural society of the south of Central Asia. Sometimes the Jeytun monuments reveal connections with the Jarmo culture.

A number of early agricultural complexes were discovered by Soviet archaeologists in the Caucasus. Excavations of the Chokh cave in Dagestan show that the first steps were taken here in the VII-VI millennium BC to cultivate local cereals, the harvest of which was harvested with reaping knives with flint inserts. In the VI-V millennium BC, the Central Transcaucasia along the Kura Valley was developed by sedentary farmers and pastoralists, whose culture was called Shomu-tepe-Shulaveri. Small settlements consisted of adobe buildings, usually round. This archaic tradition, fixed in the raw architecture, has been preserved in Transcaucasia for several millennia. Pottery is distinguished by a well-known peculiarity: for ornamentation, small patches were used, less often-scratched lines. Sometimes ornate painted vessels came from the southern regions. Animal figurines and anthropomorphic figurines were made from clay and stone. Gradually, copper products were also produced. In any case, there is no doubt now that the Caucasus has developed an independent center of early agricultural cultures, although it is distinguished by a certain archaism.

Hotbeds of civilizations in South and East Asia

The discoveries of the 70s and early 80s of the XX century showed that these cardinal changes, albeit to varying degrees, but in a relatively early period, also occurred in South, East and Southeast Asia.

Painted anthropomorphic vessel

A painted anthropomorphic vessel inlaid with obsidian. Hadjilar. 5200 BC

So, on the northwestern edge of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent, in the mountainous regions of Baluchistan, the settlement of Mehrgarh was discovered (VI thousand BC). At the first stages, there was an economy of farmers and hunters, partially supplemented by the gathering of wild cereals. It is noteworthy that it was hunting that delivered the bulk of the protein product. The animals hunted included gazelle, ram, goat, water buffalo, onager, and even elephant. Perhaps the first tamed animal, as almost everywhere, was the goat. In the layers of the middle of the VI millennium BC. the main domestic animals — a goat, a sheep and a bull of the zebu breed-are already presented. The inhabitants of Mehrgarh lived in solid mud houses. Large storage facilities have also been opened, possibly concentrating grain. Beads made here, in the settlement, from semiprecious stones, such as turquoise, and from shells are widely distributed. Among the latter are shells caught in the Indian Ocean and brought to Mehrgarh. Pottery appears relatively late, but, as in the Near East, it is decorated with colorful patterns.

In a new way, we now have to consider the history of the tribes that lived in the VI-V thousand BC in the Ganges Valley. At this time, there were small settlements of hunters and gatherers who used flint tools and made rough pottery decorated with relief ornaments. But in the clay shards, traces of cultivated rice grains were found (they are found along with wild varieties). In the conditions of specialized gathering, when villages consisting of huts were located near flooded low-lying areas with thickets of wild rice, the first steps were taken to cultivate this crop in the fields created by nature itself. However, with the low level of development of tools and social organization, complex irrigation agriculture, which could provide high rice yields, did not develop here. The economic complex of the tribes of the Ganges Valley of the VI-V millennium BC can be considered as a hunter-gatherer with an agricultural way of life.

Apparently, the role of such an economic structure within the traditional archaic economy could also function as the oldest agriculture in Southeast Asia. It was based not on cereal varieties, but on the cultivation of plants of the so-called full vegetation. During the excavations of the “Cave of the Spirits” in Thailand in the layers of X-VII thousand BC, along with rough stone tools, the remains of plants were found, some of which have obvious signs of artificial cultivation. These are beans, peas, plums, betel, and later beans, peppers, cucumbers, and bottle pumpkins. Wild varieties predominate, but there is also the beginning of domestication.

The center of early agriculture in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, where the cultures of early farmers flourished in the IV-III millennium BC, known since the 20s of the XX century under the general name “Yangshao culture”, is distinguished by a deep originality. Well-maintained frame houses, elegant painted ceramics, a variety of decorations indicate a new way of life. The rich diversity of the composition of cultivated crops, where the main role was played by chumiz millet, indicate the independent development of this center of ancient agriculture. Now the oldest stages of the development of early agricultural cultures of China, going back to the VI-V thousand BC, have been discovered.

Early American Civilizations

The origins of early agricultural culture were also discovered in the New World. In pre-Columbian America, as we know, two groups of society reached the stage of civilization — in Mesoamerica and ancient Peru, where the Inca Empire was only a legacy of earlier traditions. In both of these centers, successive stages of the origin and development of early agricultural societies are now found.

Already in the late third and early second millennium BC, a number of local groups of early agricultural communities were formed in Central America, within which there is an intensive development. Pottery is becoming more sophisticated and diverse, it is increasingly decorated with ornamentation-applied art is firmly included in the life and life of the early farmers of Mesoamerica, clay figurines appear mainly reproducing nude women, whose images, as in other early agricultural centers, were associated with the cult of fertility. There are also figures depicting birds and animals. Art culture is becoming one of the most important achievements of the new era of Mesoamerican civilizations.

Archaeological research conducted in the mountainous regions of Peru since the late 60s of the XX century has clearly shown that here, too, the gradual formation of the agricultural economy and the early agricultural complex takes place relatively early. Cultural layers in caves in the Ayacuch areas allowed us to trace the introduction of cultivated plants into everyday life in the VII-III millennium BC.

Initially, these were varieties that were not essential for the food diet — pepper, a gorlyankoe tree, the fruits of which were used as vessels, and a shrub containing a red pigment that is widely used in everyday life. We may be talking about a kind of technological “discovery of agriculture”, which has not yet played a significant role in the food balance of the ancient population. But in the second half of the VI millennium BC, plants of food value, in particular, quinoa and edible pumpkin, already appear. Finally, from the end of the V millennium BC. maize begins to be cultivated, which becomes one of the main crops of agriculture in Peru.

The origins of our civilization

Even a brief overview shows how diverse the movement of human society along the path of progress has been. Various economic systems were formed, but this does not obscure the general patterns of development. The transition to food production, and first of all to agriculture, was an important milestone in the history of mankind. It is in the zone of early agricultural cultures that the centers of the first civilizations are formed, and many successes of early agricultural communities became harbingers of the achievements of subsequent epochs. In the environment of early agricultural societies, effective economic systems are created that ensure the receipt of a significant surplus product. Such a system was primarily irrigation agriculture.

In the areas where artificial irrigation of fields was developed, there was a noticeable cultural and social progress. Agricultural labor in general and irrigation agriculture in particular contributed to the consolidation, development and strengthening of such a form of social organization of society as the community. At the same time, the complexity of the social structure, the specialization of activities, and the accumulation of wealth were prerequisites for social and property differentiation. For the history of world culture, intellectual development was particularly important, the intensity of which increased dramatically with the advent of the agricultural era.

However, not everywhere in the zone of early agricultural cultures there is a direct transition to the next most important milestone in world history-civilization, which is closely connected with the development of early class society and the state. Only in those centers where the productivity of agriculture was particularly significant, and the pace of social development is high, we observe this process. In the arid zone, irrigation agriculture has become a highly efficient food production system, and we see how with the development of irrigation, the birth of civilization occurs in the valleys of the great rivers, primarily in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Complex economic systems, large population centers that are turning into cities, require more and more development of management functions. The emergence of social inequality, primarily the emerging institution of hereditary leaders-rulers and priests, necessarily led to the establishment of social inequality, fixed by both ideological and violent means. The primitive equality of the early agricultural communities, which created outstanding works of applied art and actually began to ascend the steps of civilization, is replaced by the inequality established in everyday life and in funeral rites. The complex and contradictory path of historical progress is approaching a new qualitative milestone.

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