1. We have added a Gift Upgrades feature that allows you to gift an account upgrade to another member, just in time for the holiday season. You can see the gift option when going to the Account Upgrades screen, or on any user profile screen.
    Dismiss Notice

Just how old is civilization?

Discussion in 'World History' started by innonimatu, May 15, 2021.

  1. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2006
    Messages:
    21,177
    At that point, every human society becomes a civilization, which seems to defeat the entire purpose of having "civilization" as a term.

    Its ambiguity like that which makes me favor "was the society able to write about itself" as the determinant.
     
    PiR likes this.
  2. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Messages:
    32,811
    Location:
    Scotland
    If we see "civilisation" as a characteristic which is attributed to a society, a set of criteria that need to be satisfied in order to access the Civilised Cool Kids Club, then sure. But maybe we should see "civilisation" as a process, as something a society does, and the point of distinguishing "civilisations" is to distinguish the different ways in which a human population mould their environment to their needs.

    This is pretty much the argument advanced by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, that "civilisation" is something that almost every human society beyond the simplest hunter-gatherers has produced to some degree. I don't know if I agree, but it's worth considering. There's certainly nothing in particular that says we must define "civilisation" such that it excludes a certain portion of all human societies to that definition as workable.
     
  3. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    13,657
    I agree with that argument. In fact I would have the dawn of civilization put as far back as some 40000 years ago, or even more. Time is unforgiving and we have little more than stone tools found from that era. But we do have statues, spears, the beginnings of fired clay objects, musical instruments, and paintings. There must have been languages already, and oral traditions, teaching how to produce these tools. There's evidence of ritual burial, therefor the beginnings of religious ideas: other things that must be maintained, passed down. They didn't build monuments, they didn't write in anything hat survived for us to find so far, but these humans already had civilizations. The Inca "wrote" in strings, if they had vanished a thousand years before contact with another literate civilization to write histories that have reached us, would he know? What would be there to find?
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2021
    Snowygerry likes this.
  4. Tee Kay

    Tee Kay Silly furry

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2005
    Messages:
    22,006
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Yes

    This discussion necessarily entails talking about what different societies have in common. If you want to spin that uncharitably as "erasing distinction" then yeah whatever.

    My working definition doesn't take into account how people self-identified, specifically because we can't know that for certain for many older cultures - or even some contemporary ones arguably - and it feels kinda silly to exclude let's say the Indus Valley because they might identify more with their individual city-states or whatever.

    Hang on, are we measuring civilisation by whether they have an arbitrary large impact on history? Is variola major a civilisation?

    Yes, that can be argued over.

    Our contemporary civilisation writes more than ever about how they understand themselves and I still have no idea how we understood each other.

    Sure there's a vast difference between those two, but you're correct both can plausibly be described as "social direction", and I'm fine with that personally.

    I did exclude steppe nomads to a point, and smaller groups of hunter gatherers of the kind most of us probably were prior to about 10,000 BC. Again you're right it hinges on the "extensive" qualifier. I would say having civilisation as a synonym for literate also defeats the purpose of having a separate term though.

    I basically agree with this take; not coincidentally I've read a lot of Fernandez-Armesto.
     
  5. sendos

    sendos Immortal

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,414
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    How old is civilization? You can break that question down with other smaller questions.

    How old is agriculture? How old are humanity's first towns and cities? How old are humanity's first roads? How old are humanity's first cultures and religions? Etc etc...
     
  6. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    13,657
    Agreed, that would have saved is some off-topic arguments here. My question/point can be restated as a claim that all of these things are likely much older than has been assumed during the 20th century. What we are s a product of evolution as "civilized" groups for many tens of thousands of years, not just your old idea of the 10000 years neolithic.
     
  7. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2006
    Messages:
    21,177
    That just strikes me as postponing the question. What is agriculture? What makes a city? When does a tribal belief system become a culture and religion? If "civilization" is used to describe every modern human, being instead used to describe humans no longer hitting each other over the head with an antelope thighbone and grunting, it doesn't strike me as a particularly useful term given how little we know about that whole period and transition.
     
  8. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2004
    Messages:
    11,519
    Location:
    Earth Dome
    I think a very good first sign of civilization that was defined was a first trace of a broken and healed leg bone in humans. Meaning that someone took care of a person for as long as it took for them to heal. I think it is a very good and poetic starting point.
     
  9. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2001
    Messages:
    43,075
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
    I'd use "brewing beer" as a good starting point. That allows multiple starting points in time and place.
     
    Absolution, mitsho and Gelion like this.
  10. mitsho

    mitsho Deity

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2003
    Messages:
    7,950
    Location:
    Europe, more or less
    Sigh, the human mind and its wish to categorize everything… Some things are just fuzzy, up and down in different paces in different places. So, my question rather is: Why do you want to know? How is determining a cut-off point that probably will be arbitrary to a degree useful? Can we classify some groups and make nice lists, create nice visualizations with maps? Cool, and?
     
    Absolution and Birdjaguar like this.
  11. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    13,657
    And the Neolithic gets pushed further back!

    Beer and bread 14000 years ago? Probably further back, much further, we just lack the archeological remains. Civilization was a very long process, stretching further back than whats commonly assumed until recently.
     
    Birdjaguar likes this.
  12. Lexicus

    Lexicus Deity

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2007
    Messages:
    25,841
    Location:
    Sovereign State of the Have-Nots
    stuff like this makes me wish we had time travel because i really want to know what was going on
     
  13. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Messages:
    6,352
    Location:
    Climbing Kero Fin
    But as soon as you have time travel you are going to start interfering with whats going on so you won't really know what had been going on if you hadn't travelled there.
     
  14. Lexicus

    Lexicus Deity

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2007
    Messages:
    25,841
    Location:
    Sovereign State of the Have-Nots
    nope because i'll be a ghost
     
  15. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2007
    Messages:
    6,352
    Location:
    Climbing Kero Fin
    Convenient
     
  16. Boris Gudenuf

    Boris Gudenuf Deity

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2012
    Messages:
    3,830
    Location:
    north of Steilacoom, WA
    In order to say when 'civilization' started (or ended, for that matter) you first have to define what you mean by civilization not only by what it IS, but by what it is NOT: what is the difference between 'civilized' and 'non-civilized', and recognize that any such definition will have to be both precise and broad enough to encompass an enormous variety of human societies. Because, almost by definition, Humans are very adaptable, and both adapt to their environment and also adapt the environment to their own purposes. But if you try to use that as the definition of Human (as some have), then you wind up giving the vote to beavers, who adapt the environment around them at least as much as most pre-city-dwelling humans did!

    Writing is a poor definer. Non-literary or 'semi-literary' forms of memory are malleable, but amazingly persistent: the tribes of the Pacific Northwest have orally-transmitted stories that accurately describe the flora and fauna at the end of the last ice age in the area - 10,000 years ago. The Lakotah had pictographic 'Winter Count' calendars that accurately recorded events during the year and turned out to be precisely accurate when checked against neighboring literate records from Spanish, French and English speakers. Writing helps, but it is not a requirement for a defined and cohesive multi-generational cultural group.

    Technology doesn't work either. Those 'steppe nomads'(Central Asan Pastoralists) actually adopted pastoral herding after starting out as settled river-side hunters-gatherers/herders.fishers and (very primitive) farmers. And as pastoralists, the archeological evidence indicates now that they invented the spoked wheel chariot, the hard saddle for horseback riding, and (possibly independently of other peoples) the composite bow. They also managed to exploit extensive copper, tin and other mineral deposits and produced some of the earliest lost-wax cast copper and bronze objects - a very sophisticate metallurgical technique also invented elsewhere, but possibly later.

    In other words, while 'civilization' has been traditionally associated with 'living in a city'. Living in any kind of city (once you find a definition of 'city' - another slippery one) does not appear to be a requirement to have advanced technology, extensive trade, and multi-generational 'collective memories' preserved for longer than written records have been in existence.

    Mind you, living in a city surrounded by walls and other people may make it easier for a given individual to be 'civilized', as in having access to the fruits of technology and regular meals, and the benefits of mass population concentrated in cities have proven decisive in the long run, but it took a while: early cities also concentrated infectious diseases, so that they had a net population loss without constant migration of peoples from outside - voluntarily or involuntary, as taking slaves from enemies seems to have been part of every early urban group.

    I have a pretty good idea when people started living in cities - the archeology keeps coming up with new finds of city sites, but the trend is pretty clear that people started living in one place in larger-than-individual-family groups about 14,000 - 12,000 years ago (Incipient Jomon, Natufian cultures) and started producing concentrations of 1000 or more unrelated people about 10,000 years ago (Jericho, Tel Qaramel, Motza).
    But I'm not so sure that 'living in cities' constitutes the first, or final, or precise definition or indication of 'Civilization', even though the Civ games assume that . . .
     
    Birdjaguar likes this.
  17. PiR

    PiR King Supporter

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2012
    Messages:
    830
    Gender:
    Male
    That's how the myth of ghosts was created.
     
    Absolution and Gelion like this.
  18. Absolution

    Absolution King

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    635
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Israel
    So true.

    But still, each one can describe with prosaic words what a civilisation is for him or for her, and give examples.
    Comparisions between different views will also be interesting.
    And thus, we get a softer and more "fuzzy" variation of the same discussion.


    But then there's a point in time when everything gets together really fast, into a much more civilised form of society.
    In certain places, and they are called Cradles of Civilisation exactly for that.

    It took about 1500 years or less for the southern Mesopotamian marshlands to tranafer from the unclear periods of argueable civilised society that are discussed here into a full scale civilisation.

    For this reason, there is a justification to distinguish these times and forwards in a clearer term. If "civilisation" is not a good term for you, we may search for an alternative. But there is certainly a relatively short runaway point or period by which we can tell a major difference.

    (And was at different times in different places)
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2021
    mitsho likes this.
  19. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2001
    Messages:
    43,075
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
    View only time travel is the best solution to that problem. :)

    As I said up thread: Civilization begins when a community brews "beer".
     
  20. Zardnaar

    Zardnaar Deity

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2003
    Messages:
    13,127
    Location:
    Dunedin, New Zealand
    Theoretically hunter/gatherers could brew beer using wild grains yes?

    Same with bread?

    Building communities seems a good demarcation point and I think the oldest structure found is 35000 years in a cave.
     

Share This Page