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Ancient civilisations

  1. Jul 10, 2005 #1
    Lost Ancient civilisations

    That's always a hot topic, sometimes leading to less scientific ideas and indeed it's hard to keep it on the straight and narrow path. If only we knew which path that was; hence heated debates. The aim of this thread is to find that path and stay on it, although I realise that this ambition is rather far fetched.

    Anyway, the essential question here appears to be:
    Moonbear added some valuable notes.
    But the question still seem to stand, why didn't that happen 5-10kya, or something, after the appearance of H. sapiens? SelfAdjoint has a good point too:

    And it's evidence that count. Not our imagination of course. Now it's getting really delicate but I agree there are a few (more or less disputed) features that may point to unknown ancient civilisations indeed.

    http://www.marsearthconnection.com/cuba.html, discussed here

    So, what else is there to say? Could there have been unknown civilisations like the Egyptian, Greek or the Roman empires but say anywhere around 150,000 years ago, give or take some 50,000 years?.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2005
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  3. Jul 10, 2005 #2


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    I absolutely don't agree that our previous thread had anything to do with "lost civilizations". The modern human species spent a long time in the lower stone age, with a stone kit that didn't change at all for thousands of years. Then came the Cro-Magnon cultural explosion, which was way pre-agriculture and pre-domestication, except dogs. Like 25,000-35,000 years ago versus less than 10,000 years ago for neolithic with domestic animals and/or agriculture. After 10,000 years ago you have towns in the fertile crescent and its surrounding uplands, and also in Egypt and the Indus valley. Nothing unknown or lost about that.
  4. Jul 10, 2005 #3


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    Right, we weren't talking about lost civilizations, but the development of civilizations. What I wasn't certain about was what we were defining as a civilization. I based my comments on the assumption that by civilization, we mean forming stable settlements, not necessarily the cultural developments that preceded that. But, it's possible that civilization here is being defined as a shift in culture, such as development of stone tools or cave paintings rather than a shift from a nomadic/migratory existence to a more permanent settlement centered around agriculture.

    Are there indications of more permanent settlements pre-dating agriculture? Were there non-nomadic hunter-gatherers? If so, this would completely toss out my ideas about needing to stumble upon appropriate species for domestication (plant or animal) as critical for formation of civilizations.
  5. Jul 10, 2005 #4


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    Originally Posted by andre
    If ancient H sapiens ~200 Kya, was anatomically similar to the modern version, how come that he apparently never seem to bother developing complicated civilisations, whilst the modern men needed only some 4-6 Kya to accomplish that.

    Could it that there simply was not enough of them, and those that did exist,
    "may be in small groups", defended there patch from intruders.
    What was the life span back then 30, 40 yrs ?
    An what about the gene pool ?
  6. Jul 10, 2005 #5
    Hold it, my question was
    Which would imply that we should be certain that he didn't do that in the first place. I simply challenged that. There seems to be no need to wait hundreds of thousands of years with domesticing stock, invent fire and/or the wheel, steel and concrete. But there must be evidence first before you can start up the scientific method.
  7. Jul 10, 2005 #6


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    It's not as if we don't have plenty of sites from these people. Maybe their fine arts didn't survive, but there are no domesticated animal bones, surely no trace of the wheel, or towns, and as I keep repeating the stone implements were crude and unchanging for thousands of years. You ain't going to turn that into a civilization by any real defnition.

    Something happened to those people around 35,000 years ago that doesn't show up in their physical remains.
  8. Jul 10, 2005 #7


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    How did permanent human settlements, of more than a dozen or so families, first form? When? Why?

    As SA has already indirectly mentioned (and Moonbear directly), it seems to be related to domestication of plants and animals (hunter-gatherer social units needed - and still need - a fairly large territory to avoid starvation). That begs the question of what was domesticated (first), when, and how. One can also get a handle on this by looking at places where there never was (apparently) any domestication.

    IIRC, at least one popular book explores the factors that lead to large settlements once domestication of plants (especially cereals) got going - it was a sad day (apparently it lead to social stratification, much more work, lower life expectancy, and so on), but once on the treadmill, the only 'way back' was population collapse (a.k.a. mass starvation).

    So why did domestication take so long, even where all the conditions were favourable?

    [edit: added attribution to Moonbear's post]
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2005
  9. Jul 11, 2005 #8
    Domestication, how? The easiest way would probably be caring for orphans. No knowledge about this but on Animal Planet TV, I’ve seen a lioness taking care of a baby gazelle under natural conditions. So what chances are there that a primitive females, who maybe just lost a baby, cared for a young orphan animal after a successful hunt?

    I believe that archaeology and history give an abundance of serious regressions. How many empires have collapsed? Olmecs, Inca, Phoenicians? How about the sea people, the dark middle ages, etc. What happened to the Moai Statue builders of Eastern island?

    Have those statues or other features like that ever been dated? Now, this would seem to be useless in the past, since that would only reveal when the rock was formed. However, nowadays there are several dating methods that show exposure to light (opto-luminescence) or cosmogenic radio-activity, (10Be/26Al, 36Cl, etc). This could give an indication when the statues would have been sculpted.
  10. Jul 11, 2005 #9
    Developing a civilization has something to do with the ability of the society of sustain the progress. A lot of factors like war, natural disasters, beliefs of the society etc could destabilize a budding civilization in its infancy. But it was also possible that an advanced civilization faced a calamity of largescale, their place forsaken and buried deep in the sands of time until someone discovers it.
  11. Jul 11, 2005 #10
    Tales of children

    Curiously enough that discussion seems to be at least 2350 years old:


    Not claiming anything but just pondering; haven't we seen the streams of heaven somewhere else?
  12. Jul 11, 2005 #11


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    If it is domestication of at least some plants and animals (i.e. just domesticating one species may not be enough) is the prerequisite for permanent settlements of any significant size, which itself is a prerequisite for developing agriculture, then we've morphed Andre's question to something like "why did Homo sap. take so long to get around to domesticating {insert list here}?" where 'so long' is at least 50 k years, and maybe as many as 150 k years.

    Perhaps there were climate triggers for domestication? Or that domestication wasn't possible with the animals and plants in Homo sap.'s home, so had to wait until enough members of the species migrated to locales where there was a favourable combo?
  13. Jul 11, 2005 #12
    There are more variables though. How about fishing. Some river deltas could have yielded an abundance of fish around the year. The invention of the fishing net or another fishing device may have been the most important start of a more permanent settling.
  14. Jul 11, 2005 #13


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    Long term fishing communities are easy to spot, by the mounds of fish bones they have discarded over time. Unlike hunting communities, they can't move around, but are stuck at the shoreline features where coastal fish are found.
  15. Jul 11, 2005 #14
    Sure, we have excellent and detailed examples here around the North Sea, especially Danmark, late Pleistocene. But it the problem is when paleo-sea levels appear to vary almost a kilometer (and not the nice 127 meters of the ice age), from ~700m down concerning the Cuban megalithic site, for what it is worth, to +150m for the South Chinese sea and Beijing <80 kya
  16. Jul 11, 2005 #15


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    This is not wholly true, there exist exceptions to your for the most part correct rule:

    At Iceland (and probably the Norse settlement in Greenland), they prepared the bones into a mush and ate them as well.
    Thus, you find very few fish-bones there.
    This is how they did it:
    They made a large vat of milk in which fishbones were placed after they'd eaten the fish. After some time in the milk, the fishbones became soft and could be eaten.

    It is a meager diet, but in a culture bordering on starvation, everything that can be eaten is eaten.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2005
  17. Jul 11, 2005 #16
    The first farming, appeared in [the Middle East ] the Fertile Crescent some 12,500 years ago, and shortly thereafter in China. These places had the greatest variety of wild plants and animals suitable for domestication. Only a tiny fraction of wild plants and animals were both useful and possible to domesticate.
    Location may have something to do with it being possible to make a community, some areas of land simply did not have the types of grains and animals to experiment with.
  18. Jul 12, 2005 #17
    Assuming that "12,500 years ago" is carbon date then it would convert to ~14,200 calendar years, putting it into the "Bolling Allerod stadial" or regional the African Wet Period, when the Sahara and Middle East were forested. I yet have to see the first paper explaining why the Hadley cell mechanism, which causes the deserts around the solstices, was not working in that period.
  19. Jul 12, 2005 #18
    I've not seen one either, I guess I have would assume there were too many changes going on with the earth for it to become stable enough for the cell to form. Or perhaps things like ElNinos were far to strong.
    And of course, weather conditions, would have a role in what plants and animals could survive long enough to be domesticated.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2005
  20. Jul 12, 2005 #19


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    Whether it's 12 kya, 14 kya, or even 30 kya, it's a very long time after Homo sap. arrived on the scene!

    The Fertile Crescent and the major river valleys in China (Yellow, Yangtze) were places where there were both a major domesticable cereal (wheat/rye, rice) and several domesticable animals (goats, sheep, pigs). Perhaps there was also a nice climate window?

    Maybe humans came 'late' to areas where there were both domesticable plants and animals? This may be so for the Americas, Australia (plus New Guinea), and many islands, but amh have been in Eurasia - certainly the 'good' parts - for a very long time, and they originated in Africa.

    While there were permanent agricultural settlements in the New Guinea highlands a long time ago, there were none in Australia - it lacked the right plants and animals (amh arrived in both places long before the New World was peopled).

    So the key question still seems to be - why did amh take so long to domesticate plants and animals in places where they could have done so (Ethiopia, West Africa, Fertile Crescent, major river valleys in south and east Asia)? Did the climates change too fast? Was there no 'magic combination' of factors anywhere in north Africa/Eurasia before ~15 kya?

    Fishing is interesting - certainly the technology (barbed hooks, nets; maybe boats) seems to have been invented not long after amh arrived. Is there something 'missing' in fishing that is 'present' in agriculture? Some virtuous circle perhaps? e.g. something that allows a dozen generations of significant population growth (so trade networks and social hierarchies can get going among the much larger, cross-group dependent populations)? Maybe fishing communities are like islands - there are rather strong limits to growth?
  21. Jul 12, 2005 #20
    Certainly there were. Hippos were supposed to be roaming the UK and The Netherlands during the so called Eemian interglacial some 125 Kya ago, that would say something about climate although it would not necessarily mean tropical. However, humans must also have endured this, if we ever are going to understand what we see here. The full article.
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