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The Cradle of Civilization
Transcript of The Cradle of Civilization
As we discussed in the African Prezi, one theory holds that our human ancestors emerged from the African continent and began settling elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle-East. Unlike other groups of early humans, the people here flourished and gave rise to the first civilizations. But how? And how exactly do we define civilization?
Civilization - A state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, record-keeping, and the appearance of political and social institutions.
* In other words, when people don't have to scramble daily for food, they can turn their attention to other things.
What's Gone Before
For the sake of time, we're bypassing some periods
of early human history, particularly the eras of the Stone
Age. Our early ancestors accomplished some amazing feats (like Stonehenge) but we're skipping it in order to focus on the true beginning of civilization.
It's All About Food
Before we go any further, check out this clip from a recent documentary called Guns, Germs, and Steel:
The Fertile Crescent
our ancestors would settle. I use the term
"settle" intentionally, because people found
adequate water supplies and, more importantly,
crops they could cultivate and store, such
as wheat and barley. The area was also home to
animals that people would quickly domesticate:
cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and eventually horses.
These settlers quickly found ingenious
ways to store wheat and barley in modest
granaries which kept out moisture and animals.
* the gathering of wheat by hand is
a very labor-intensive activity. Our ancestors
supplemented their diet with wild game and fish,
but still relied on wheat.
Now with the ability to turn their attention to things other than
constantly looking for food, we have the beginnings of civilizations.
We don't know anything specific about our earliest ancestors and their religious beliefs, but most scholars agree that these humans believed in some version of the afterlife given the attention and care to graves. Bodies seem to have been placed in the ground carefully, often with tools and important items for them to use in the afterlife. Scattered animal bones found at these graves also suggest that people had a feast in honor of the dead.
Stone Age grave in Saharan Africa.
Note that the two children are reaching
out to their mother, as she reaches for them.
Cave paintings also suggest a belief in
animal spirits. Since the paintings were in
remote caves and not for public viewing, scholars
believe they were a part of a ritual to ensure
Ancient people carved fertility or goddess figures,
perhaps the most famous of which is the Venus of Willendorf.
Note her exaggerated hips and breasts, indicating that this
small figure was connected to fertility through mother-goddess rituals.
Mesopotamia and Egypt
These two areas of civilization began around the same time but had very different trajectories. We'll start with the Egyptians.
The Egyptian people settled along the Nile river between
10,000 and 7,000 BC, forming villages, then buildings and cities.
Around 3,000 BC, they had developed a form of writing (picture script) and soon they would organize themselves under one imperial ruler known as a pharaoh.
The Cult of Pharaoh
Early Egyptians believed that the Pharaoh
was son of the sun god and therefore a god, too. There's
no greater testimony to this belief in the pharaoh-god than
in the construction of the pyramids, the massive tombs of
Along with devotion to the pharaoh, Egyptians believed in numerous other deities. Curiously, the Egyptian deities were either animals or
part-human and part-animal. Each region of Egypt had its own
god or goddess. For example, Horus was the god of the delta region, and he is depicted as having a human body and a falcon's head.
is the belief in one god, and an Egyptian Pharaoh
decided that everyone should worship Aton,
the sun disk, and no other deities. He ordered the names and images of other deities stripped from the land and ordered temples to Anton to be built instead. Some scholars believe that this pharaoh founded monotheism rather than Moses. In any case, there are striking similarities between the Hymn to Aton and Psalm 104:
* The succeeding pharaoh changed his name
from Tut-ankh-Aton (one who serves Aton) to
Tut-ankh-Amon (one who serves Amon) and reversed everything the previous pharaoh had done.
Tut-ankh-Amon did away with the sole worship of Aton and allowed other deities to be worshiped. Especially popular among these deities are three which are closely united:
Their's is a strange story. The most accepted version is that Osiris and Isis were brother and sister, but they had an evil brother named Seth who killed Osiris and stole his "third eye." Isis found Osiris and wept, and then suddenly Osiris springs back to life and immediately impregnates Isis with Horus. Horus grows up, kills Seth, and brings his father/uncle back to life with the third eye. Osiris goes to the underworld as judge of the dead, gives his third eye to Horus who becomes the sun god, and Isis became a goddess. A cult of worship arose around her, too, which we'll discuss in another Prezi.
* Since all three were worshiped together,
some scholars believe this is the first
. It's also noteworthy that the story contains the resurrection of Osiris.
The Egyptians had very definite views on the afterlife, as seen
by the pyramids and the mummification process. Egyptians believed they faced Osiris in the underworld after they died. The recently deceased would recite from the
Book of the Dead
, pleading their innocence. The person's heart was then placed on a scale opposite an ostrich feather (symbolizing truth). If the two objects balanced perfectly, the person was admitted into the world of the blessed. If they scale tipped toward the heart, the lion/hippopotamus/ crocodile demon Ammit would devour the person's soul.
* Not everyone was mummified or even
had a proper tomb because the process and burial was so expensive. Poor people were simply buried in the sand.
Egyptians also believed in magic and curses. If you broke
a law or spoke ill of a dead pharaoh, you could expect to be cursed. Curses were also written on tombs in hope of
scaring away robbers, who were taking a huge chance to begin with (if caught, robbers were subject to beheading, drowning, death by impalement, or limb removal). Here's an example of a curse above an Egyptian official's tomb:
"The crocodile be against him in the water, and the snake be against him on the land--again him who may do a thing to this tomb."
The Mesopotamian civilization (now modern Iraq) has a very different story from that of Egypt. There was no divinely appointed leader that united everyone; instead, Mesopotamia was subject to invasion after invasion and so had kingdom after kingdom. Sumer rose first, followed by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and finally the Persians. We'll focus on Sumer in this Prezi, as well as an important feature of the Babylonian empire.
Like the Egyptians, this ancient civilization was one of the first to practice year-round agriculture, organized irrigation, and the use of a specialized labor force. Sumer also contributed to the development of writing. But that's not all Sumer contributed to the humanities.
The Flood Narrative
are found in almost every culture, and the earliest one we know of comes from Sumer. In the Sumerian account, the gods decide to punish humanity with a devastating flood. One of the gods warns a good man named Ziusdra who builds an ark that houses him, his family, and as many animals as he could fit. After seven days and seven nights, the waters recede.
The story is told again in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and obviously figures into the Bible, as well.
The Sumerian flood narrative is recorded on this broken tablet.
Code of Hammurabi
Another similarity between Mesopotamia and the Bible is found in the
Code of Hammurabi
. The Babylonian King Hammurabi established a legal code that is very
similar to Biblical laws found in Deuteronomy:
Code of Hammurabi
If someone is caught kidnapping another
Israelite, enslaving or selling him, then the
kidnapper shall die. - Deuteronomy 24:7
If the wife of a man has been caught
lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them into the water.
If a man has stolen the young man of another man, he shall be put to death.
(cc) image by anemoneprojectors on Flickr
If a man is caught lying with the wife
of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. - Deuteronomy 22:22
General Mesopotamian Religious Beliefs
Throughout the various empires of Mesopotamia, some general beliefs can be found. There are well over two thousand different deities; if that's not enough, each city also had a local god and a an earthly ruler who represented that god. Everything in a Sumerian city revolved around the human ruler appointed by the local god and then the local god himself. The human ruler and his family lived in luxury around the temple, and the rest of the people felt it was their job to ensure that the ruler and the local god was pleased. Not bad work if you can get it.
* local gods changed whenever a new
group took over. You could be worshipping
one god one day, and then a war breaks out, and
soon there's a new local god and new human ruler
over you, demanding devotion.
Whose house is this?! Horus' house!!
Be honest...have I gained weight?
"I'll take the one on the left. No, not the little one, the one beside it! Sheesh!" - Pharaoh Ramsis-ank-Aton IV
- a human activity that satisfies one's inherent spiritual needs and desires.
One big, happy family.
Wind sprints. Go.
Don't forget to watch this helpful video from our
old pal, John Green:
More on Fertility Figures
The so-called "Venus figures" has been found from France to Siberia. Not all look like the Venus of Willendorf, but most do. Many of them were covered in red ocher, perhaps to symbolize menstrual blood.
While we're not completely sure what purpose the figures served,
we do know that the depiction of female sex organs was far more widespread than male sex organs. This leads experts to speculate that most people in the "Old World" worshiped a great female goddess.
The mystery of Birth
It may seem strange, but there was time when
people didn't understand the link between sexual intercourse and pregnancy and birth. Popular theories
hold that until humans domesticated animals (perhaps around 12,000 year ago) and witnessed the relatively short time between mating and birth in, for example, dogs, birth remained a great mystery and was understood to be dangerous. Women would have been seen as magical and extremely valuable. It makes sense that our early ancestors worshiped a female deity.
A little more on Egyptian animal deities - Romans would
later look down on the Egyptian for their strange worship habits, but Egyptians insisted that their animal gods were wiser than humans and more mysterious. They worshiped the crocodile, in part, because it can't use its tongue and therefore symbolizes that the divine doesn't need a voice. They worshiped the scarab because the way it rolls dung symbolizes how the sun moves daily through the sky.
This is holy work, punk. Back off.
Your Brain on God
There's no question that religion plays a huge role in the human experience...but it may be because of our brain chemistry. Over times, the human brain may have gleaned benefits from feelings and thoughts we might associate with a "higher power."
Most people aren't familiar with Babylonian gods, but they played a huge role in the development of other religions. There are too many stories to mention here, but of particular interest is that of the conquest of the god Marduk over Tiamat. At his victory, Marduk declared Babylon to be the holiest of cities, an idea that resonates with the three great monotheistic religions of the world.
Further, Marduk creates humanity by killing another god and mixing divine blood with dust. Thus, humans had the spark of the divine. Interestingly, the god that Marduk killed is described as the "most stupid and ineffectual of the gods" (Karen Armstrong, a History of God).
The story of Marduk seems to have influenced the story of the Canaanite god Baal (who does not get good treatment in the Bible). It's important to remember that Abraham, a patriarch of Judaism, left the Sumerian city of Ur and traveled to Canaan.