The Emergence of Civilization in the Ancient Near East


The Nature and Limits of History The Limitations of History The Concepts of Pre- and Proto-History


     A. Evidence of early Accomplishments

        1.The PALEOLITHIC to 45000  BCE. The matter of human
origins is a study appropriate to ARCHAEOLOGY, the BIOLOGICAL
Sciences, and to such METAPHYSICAL studies as THEOLOGY. This
course begins at that point in time where archaeology supplies
sufficient information to provide some insight into the mind of
NEANDERTHAL and early CRO MAGNON [i.e., Modern Man].

        2. The  Late PALEOLITHIC, 45000 - 10000 BCE. Homo Sapiens
Neanderthalensis disappeared at the beginning of this era, but he
left behind evidence of his Spiritual perceptions. This is most
clearly seen in

           a. Neanderthal Burials at  SHANIDAR in northern  IRAQ,
excavated by Richard Solecki, and in Russian Turkestan. The
Shanidar  grave contained the body of a 42 year old man,
sprinkled with flowers. The Turkestan grave contained a 4 year
old boychild buried with the accouterment of a warrior.

           b. The  Meaning of Grave Goods. The Shanidar burial is
not in and of itself evidence of a belief in an Afterlife. But in
the case of the boy from Turkestan, one must ask why a boy, who
could not have been a warrior, were buried with such equipment
unless there were an expectation that he might need it? This is
the best evidence of a belief in an afterlife 45,000 years ago,
though it is not proof.

           c. The "Bear Cult" of central  Europe and the intriguing
cave art of southwestern Europe provide evidence, but not proof, of
a belief in life after death. However, the paintings scattered around
the world, especially those of western Europe, reveal that ancient
man was concerned with both beauty and communication.

           d. Alexander Marshak and ICE AGE Time-Factoring. After
Marshak identified the ISHANGO Bone [B.1, below], he investigated
scratched pebbles and other materials from the last Ice Age in
EUROPE and discovered inconclusive evidence of time-keeping [time
factoring] as far back as about 45000 years. The conclusion to
Section A is that late Neanderthal and early Modern Man were
spiritually and intellectually more sophisticated than the
popular image of them suggests. This was certainly true of the
people of the Neolithic period.

     B. NEOLITHIC Man, to 8000 BCE

        1. The Ishango bone from modern Uganda in equatorial east
Africa was identified by Marshak as a Lunar Calendar, dated about
9000 BCE. Lunar calendars measure the recurrent changes in the
face of the Moon. These changes repeat approximately every 28
days. A lunar calendar can only treat time in segments of 28
days. After many Moons even the best memory would be unable to
correlate an event and the Moon within which it occurred. Sun
defined the Day. Moon defined the Month. Subdivisions of the
month were defined by the Phases of the Moon roughly correspond-
ing to the Week: New Moon to Crescent Moon, Crescent to Full
Moon, Full to Crescent, Crescent to New Moon. Some means of
defining longer periods of time was necessary before the Year
could be delineated. The Flood-based year of Egypt, though cor-
related with the star Sirius, corresponded to the Solar Year. The
Solar year became (and remains) the basic unit of time, but the
discovery of the solar year may have come 6000 years after the
discovery of the lunar month.

     For thousands of years mankind attempted to correlate the
Month and the Year with other recurrent phenomena such as the
unreliable wet/dry seasons of the tropics, the unreliable four
seasons of temperate lands, the complex but unreliably  measured
interplay of the fixed and mobile lights in the Sky. The periodi-
city of the Sun may not have been discovered by the residents of
the Nile Valley. The builders of Stonhenge knew of the solar year
by about 3000 BCE. Other peoples probably knew of it just as
soon. Recognition of periodicity in the movements of the Sun was
followed by an effort to count the number of days in a solar
year. MAYAN time keepers knew the correct number of days (and
parts-of-a-day) in a solar year perhaps as early as 250 BCE. The
prediction of a Solar Eclipse by THALES of MILETUS in 586 BCE
does not prove that some Near Easterners knew the length of the
solar year  but only that they were careful observers of the
movements of the sun. This knowledge may not have been widely

     The 365 day solar year is still not universally employed in
calendar making.

        2. The UR [meaning first]  CULTURE developed during the
Neolithic Age and became global in expanse by 8000 BCE. It
involved the use of MAGIC in the practice of WITCHCRAFT, or 

           a. MAGIC was a means of contacting the Spiritual World
for the purpose of influencing or controlling the actions of
Spiritual beings. Such contact was frequently accomplished 
through the consumption of intoxicating or hallucinogenic sub-
stances [See the works of Michael Harner]. The SHAMAN might make
contact by way of a self-induced trance or madness [Consult the
works of Mircea Eliade].

           b. SHAMANRY, which some still call Witchcraft, had/has
two faces. Some Shamans practiced only good magic, such as
healing or finding lost or stolen objects. Others practiced evil
magic, called black magic. These Bewitching Shamans used their
special talents to place curses on a client's enemies, or to
cause illness. The presentation of Voodoo and related practices
in the popular media tends to leave the mis-impression that all
Shamans [witchdoctors] were/are evil.

           c. All the above  must be assumed  to be part of the
cultural and intellectual symbology embedded in the world views
of late pre-historic and early historic peoples. [Consult also


       I. The Transition to settled living

          A.NOMADS: Hunters  and  Gatherers. Prior to 10000 BCE
all of humankind lived by harvesting what nature offered, be it
animal or vegetable. By the end of the last great Ice Age [ca.
8500 BCE], most of the large game animals had been hunted to
extinction. The great age of the hunter neared its end. Hunting
never disappeared, but its role in providing food for mankind was
increasingly constricted. Fishing remained an important  means of
procuring  animal food, but even this activity suffered from the
increasing desiccation of large portions of the Earth. The
problem of growing deserts was especially acute in North Africa
and Southwest Asia.

          B. AGRICULTURE: Domestication of Plants.

             1. SWIDDEN [slash and burn] farming was the earliest
extensively used method of farming. Fields cleared in this way
remained productive only two to three years; then the farmers
moved to a new site. This type of  agriculture could not support
permanent settlement, nor large communities.  Even rain-watered
open lands,  where farmers also practiced, could only  support
small  groups who had  no  assurance of  regular annual harvests.
Swidden farmers spread rapidly from the Near East through Europe
to the  Atlantic and the British Isles before 3000 BCE. In the
well watered areas of  Europe  and its  islands,  small groups
were able to exist in the same place  indefinitely,  barring
human  or natural catastrophe. They even developed villages and
common-ground ceremonial centers, but no cities.

             2. IRRIGATION. When  people learned to manage their
water resources, chiefly River water, permanent settlements
became possible.  The earliest form of irrigation was partly or
wholly natural, such as at  CATAL HUYUK in southwestern Turkey.
Catal Huyuk lies near the  foot of mountains and at the  edge of
a seasonal  "river."  Every  spring the  river not only watered
the  soil but also enriched it with its silt, making it unneces-
sary for the  inhabitants of the community to relocate every two
to three years. Rivers and  Water  became powerful  symbols in
the thinking of ancient man, especially as cities grew along the
river banks.

          C. HERDING: Domestication of Animals. During the same
time period,people also  domesticated  animals such as sheep,
goats, cattle, and pigs.  Some groups became  herders and
gatherers  and thus remained NOMADS, while others combined herd-
ing with farming. The result of sedentary farming or it in combi-
nation with sedentary animal husbandry was permanent settlement
with excess food which allowed occupational specialization and
the development of cities, as well as an increase in population.
      II. The Rise of CITIES, 8000-3000 BCE

          A. Early  Development  to 5000 BCE. It is unlikely that
we will ever determine which of the "cities"  currently contend-
ing for the honor of being oldest is the more ancient.  It is
indeed probable hat none of the settlements now being considered
was the first to develop into a city. The evidence now available
suggests 7000 BCE as a likely date for the beginning of cities.
That would be 20000 years after the oldest known "villages."

             1. One of  the leading  contenders is  JERICHO. This
city,  located near a  permanent  spring a few  miles west of the
JORDAN River was excavated by Kathleen  Kenyon. There were
indications of settlement after 9000 BCE. This settlement grew to
city status by 7000 BCE, and is perhaps the oldest continuously
occupied city on Earth.

             2. CATAL HUYUK [ca.6900 BCE], in the dry interior of
southwestern TURKEY, and the city of HACILAR which lay even
further to the west, prescribe  the westernmost limits of the
region likely to contain the first city. The settlement of JARMO,
in the foothills of northern IRAQ, dates to about 6800 BCE. Jarmo
defines the northeastern limit of the "likely region," while TEPE
YAHYA in east central IRAN [dated before 5000] lies at the
eastern limit. To the south and southeast, the limits are defined
by the  ARABIAN DESERT, and the deserts of SINAI and SUEZ. The
cities named above, except for Jericho, were abandoned before
city living became common in the valley of the EUPHRATES and
TIGRIS rivers.
          B. The URBANIZATION of MESOPOTAMIA, 5500-2400 BCE

     Cities, or settlements which became cities, existed in Meso-
potamia from 5500 BCE. The earlier cities lay in the northern
part of Iraq, and in northeastern Syria. City living quickly
spread down the EUPHRATES River and into the valley of the TIGRIS
River, reaching the swamps at the head of the PERSIAN GULF before
4000 BCE. ERIDU, to the south of UR and close to the Gulf, built
its first temple before 5000. By 4000 BCE the combined valleys of
the Tigris-Euphrates were dotted with small cities whose peoples
ruled over the built-up area and its supporting agricultural
lands. The document called THE SUMERIAN KING LIST, though it
dates to the 18th-19th century BCE, suggests frequent warfare
between CITY STATES, as one city after another was "smitten with
weapons, and its kingship carried off" to the victor's capital.

     Pottery-making had existed in the Near East perhaps since
the 7th millennium (7000 to 6000 BCE). By the time the Sumerians
entered Mesopotamia, around  32-3500 BCE, most of the Technology
of Ancient Mesopotamian CIVILIZATION was already there. Copper
was already in use, as was gold and  silver. Bronze, already
available in southern Canaan and Thailand, was a later addition.
Most scholars think the Sumerians added the wheel, the brick-
mold, the pick-axe, and the sailing ship; and that they invented,
or at least developed, WRITING to the point where it came to play
an essential role in their public and private lives.

     The origin of the Sumerians is unknown. Their language is
unrelated to any other language thus far discovered. The Sumer-
ians drove out the earlier residents (or, as is more likely, they
kept the PEASANTS in their previous status, and made collabora-
tors of of some of the "city folk."). The peoples driven from the
Valley by the Sumerians may have been the Subartu. Whoever they
were, they may have been the first of the Valley's residents to
become LITERATE.

     In the period before 2700 BCE, the Sumerians considered most
of their KINGS to be GODs, or at least HEROs. The Deification and
Heroization of kings mostly ceased after GILGAMESH, king of URUK
around 2700 BCE. The Gilgamesh of the EPIC was predominantly an
Heroic, but tragic, figure. He was no GOD. Some early Sumerian
tales about Gilgamesh make him appear ambivalent. He was not a
GREAT KING. The story, "Gilgamesh and Agga of KISH," shows him
forced to acknowledge the overlordship of the Great KING OF KISH,
possibly Mesannepada of UR.

     The EPIC OF GILGAMESH [See also Appendix V] is a story of
man coming to grips with his own mortality. It reaches the
Secular conclusion that Salvation (becoming one with God) being
beyond hope, the "Immortality" of man lay in his deeds and the
remembrance of them. This solution differs dramatically from that

          C. CANAAN and PERSIA, 5500-2400 BCE. ELAM, adjacent to
SUMER in southwestern PERSIA and frequently treated as an exten-
sion of Mesopotamia, reached Literacy by 3000. Its capital, SUSA
[Shushash], exercised considerable influence in Valley affairs.
This region and adjacent areas may have been the Anshan of the
"Sumerian King List." CANAAN, the coast and interior of the
eastern Mediterranean, had many cities by 2400 but was not
generally literate. The city of EBLA, in northwestern SYRIA, had
recently adopted Sumerian writing and wrote in Sumerian more
often than in its own language [a SEMITIC language related to
modern HEBREW and ARABIC]. Ebla was excavated in 1975-76. The
archaeologists found some 16000 clay tablets; 80% were written in
Sumerian. The remainder, written in a previously unknown
language, contain the oldest reference to Jerusalem and several
other Hebrew proper names.

          D. The EGYPTIAN  Model to 3000 BCE. Prior to ca. 3000,
EGYPT seemed to be divided into a large number of small priestly-
governed states each with its own names for commonly accepted
divinities. About 3000 Egypt was unified by a conquering family
out of the southern city of THEBES. The new dynasty placed its
capital in the city of MEMPHIS which lay at the point where the
narrow valley of the NILE broadened into the DELTA. This was the
boundary, the Balance of the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt);
also called the Two Ladies. Half the usable soil of Egypt lay up-
river (south), the rest lay down-river (north).

          E.The "Old Ones," SEMITES, and INDO-EUROPEANS. In
addition to the Sumerians, who have no known Linguistic
Relatives, the Ancient Near East was the home of the SEMITIC
FAMILY of languages. The Semitic Family includes Dead Languages
and ARAMAIC; as well as modern HEBREW and ARABIC. The language of
ancient Egypt may prove to be Semitic; or, it may be a member of
a super-family to which the Semitic family also belonged.

     There were also "The Old Ones," whose languages are unknown
to us. Some presume their speech ancestral to modern KURDISH, and
Russian GEORGIAN, and call them CAUCASIAN. Let's call these
peoples Subartu, a name given to them after they were driven
northward by the Sumerians and other conquerors of Mesopotamia.

     Indo-Europeans spoke languages ancestral to all modern
European languages except FINNISH, HUNGARIAN, and BASQUE. It was
also ancestral to modern IRANIAN, AFGHAN, and most of the
languages of PAKISTAN and INDIA. They were not native to the Near
East, but their intrusions into the area made them increasingly
important after 2500 BCE.

          F. The Development of WRITING to 2400 BCE. Though
writing is still presumed to have evolved in Mesopotamia, it
seems likely that the pre-Sumerian inhabitants of the valley, and
not the Sumerians themselves, were the first to use it there. New
evidence from Egypt re-opens the possibility that Egyptians may
have started writing as early as the Mesopotamians. By 2400
writing was in use throughout the Near East from HARAPPAN INDIA
westward, possibly as far as the Mediterranean island of CRETE.
Do not interpret this to mean that everyone within the described
area knew how to read and/or write. To the contrary, the vast
majority of the peoples who lived before 1900 CE/AD never learned
reading and writing. Because literacy was so narrowly confined to
a small ELITE of LORDS and SCRIBES, it was easy for entire civil-
izations to lose literacy. Such a loss was experienced by INDIA
from about 1700 BCE to 1000 BCE, and by the peoples of Turkey and
the AEGEAN area from 1200 to 800 BCE.

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Last modified January, 2001