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Probaway - Civilization

© 2005 by Charles Scamahorn

Why did people ‘choose’ to move into towns, about ten thousand years ago, when for the previous hundred thousand years they had, quite successfully, lived in a Garden of Eden as natural animals wandering about hunting and gathering fresh food? To these wanderers a town would have been a horrible place to live, dreadfully confining and frightfully disease-prone. Nevertheless, about that time in the Middle East and perhaps a few locations elsewhere, a great turning point for humanity occurred and people moved into towns—in a remarkably short period—and fortified them. Why they chose to do so is a mystery worth solving as it clarifies some reasons why we modern people live as we do.

Through observation of living hunter-gatherers we may infer how ancient people would have lived and surmise that throughout most of their lives they had an abundance of life's necessities readily available. It probably took only a small portion of their time and effort to provide for themselves and for their dependents and the remainder of their time was probably spent making their life and surroundings as pleasant and interesting as possible. Thus, most of their time was devoted to beautifying daily articles, telling stories, dancing, socializing and just lounging about. Unfortunately, there was no way to store food permanently for times of shortage and collecting anything beyond immediate needs was useless as it would simply spoil. Almost every year, however, because of nature’s variability, interludes of food shortage would occur and every decade or two a deadly famine. These times of famine, brief as they might be, would be very stressful for everyone in the group—not just the dependents.

The idea of planting and reaping may have been known but it was inefficient and without enforceable property rights, not very productive for an individual. Food was harvested on a first come first served basis. With hunters there is little acknowledgment that someone who has gone to the trouble of planting a crop and caring for it has any special right to eat it. Nature provides for all! Furthermore, the crops were not very abundant considering how much work was involved in cultivating them. Fruit trees may have been ‘owned’ but as planting to reaping cycles were so very long they may not have been planted and cultivated but simply owned in situ. Natural loss from large wild herbivores would further hamper any investment of time and effort put into concentrated food creation.

Then one dry famine-ridden day, a hungry person was poking around the remains of a previous feast, searching for some bits of food that might have been missed by scavengers. It was probably a woman searching for grain because it was less likely to rot. She knew that some old food could be eaten but she was very apprehensive when eating it because she also knew that eating old food might make her sick. About this time she observed that—the grain that had dried in the sun last month, if left until next month could be eaten next month without making her sick. Well, that might not seem like much of an observation to us modern people who have many ways of preserving and protecting food but the first time the observation was made it was a stroke of genius. New methods of food creation and preservation are not as obvious as they seem after they are in common usage. For example, it was not until 1804 AD that Nicolas Appert invented boiled and sealed ’canning‘ for food preservation.

Our genius showed her discovery to some friends. They vehemently rejected it, no doubt, because it was against their customs intentionally to set food aside ‘to rot.’ In addition somebody had to waste time protecting this ‘rotting food’ from scavengers. Nevertheless, after a while, realizing that they did not get sick when they ate the sun-dried food, they too started setting aside some excess to dry. We may still see a residual effect of this act as religious offerings placed on a high altar for god (the sun) to see. However, the method had some serious problems associated with it. Insects, birds, dogs, children and other adults would come by and eat the food that had been set aside and when shortages occurred it became imperative to defend it. In very arid areas like some spots in the Middle East, Arizona, or Peru where the ground is very dry, merely digging a pit, and hiding some dried food inside with a large stone on top is sufficient to preserve it. This method of storage, simple as it is, was revolutionary because it became possible to store unlimited quantities of food but soon a new problem arose.

Other groups of people, who didn’t have enough food, banded together and came over and forcibly took whatever stored food they could find. Well, that would not do so getting one‘s own group together to protect the food pit was necessary and then to help gather the next crop. That required a larger storage pit. But, then the hungry hunters stole in at night or banded together and came in greater numbers. It became necessary to build walls and other fortifications and to appoint guards. Each of these steps required ever more social organization and job allocation and a hierarchy and that required social justification of stratification and that required calling upon ever higher rights and ultimately that required postulating a prime cause which required a Prophet and priests to spread the teachings, etc. After a while, some people with surpluses of some locally produced items wanted to trade with distant others who had an overabundance of other items. That required some permanent documentation, for the equable exchange of goods, so writing was developed and you can read about what happened ever since.

The ability to store food that was too heavy to carry about and too valuable to abandon tied people to a given location and that encouraged more complex social organizations and more extensive agriculture to develop. Civilization may have sprouted several times independently from hunter-gatherer societies when certain conditions were met. The primary factors for a spontaneous civilization to develop are seen to be a dry environment at harvest time—so that food may be readily stored—and as these people are in an arid area a reliable local source of drinking water. The most likely place for these conditions to occur is beside a river in a desert. Such places as the Nile, Euphrates, Ganges, Yellow, Mississippi, Columbia, and Murray rivers or at a spring such as at Jericho.

Liability disclaimer statement: These Probaways contain new and unique information that has been created, tested and retested by me alone. You must approach these findings and materials very carefully as your results may differ greatly from my experience and I can offer no recompensation of any kind for any injuries.

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