The end of the last ice age was the crucial climatic change that enabled all of the nearly miraculous transformations that Homo sapiens made in the rest of this chapter. It opened up a whole new hemisphere for the first native Americans after the last glacial maximum of 20 TYA. The warmer, wetter climate also opened up the temperate latitudes for permanent settlement and easy cultivation of plants. Settler-cultivators gradually progressed to the world’s first farmers, ranchers, and herders by 10 TYA.
As population densities increased, humans became a hyper-social species, cooperating in communities of hundreds, thousands, and millions – well beyond the natural limit of family bands. Collective action magnified the power of the human mind immensely. Technology abruptly advanced from stone tools and thatched huts to metal, masonry, and vehicles. For the first time, some people were able to take breaks from food production in order to develop diverse skills and trades. Written history began in the 4th millennium BCE, though the surviving written record from this period is limited.
Large-scale cooperation was a complete overhaul of human sociality. It necessitated a ruling class and an organized hierarchy. This invariably led to social inequality, yet cooperation required a sense of common purpose. Communities standardized their spiritual instincts into organized religions. Religion channeled the emotional connection from individual to group. This cohesive force was strong enough to hold nations together peacefully. At the same time, it provided the ultimate basis for a leader’s authority. Wealth, power, and organized numbers evolved together to strike a balanced solution whereby rulers served their own selfish needs while also managing collective welfare.
The first civilizations – nations, countries, and states – emerged in the cradles of agriculture. Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China all had advanced historic civilizations by 1000 BCE. The Mesoamerican and Peruvian civilizations also started to come into their own by that time.
Civilizations have always engaged simultaneously in war and trade, a perpetual disequilibrium determined by each state’s needs and capabilities. They competed in a tournament without rules. State-organized religion helped to unify “us” into ever-larger nations, while at the same time making “them” all the more foreign.
Stay updated with Chapter 4 “Margin Notes”, blog posts about ongoing discoveries
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