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AP World History
Era 1 & 2 Packet
Era 1: Ancient Period:
to 600 BCE
Era 2: Classical Period:
600 BCE to 600 CE
Must Know Dates for Era 1 & 2
c. 8000 B.C.E.
c. 3000 B.C.E.
c. 1300 B.C.E.
6th C B.C.E.
5th C B.C.E.
403-221 B.C.E.
323 B.C.E.
221 B.C.E.
184 B.C.E.
32 C.E.
4th C
Beginnings of agriculture
Beginnings of Bronze Age-early civ’s
Iron Age
Life of Buddha, Confucius, Laozi
Greek Golden Age – philosophers
China’s Era of Warring States
Alexander the Great dies
Qin Dynasty unified China
Fall of Mauryan Dynasty
Beginnings of Christianity
End of Pax Romana
End of Han Dynasty
Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity
Roman capital moved to Constantinople
Beginning of Japanese invasion of (rest of) China/ Beg. of Trans-Saharan Trade Routes
“Fall” of Rome
Justinian rule of Byzantine Empire
Fall of Gupta Dynasty/Empire
Alphabetic Systems
Locate the following:
Nile River
Fertile Crescent
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa
Pastoral Nomads
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa
Tigris River Euphrates River
Indus River Huang He River
Big Era Three
that is, “new stone age,” because humans developed a more varied and sophisticated kit
Farming and the Emergence of Complex Societies
10,000 - 1000 BCE
of stone tools in connection with the emergence of farming.
Systematic food production contributed hugely to the amazing biological success of
Homo sapiens. In our discussion of Big Era Two, we introduced the concept of
extensification, the idea that in Paleolithic times humans multiplied and flourished by
About 12,000 years ago some human communities began to move in a new direction.
spreading thinly across the major landmasses of the world, excepting Antarctica, and by
For the first time, they began to produce food in a systematic way rather than hunt or
adapting to a wide range of environments, from equatorial forests to Arctic tundra. In
collect all their food in the wild. The emergence of farming and the far-reaching social
Big Era Three, however, a process of “intensification” got under way. This meant that
and cultural changes that came with it sets Big Era Three apart from the first two.
by producing resources from domesticated plants and animals, humans could settle and
From one perspective, the advent of farming was a slow, fragmented process. It
thrive on a given land area in much greater numbers and density than ever before.
happened independently in several different parts of the world at different times. It
The consequences of intensification were astonishing. In the 9,000 years of Big Era
occurred as a result of people making thousands of minute decisions about food
Three, world population rose from about 6 million to about 120 million, a change
production without anyone being conscious that humans were “inventing agriculture.”
involving a much faster rate of increase than in the previous eras. Such growth, in turn,
And even though some people started farming, others continued for thousands of years
required unprecedented experiments in human organization and ways of thinking.
to live entirely on wild resources or to combine crop growing with hunting and
Humans and the Environment
From another perspective we might argue that agriculture took the world by storm. The
Scholars generally agree that foragers of the Paleolithic enjoyed, at least much of the
Paleolithic era of hominids and human tool-making went on for about 2,000,000 years.
time, sufficient food supplies, adequate shelter, and shorter daily working hours than
Farming settlements, however, appeared on all the major landmasses except Australia
most adults do today. Humans did not, therefore, consciously take up crop growing and
within a mere 8,000 years. Foraging societies may have retreated gradually, but today,
animal raising because they thought they would have a more secure and satisfying li fe.
just 12,000 years after the first signs of agriculture, they have all but disappeared.
In other words, humans seem to have been “pushed” into agriculture rather than
We may define farming as a set of interrelated activities that increase the production of
“pulled” into it.
those resources that humans can use, such as cattle, grain, or flax, and reduce the
production of things humans cannot use, such as weeds or pests. In order to increase the
When some communities in certain places made the transition to farming, they did it
production of resources they can use, farmers systematically manipulate their
incrementally over centuries or even millennia, and they had no clear vision that they
environment, removing those species they do not want and creating conditions that
were dropping one whole way of life for another. If we can speak of an “agricultural
allow the species they favor to flourish. Thus, we plow and water the land so that our
revolution,” we would also have to say that humans backed slowly into it even if, on
crops can thrive, and we provide food and protection to the animals we need. This is
the scale of 200,000 years, the change was rapid.
why the emergence of societies based on agriculture, what we call agrarian societies,
involved a complex interplay of plants, animals, topography, climate, and weather with
The Great Thaw. The coming of agrarian societies was almost certainly connected to
human tools, techniques, social habits, and cultural understandings.
the waning of the Pleistocene, or Ice Age, that is, the period, beginning about 15,000
The fundamental technological element of this interplay was domestication, the ability
years ago, when glaciers shrank and both sea levels and global temperatures rose. In
to alter the genetic makeup of plants and animals to make them more useful to humans.
several parts of the Northern Hemisphere rainfall increased significantly. This period of
Scholars have traditionally labeled the early millennia of agriculture the Neolithi c era,
5,000 to 7,000 years was the prelude to the Holocene, the climatic epoch that spans
most of the last 10,000 years. Rising seas drowned low-lying coastal shelves as well as
reproduction of plants that were bigger, tastier, more nutritious, and easier to grow,
land bridges that had previously connected regions separated by water today. Land
harvest, store, and cook than were wild food plants. Systematic domestication was
bridges now under water included spans between Siberia and Alaska, Australia and
under way!
Papua New Guinea, and Britain and continental Europe.
In the Fertile Crescent key domesticates included the ancestors of wheat, bar ley, rye,
One consequence of this “great thaw” was the dividing of the world into three distinct
and several other edible plants. Selecting and breeding particular animals species —
zones, whose human populations, as well as other land-bound animals and plants, had
sheep, goats, cattle, pigs—that were good to eat and easy to manage occurred in a
very limited contact with one another. These zones were 1) Afroeurasia and adjacent
similar way. In effect, humans started grooming the natural environment to reduce the
islands, that is Africa, Asia, and Europe combined; 2) the Americas; and 3) Australia.
organisms they did not want (weeds, predatory wolves) and to increase the number of
From about 4000 BCE, the Pacific Ocean basin and its island populations began to
organisms they did want (grains, legumes, wool-bearing sheep, hunting dogs).
emerge as a fourth distinct zone. Though humans rarely had contact between one zone
and another (until 1500 CE or later), within each of the zones they interacted more or
Co-Dependency. Eventually, plant-growing and animal-raising communities became
less intensively, depending on patterns of geography, climate, and changing historical
“co-dependent” with their domesticates. That is, humans came to rely on these
genetically altered species to survive. In turn, domesticated plants and animals were so
changed that they would thrive only if humans took care of them. For example, the
A second consequence of the great thaw was that across much of the Northern
Hemisphere warmer, rainier, ice-free conditions permitted forests, meadowlands, and
maize, or corn, that we see in fields today can no longer reproduce without human help.
Regions of Early Plant and Animal Domestication
small animal populations to flourish. The natural bounty was so great in some localities
that human bands began to settle in one place all or part of the year to forage and hunt.
That is, they became sedentary, settled in hamlets or villages rather than moving from
camp to camp. For example, in the relatively well-watered part of Southwest Asia we
call the Fertile Crescent, groups began sometime between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago
to found tiny settlements in order to collect plentiful stands of wild grain and other
edible plants and animals.
The dawn of domestication. In time,
these groups took up the habit of
protecting their wild grain fields against
weeds, drought, and birds. Eventually
they started broadcasting edible plant
seeds onto new ground to increase the
yield. Finally, they began selecting and
planting seeds from individual plants that
seemed most desirable for their size,
taste, and nutrition. In other words, humans learned how to control and manipulate the
The great advantage of co-dependency was that a community could rely fairly
predictably on a given area of land to produce sufficient, even surplus yields of hardy,
tasty food. Populations of both humans and their domesticates tended to grow
accordingly. On the darker side, co-dependency was a kind of trap: a farming
community, which had to huddle together in a crowded village and labor long hours in
Their most conspicuous characteristic was cities. Early cities were centers of power,
the fields, could not go back to a foraging way of life even if it wanted to. And, as we
manufacturing, and creativity. Building and preserving them, however, required drastic
will see, a lot of new problems appeared as humans began to live together in denser
alterations of the local environment to produce sufficient food, building materials, and
communities, from new types of diseases to the buildup of village waste and rubbish.
sources of energy. The price of this intervention was high. Dense urban societies were
extremely vulnerable to changes in weather, climate, disease conditions, wood supplies,
Environmental intervention. The Fertile Crescent was an early incubator of
and trade links to distant regions. After the appearance of complex societies, humans
agriculture, but it was by no means the only one. Between 12,000 and 3,000 BCE,
stepped up their efforts to manipulate and control their physical and natural
similar processes involving a great variety of domesticates occurred in several different
environment. This had great benefits but also produced a negative feedback cycle.
parts of the world. The intensification in population densities and economic
productivity that farming permitted also spurred humans to intervene in the natural and
 Deforestation and consequent erosion threatened periodic food shortages
physical environment as never before. As farmers cleared more land, planted more
 Habitation in densely packed villages and cities brought humans in closer
crops, and pastured more animals, they enhanced their species’ biological success. That
contact with disease-carrying animals, resulting in greater vulnerability to
epidemic infections.
 In the cases of some complex societies, ecological problems stimulated
social and economic innovations to improve conditions or stave off
disaster. In some other cases, however, these problems led eventually to
economic, demographic, or political collapse.
is, there occurred a positive feedback cycle of ever-increasing population and
productivity that looked something like this:
and social conflict.
Humans and Other Humans
The intensification of population and production that came with Big Era Three obliged
humans to experiment with new forms of social organization. The customs and rules
that governed social relationships in a foraging band of twenty-five or thirty people
The Neolithic settlement of Çatal Hüyük,
established about 7000 BCE, may have had
close to 10,000 inhabitants. The site is in
south central Turkey.
Beginning about 6,000 BCE, intensification in particular parts of the world moved to a
level that required radical innovations in the way humans lived and worked.
Reconstruction of Çatal Hüyük.
World Images Kiosk, San Jose State
Crowded cities. First in the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile River valleys, then the Indus
were no longer adequate.
valley, and later in China’s Huang River (Huang He) valley and a few other regions,
The permanent farming settlements that multiplied in Afroeurasia in the early millennia
societies emerged that were far larger and denser than the farming communities of the
of the era numbered as few as several dozen people to as many as 10,000. These
Neolithic period. We refer to these big concentrations of people as complex societies,
communities had to work together in more complicated ways and on a larger scale than
or, more traditionally, as civilizations.
was the case in foraging bands. Even so, social relations may not have changed greatly
from foraging days. Men and women probably continued to treat each other fairly
equally. No one had a full-time job other than farming. Some individuals no doubt
synergism among them made the society complex, that is, made it recognizable as a
became leaders because they were strong or intelligent. No individual or gr oup,
however, had formal power to lord it over the rest.
Animal-herding societies. From about the fourth millennium BCE, Afroeurasia saw
Early complex societies. Only after about 4000 BCE did truly staggering changes
the development of a new type of society and economy in parts of the Great Arid Zone.
occur in social customs and institutions. The complex societies that arose in the Tigris -
This is the belt of dry and semi-arid land that extends across Afroeurasia from the
Euphrates, Nile, and Indus valleys, and somewhat later in other regions, were cauldrons
Sahara Desert in the west to Manchuria in northern China. Here, communities began to
of intensification. That is, people lived and worked together in much larger, denser
organize themselves around a specialized way of life based on herding domesticated
communities than had ever existed. These societies shared a number of fundamental
animals, whether sheep, cattle, horses, or camels. Known as pastoral nomadism, this
characteristics, which we generally associate with civilizations:
economic system permitted humans to adapt in larger numbers than ever before to
 Cities arose, the early ones varying somewhat in their forms and functions.
By 2250 BCE, there were about eight cities in the world that had 30,000
or more inhabitants. By 1200 BCE there were about sixteen cities that big.
Some people took up full-time specialized occupations and professions
(artisans, merchants, soldiers, priests, and so on) rather than spending
most of their time collecting, producing, or processing food.
A hierarchy of social classes appeared in which some men and women—the
elite class—had more wealth, power, and privilege than did others. Also,
men became dominant over women in political and social life, leading to
The state, that is, a centralized system of government and command, was
invented. This meant that a minority group—kings, queens, high officials,
priests, generals—exercised control over the labor and social behavior of
everyone else.
Complex exchanges of food and other products took place within the
complex society, and lines of trade connected the society to neighbors
near and far.
Technological innovations multiplied, and each new useful invention tended
to suggest several others.
Monumental building took place—city walls, temples, palaces, public
plazas, and tombs of rulers.
A system of writing, or at least a complex method of record-keeping, came
into use.
Spiritual belief systems, public laws, and artistic expressions all became
richer and more complex.
Creative individuals collaborated with the ruling class to lay the foundations
of astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry, as well as civil engineering
and architecture.
climates where intensive farming was not possible. Pastoral nomads lived mainly on the
products of their livestock—meat, milk, blood, hides, hair, wool, and bone. They often
grazed and migrated over extensive areas, and they planted crops either not at all or as
a minor, supplemental activity.
By the third millennium BCE, animal-breeding societies were appearing in a number of
regions, notably along the margins of the Great Arid Zone. These communities found
they could adapt to dry conditions because sheep, cattle, and a few other domesticates
could thrive on wild grasses and shrubs. These animals converted vegetable matter that
humans could not digest into meat, milk, and blood, which they could. That is, humans
became experts at transforming the natural flora of arid lands into an animal diet high
in protein
and fat.
s usually
A pastoral nomadic horseman of the Inner
Eurasian steppe. This image on a carpet
dates to about 300 BCE.
Wikimedia Commons, Pazyrik horseman, c.
300 BCE, detail from a carpet in the State
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia,
public domain.
routes from
pasture to
pasture as the seasons changed. When families were on the move, they lived in hide
A society did not have to exhibit every one of these characteristics to qualify as a
civilization. The checklist is less important than the fact that all these social, cultural,
economic, and political elements interacted dynamically with one another. The
tents or other movable dwellings, and their belongings had to be limited to what they
could carry along. This does not mean that they wished to cut themselves off from
farming societies or cities. Rather, pastoralists eagerly purchased farm produce or
information and ideas from one community to another, sometimes across great
manufactures in exchange for their hides, wool, dairy products, and sometimes their
distances, but also passing an ever-increasing stockpile of beliefs from one generation
services as soldiers and bodyguards. The ecological borders between pastoral societies
to the next.
and town-building populations were usually scenes of lively trade.
In Big Era Three, world population started growing at a faster rate than ever before.
Because pastoral societies were mobile, not permanently settled, they expressed social
The size and density of communities expanded, and networks of communication by
relationships not so much in terms of where people lived but rather in terms of kinship,
land and sea became more extensive and sophisticated. Along with these developments
that is, who was related by “blood” to whom—closely, distantly, or not at all. They
came, as we might well expect, an intensification in the flow of information and a
typically had a tribal organization, though this has nothing to do with how “advanced”
general speed-up in the accumulation of knowledge of all kinds.
or “primitive” they were. Rather, we define a tribe as a group whose members claim to
be descended from a common ancestor. Usually, a tribe is typically the largest group in
One example is religious knowledge. In the early millennia of Big Era Three certain
a region claiming shared descent. Tribes may also be divided into smaller groups of
ideas, practices, and artistic expressions centered on the worship of female deities
people who see themselves as relatively more closely related, from clans to lineages to
spread widely along routes of trade and migration to embrace a large part of western
nuclear families.
Eurasia. Another example is the idea and technology of writing, which emerged first, as
far as we know, in either Egypt or Mesopotamia and spread widely from there to the
In the latter part of Big Era Three, we see emerging an important long-term and
eastern Mediterranean and India. A third example is the horse-drawn chariot, which
recurring pattern in history: encounters involving both peaceful exchanges and violent
may have first appeared in the Inner Eurasian steppes and within less than a thousand
clashes between agrarian peoples and pastoral nomads of Inner Eurasia, the Sahara
years spread all across Eurasia from western Europe to China.
Desert, and other sectors of the Great Arid Zone. An early example is the far -reaching
social and political change that occurred in the second and first millennia BCE when
Complex societies as centers of innovation. Since we are focusing here on large-scale
several different pastoral peoples of Inner Eurasia pressed into the agrarian, urbanized
changes in world history, we cannot discuss in detail the numerous scientific,
regions of Southwest Asia, India, and Europe, sometimes moving in peacefully,
technological, and cultural innovations that complex societies achieved in Big Era
sometimes raiding, sometimes conquering.
Three in Afroeurasia and, from the second millennium BCE, in Mesoamerica (Mexico
and Central America) and South America.
Also, the mobility of pastoral societies and their vital interests in trade meant that they
served to link different agrarian societies with one another and to encourage growth of
To take just one early example, the city-dwellers of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia,
long networks of commercial and cultural exchange. The best known of these networks
which is as far as we know the earliest urban civilization, made fundamental scientific
is the Inner Eurasian silk roads, the series of trade routes that pastoral peoples
and technical breakthroughs in the fourth and third millennia BCE. Sometime before
dominated and that moved goods and ideas between China in the east and India,
3000 BCE, Sumerian scribes worked out a system of numerical notation in the writing
Southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean region to the west.
script they used, called cuneiform. For computation they devised both base-ten
(decimal) and base-sixty systems. The base-sixty method has endured in the ways we
Humans and Ideas
keep time and reckon the circumference of a circle—60 seconds to the minute, 60
minutes to the hour, and 360 degrees in the circumference of a circle. Sumerians used a
It was in Big Era Two that Homo sapiens evolved its capacity for language. This
wondrous skill meant that humans could engage in collective learning, not only sharing
combination of base-ten and base-sixty mathematics, together with a growing
understanding of geometry, for everyday government and commerce, as well as to
survey land, chart the stars, design buildings, and build irrigation works. Other
technical innovations included the seed drill, the vaulted arch, refinements in bronze
metallurgy, and, most ingenious of all, the wheel. This concept was probably first
applied to pottery making, later to transport and plowing.
Different cultural styles. Within complex societies, such as those that emerged in the
great river valleys, the interchange of information and ideas tended to be so intense that
each society developed a distinct cultural style. We can discern these distinctive styles
today in the surviving remnants of buildings, art objects, written texts, tools, and other
material remains.
We should, however, keep two ideas in mind. One is that all complex societies were
invariably changing, rather than possessing timeless, static cultural traits. The style of a
civilization changed from one generation to the next because cultural expressions and
values were invariably bound up with the natural environment, economic life, and
politics, which were continuously changing as well. The second point is that early
civilizations were not culturally self-contained. All of them developed and changed as
they did partly because of their connections to other societies near and far, connections
that played themselves out in trade, migration, war, and cultural exchange.
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race By: Jared Diamond
To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy
taught us that our earth isn't the center of the universe but merely one of
billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren't
specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species.
Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history
over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular,
recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our
most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe
from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross
social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism that curse our
existence. At first, the evidence against this revisionist interpretation will
strike twentieth century Americans as irrefutable. We're better off in almost
every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than
cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages.
We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material
goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are
safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and
machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his
life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?
For most of our history we supported ourselves by hunting and gathering:
we hunted wild animals and foraged for wild plants. It's a life that
philosophers have traditionally regarded as nasty, brutish, and short. Since
no food is grown and little is stored, there is (in this view) no respite from
the struggle that starts anew each day to find wild foods and avoid starving.
Our escape from this misery was facilitated only 10,000 years ago, when in
different parts of the world people began to domesticate plants and
animals. The agricultural revolution spread until today it's nearly universal
and few tribes of hunter-gatherers survive.
From the progressivist perspective on which I was brought up, to ask "Why
did almost all our hunter-gatherer ancestors adopt agriculture?" is silly. Of
course they adopted it because agriculture is an efficient way to get more
food for less work. Planted crops yield far more tons per acre than roots and
berries. Just imagine a band of savages, exhausted from searching for nuts
or chasing wild animals, suddenly grazing for the first time at a fruit-laden
orchard or a pasture full of sheep. How many milliseconds do you think it
would take them to appreciate the advantages of agriculture?
The progressivist party line sometimes even goes so far as to credit
agriculture with the remarkable flowering of art that has taken place over
the past few thousand years. Since crops can be stored, and since it takes
less time to pick food from a garden than to find it in the wild, agriculture
gave us free time that hunter-gatherers never had. Thus it was agriculture
that enabled us to build the Parthenon and compose the B-minor Mass.
While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it's hard to
prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got
better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until
recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results
(surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here's one example of
an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off
than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of socalled primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support
themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure
time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors.
For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only
12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza
nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated
neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when
there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"
While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and
potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving huntergatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In
one study, the Bushmen's average daily food intake (during a month when
food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably
greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It's
almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die
of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their
families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.
So the lives of at least the surviving hunter-gatherers aren't nasty and
brutish, even though farmes have pushed them into some of the world's
worst real estate. But modern hunter-gatherer societies that have rubbed
shoulders with farming societies for thousands of years don't tell us about
conditions before the agricultural revolution. The progressivist view is really
making a claim about the distant past: that the lives of primitive people
improved when they switched from gathering to farming. Archaeologists
can date that switch by distinguishing remains of wild plants and animals
from those of domesticated ones in prehistoric garbage dumps.
How can one deduce the health of the prehistoric garbage makers, and
thereby directly test the progressivist view? That question has become
answerable only in recent years, in part through the newly emerging
techniques of paleopathology, the study of signs of disease in the remains of
ancient peoples.
In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material
to study as a pathologist today. For example, archaeologists in the Chilean
deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of
death could be determined by autopsy (Discover, October). And feces of
long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well
preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites.
Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they
permit a surprising number of deductions. To begin with, a skeleton reveals
its owner's sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there
are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life
insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at
any given age. Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by
measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel
defects (signs of childhood malnutrition), and recognize scars left on bones
by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases.
One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from
skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and
Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of
the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the
adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low
of only 5' 3'' for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very
slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not
regained the average height of their distant ancestors.
Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons
from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio River valleys. At Dickson
Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers,
archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of
the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way
to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos
and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early
farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the
hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent
increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in
iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic
hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in
general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably
reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. "Life expectancy at birth in the preagricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in
the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of
nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability
to survive."
The evidence suggests that the Indians at Dickson Mounds, like many other
primitive peoples, took up farming not by choice but from necessity in order
to feed their constantly growing numbers. "I don't think most hungergatherers farmed until they had to, and when they switched to farming they
traded quality for quantity," says Mark Cohen of the State University of New
York at Plattsburgh, co-editor with Armelagos, of one of the seminal books
in the field, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. "When I first
started making that argument ten years ago, not many people agreed with
me. Now it's become a respectable, albeit controversial, side of the debate."
There are at least three sets of reasons to explain the findings that
agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet,
while early fanners obtained most of their food from one or a few starchy
crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition,
(today just three high-carbohydrate plants -- wheat, rice, and corn -- provide
the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is
deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.) Second,
because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk
of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture
encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which
then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of
parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the
crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a
chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and
vice versa.) Epidemics couldn't take hold when populations were scattered
in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal
disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the
appearance of large cities.
Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped
bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers
have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an
orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they
obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social
parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming
population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the diseaseridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C.
suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal
skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the
average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean
mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by
ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone
lesions caused by disease.
Similar contrasts in nutrition and health persist on a global scale today. To
people in rich countries like the U. S., it sounds ridiculous to extol the
virtues of hunting and gathering. But Americans are an elite, dependent on
oil and minerals that must often be imported from countries with poorer
health and nutrition. If one could choose between being a peasant farmer in
Ethiopia or a bushman gatherer in the Kalahari, which do you think would
be the better choice?
Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed
from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and
under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women
tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer
counterparts -- with consequent drains on their health. Among the Chilean
mummies for example, more women than men had bone lesions from
infectious disease.
Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In
New Guinea farming communities today I often see women staggering
under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed.
Once while on a field trip there studying birds, I offered to pay some
villagers to carry supplies from an airstrip to my mountain camp. The
heaviest item was a 110-pound bag of rice, which I lashed to a pole and
assigned to a team of four men to shoulder together. When I eventually
caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one
small woman weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it,
supporting its weight by a cord across her temples.
As for the claim that agriculture encouraged the flowering of art by
providing us with leisure time, modern hunter-gatherers have at least as
much free time as do farmers. The whole emphasis on leisure time as a
critical factor seems to me misguided. Gorillas have had ample free time to
build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to. While post-agricultural
technological advances did make new art forms possible and preservation of
art easier, great paintings and sculptures were already being produced by
hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago, and were still being produced as
recently as the last century by such hunter-gatherers as some Eskimos and
the Indians of the Pacific Northwest.
Thus with the advent of agriculture and elite became better off, but most
people became worse off. Instead of swallowing the progressivist party line
that we chose agriculture because it was good for us, we must ask how we
got trapped by it despite its pitfalls.
One answer boils down to the adage "Might makes right." Farming could
support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life.
(Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over on person per ten
square miles, while farmers average 100 times that.) Partly, this is because a
field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a
forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it's because nomadic huntergatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by
infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until its
old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don't have
that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years.
As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice
ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first
steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands
chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and
seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth
caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then
drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers,
because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy
hunter. It's not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that
those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except
the ones farmers didn't want.
At this point it's instructive to recall the common complaint that
archaeology is a luxury, concerned with the remote past, and offering no
lessons for the present. Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have
reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human
history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase
food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare,
and tyranny.
Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style
in human history. In contrast, we're still struggling with the mess into which
agriculture has tumbled us, and it's unclear whether we can solve it.
Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying
to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the
results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000
years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight,
then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as
hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through
dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture. As
our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants
gradually spread to engulf us all? Or will we somehow achieve those
seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture's glittering facade,
and that have so far eluded us?
Study questions on Diamond’s “The Worst Mistake in the History of the
Human Race”
1. What does Diamond think is the worst mistake? How can archeology
provide evidence for this?
2. Does Diamond agree or disagree with the idea that hunter-gatherers
had to work more than agriculturalists to provide for their food?
3. What does Diamond think about the idea that agriculture increases food
security (when compared with hunter gatherers)?
4. What does the evidence suggest about health of hunter-gatherers
compared with agriculturalists?
5. Explain why Diamond thinks agriculture lead to despotism, deep class
division, including sexual inequality.
6. Does Diamond think it is ridiculous to claim that people were better off
as hunter gatherers than agriculturalists? Which people?
7. Does Diamond agree that agriculture is what allowed the creation of
8. According to Diamond, why did hunter-gatherers take up farming?
Source: Retrieved 1/9/13
Core and Foundational Civilizations
Political Structures
Forms of Government
Nationalism, Nations
Revolts, Revolutions
Agricultural, pastoral
Economic Systems
Labor Systems
Capitalism, Socialism
Belief Systems
Gender Roles, Relations
Family, Kinship
Racial, Ethnic Constructions
Social, Economic Classes
Elites, inequalities
Trade and Commerce
Regions, Transregional
Diplomacy and Alliances
Art, Music, Writing, Literature
Technology, Innovations
Math & Science
Demography, Settlement
Urbanization, Cities
Migration, movement
Land Management Systems
Mohenjo-Daro & Harappa
Political Structures
Forms of Government
Nationalism, Nations
Revolts, Revolutions
Agricultural, pastoral
Economic Systems
Labor Systems
Capitalism, Socialism
Belief Systems
Gender Roles, Relations
Family, Kinship
Racial, Ethnic Constructions
Social, Economic Classes
Elites, inequalities
Trade and Commerce
Regions, Transregional
Diplomacy and Alliances
Art, Music, Writing,
Technology, Innovations
Math & Science
Demography, Settlement
Urbanization, Cities
Migration, movement
Land Management Systems
Chapter 3 & 8 – Ancient & Classical Civilization: India
Alexander the Great (8,9)
Ashoka (8)
Buddha (8)
Caste (3)
Chandragupta Maurya (8)
Dharma (8)
Guilds (8)
Gupta Dynasty (8)
Jainism (8)
Jati (8)
Karma (3)
Mahabharata (8)
Mahayana (8)
Maurya Dynasty (8)
Nirvana (8)
Reading Guide
Create PERSIAN Charts for the Mauryan Dynasty and the Gupta Dynasty
Locate and Label the following: Mauryan, Gupta, Himalayas, Deccan Plateau, Ceylon
Reincarnation (8)
Sanskrit (8)
Sati (3)
Untouchables (3)
Upanishads (3)
Vedas (3)
Vishnu & Shiva (15)
White Huns (8)
Chapter 4 & 7 - Ancient & Classical Civilization: China
Confucius (7)
Daoism (7)
Han (7)
Laozi (7)
Legalism (7)
Mandate of Heaven (4)
Oracle Bones (4)
Patriarchy (4)
Qin (7)
Shi Huangdi (7)
Veneration of Ancestors (4)
Warring States Period (4)
Wudi (7)
Xia (4)
Xiongnu (7)
Zhou (4)
Reading Guide
Create PERSIAN Charts for: Xia Dynasty, Shang Dynasty(in class), Zhou Dynasty, Qin Dynasty, Han Dynasty
Create a diagram illustrating social order (pg 87-90). Make sure to include descriptions of each group.
Locate and Label the following: Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han
Chapter 5 - Ancient & Classical Civilization: Americas and Oceania
Reading Guide
Create a PERSIAN Chart for the Mayans
Chapter 6 & 9 – Ancient & Classical Civilization: Persia and Greece
Achaemenids (6)
Aristotle (9)
Cyrus the Great (6)
Darius (6)
Delian League (9)
Hellenistic Era (9)
Illiad and Odyssey (9)
Minoans (9)
Mycenaeans (9)
Peloponnesian War (9)
Pericles (9)
Persian Wars (6)
Persian Wars (9)
Plato (9)
Polis (9)
Ptolemy (23)
Satraps (6)
Socrates (9)
Zoroastrianism (6)
Reading Guide
Create PERSIAN Charts for: Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians, Sasanids, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Greece (poleis)
Locate and Label: Achaemenid Empire, Alexander’s Empire, Mediterranean Sea, Anatolia, Aegean Sea
Chapter 10 - Classical Civilization: Rome
Jesus of Nazareth
Julius Caesar
Reading Guide
Create a PERSIAN Chart for Rome (Empire)
Locate and Label: Roman Empire, Mediterranean Sea
Pax Romana
Punic Wars
Roman Republic
Chapter 11 – Cross-Cultural Exchanges on the Silk Roads
Byzantine Empire
Germanic Peoples
Monsoon System
Silk Roads
Reading Guide
Compare/Contrast the Spread of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity – Make sure to include how each spread and where each spread.
Compare/Contrast the Fall of the Han and the Fall of Rome
Locate and Label: The Silk Roads (land and sea routes), Arabian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, South China Sea
Locate and Label: Western Roman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, Gaul, Rome, Balkans, Constantinople