Governance & Complexity                   3,000 BC
Southwest Asia
Indus Valley
South America
North America


By 3500-3000 BC the Nagas, the oldest, "original" people of India, had established strong, permanent sea trade routes with China. They had established colonies all along the Indo-Chinese coast and well up into northern China. They had been instrumental in introducing Bronze Age culture into China itself and had a strong impact on early Chinese art. Then they moved out into the Pacific, through the East Indies, Micronesia, Oceania toward the Peruvian coast, where at Chavin they established what later became the nucleus/base for the entire Peruvian coastal culture as well as for Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and cultures in Brazil that have been seen by adventurers from the sixteenth century on but still are not part of the Amerindian archeological canon. (120)

In the epoch of the hieratic city state (3500-2500 BC), the basic cultural traits of all the high civilizations that have flourished since (writing, the wheel, the calendar, mathematics, royalty, priestcraft, a system of taxation, bookkeeping, etc.) suddenly appear, prehistory ends, and the literate era dawns. The whole city now, and not simply the temple compound, is conceived of as an imitation on earth of the cosmic order, while a highly differentiated, complexly organized society of specialists, comprising priestly, warrior, merchant, and peasant classes, is found governing all its secular as well as specifically religious affairs according to an astronomically inspired mathematical conception of a sort of magical consonance uniting in perfect harmony the universe (macrocosm), society (mesocosm), and the individual (micro­ cosm). A natural accord of earthly, heavenly, and individual affairs is imagined; and the game is no longer that of the buffalo dance or metamorphosed seed, but the pageant of the seven spheres - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the moon, and the sun. These in their mathematics are the angelic messengers of the universal law. For there is one law, one king, one state, one universe. And beyond the walls of our little city state is darkness; but within is the order intended from all eternity for man, supported by the pivot of the king, who in his saintly imitation of the moon has purged from his heart all deviant impulse and been transubstantiated. He is the earthly moon, according to that magical law wherein A is B. His queen is the sun. The virgin priestess who will accompany him in death and be the bride of his resurrection is the planet Venus. And his four chief ministers of state - the lords of the treasury and of war, prime minister, and lord executioner - incarnate the powers, respectively, of the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Sitting about him in his throne room - when the moon is full and he therefore reveals himself, wearing, however, the veil that protects the world from his full radiance - the king and his court are the heavens themselves on earth. Moreover, in the symbolism of this new and larger play of destiny, the earlier themes were all subsumed - those of both the monster serpent and the animal master - to produce a far more sophisticated, multidimensional symbolic play, qualitatively different and far more potent, both to evoke and to order the multifarious energies of the psyche, than anything the primitive world had ever produced. (128)

The Indo-Sumerian god-kings, greatest of men, sent out waves of cultural change. It is likely that all irrigation farming had one source, and the source was with them. It is the nature of metal-mining to enjoy large margins of profit. But much of this profit has to be returned in prospecting expenses for new deposits. Prospecting parties from India and Mesopotamia must literally have ransacked the world to find the supplies of needed metal, eventually circling the globe in the fourth and third millennia BC. Their intensive study of astronomy, which was so vital as to occupy their temples along with the gods, was at least as important to navigation as to farming. Indo-Sumerians sailed all the seas of the world. Dolmens and stepped temples mark the permanent camps of their prospecting parties. They knew the geography of the world, that the shape of the world was a sphere, they knew of the tropics and the equator. (135)

We have found that these mining groups and the settlements arising from them carried Indus Valley, Middle East and Egyptian civilisation around the world. So that today the parts of the globe which are Christian and Moslem somewhat coincide with the areas these men influenced. For Islam, and Christianity have not so much been the carriers of this civilisation but the seals imposed upon those countries which the culture of the sky-worshippers had previously appropriated, Islam and Christianity are rooted in the religious notions of the Middle East, back to the original heaven worship many times reformed. (135)

Whoever was part of the great, Bronze Age oecumene was part of a living, civilised world. Colonies supplied the metropolitan country with raw material; the mother country sent it back as manufactured goods, with her own trade-marks stamped on it. This goes for ideas as well as for metals. Ideas are also extracted from the hinterland, rubbed up by the Great Power and returned, re-embellished. When it is said that Sumerians invented bronze, the wheel and writing, we do not know whether the invention was not the product of one of their subject peoples. And most certainly in the second millennium, America powerfully influenced the Mediterranean as well as the reverse. (135)

The Age of Bronze sees the welfare state give place to private enterprise. The Sumerians, backed by the phalanx and the chariot, with the aid of pitiless bronze, hacked out the first great land-empire of the Middle East, at the same time reactivating the world-wide maritime trade that had been organised, possibly from Mohenjo-daro. (135)



Southwest Asia

 The archaeology and ethnography of the past half-century have made it clear that the ancient civilizations of the Old World ­ those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, India and China - derived from a single base, and that this community of origin suffices to explain the homologous forms of their mythological and ritual structures. ...the beginnings of this epochal flowering have been traced to a neolithic base in the Near East, the first signs of which have been identified c. 7500-5500 BC, and to the sudden appearance in approximately the same area, c. 3200 BC, of a syndrome of priestly discoveries and crafts, including an astronomical calendar, the art of writing, a science of mathematics applied to and attempting to coordinate the measurements of space and time, and the conception of the wheel. Nowhere else in the world have any of the elements either of the neolithic assemblage or of higher civilization been identified at levels of anything like these depths; and the probability of a worldwide diffusion from the Near East of the basic arts, not only of all higher civilization, but also of all village living based on agriculture and stock­breeding, has consequently been argued with bountiful documentation, by a group of scholars of which Professor Robert Heine­Geldern of Vienna is today the leader. (128)

3250 BC Sumerians arrive in Sumer (160)

However, in the period immediately following - that of the hieratic city state, which may be dated for the south Mesopotamian riverine towns, schematically, circa 3500-2500 BC - we encounter a totally new and remarkable situation. For at the level of the archaeological stratum known as Uruk A, which is immediately above the Obeid and can be roughly placed at circa 3500 BC, the south Mesopotamian temple areas can be seen to have increased notably in size and importance; and then, with stunning abruptness, at a crucial date that can be almost precisely fixed at 3200 BC (in the period of the archaeological stratum known as UTUk B), there appears in this little Sumerian mud garden - as though the flowers of its tiny cities were suddenly bursting into bloom ­ the whole cultural syndrome that has since constituted the germinal unit of all of the high civilizations of the world. And we cannot attribute this event to any achievement of the mentality of simple peasants. Nor was it the mechanical consequence of a simple piling up of material artifacts, economically determined. It was actually and clearly the highly conscious creation (this much can be asserted with complete assurance) of the mind and science of a new order of humanity, which had never before appeared in the history of mankind; namely, the professional, full-time, initiated, strictly regimented temple priest. (128)

When archaeologists speak of the development in the past of the first "complex" societies, most have in mind the kinds of changes we think happened first long ago in Mesopotamia, on the broad Tigris-Euphrates alluvial plains and adjacent hills of what is now Iraq. Based on well over a century of systematic archaeology, we know that if you were a member of an ordinary community here at about 6,000 BC, you would have lived in a village of a few hundred people, most of whom were your blood relatives. You and almost everyone else in your community would have worked in the fields to produce the grain held in common stores for large extended families and the community as a whole. And if you were an older adult male you would have made most of the decisions for you and your family about every aspect of your life. People very much like you and communities very much like yours would be found in all directions from your home, but your only contacts with them would have been minor trade in obsidian, flint, semi-precious stone, and a few other commodities, the exchange of young men and women in marriage, and--probably--the occasional fight. For all practical purposes, you and your fellow villagers were on your own terms of religion, manufacturing tools, defense, and food production; probably you and every other adult in town would know most of the skills necessary for survival; and your extended family--and every other extended family--probably could muster all the techbnological and social skills necessary for survival.(30)

But if you lived in this same area--perhaps the same town--3,000 years later, at about 3,000 BC, you would have led a very different life. You could have been a slave or a king, depending on accidents of birth. Unlike your ancestors, who were almost all full-time farmers, you may have been a fisherman, potter, weaver, priest, or some other specialist; but unless you were among the elite, many of the decisions you made about your job and your life would have been out of your hands--the perogative of royal administrators. You would have been taxed and expected to fight with the army in any of the numerous wars and revolutions you would have seen in your lifetime. As a farmer or any other semi-skilled or skilled worker, you would have been dependent for your continued existence and way of life on people with skills you yourself did not possess, such as potters warriors, herdsmen, scribes, doctors, metalsmiths, sailors and priests. Instead of a village of a few hundred people, you might have lived in a city of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands; you would probably have been a fervent believer in the national religion, and you would probably have been acutely aware of your social class, whether high or low.(30)

Five thousand years ago, when many of the world's people were dirt-poor illiterate farmers or hunters and gatherers, and when the peoples of the New World were still many centuries from village life, Babylon and its surroundings were a cosmopolitan world of cities, libraries, schools, international trade, roads, taxes, temples, and many of the other elements we identify with civilization. Indeed, much of the world's population today is still living the urban way of life that first evolved in these ancient Southwest Asian cities.

This, after all, was the homeland of several of the world's great religions and the place where writing, cities, metallurgy, and many other aspects of civilization first appeared. And all the obvious questions apply: Why here? Why in forms so strikingly similar to later developments in China , Egypt , Mesoamerica , and elsewhere?

The Uruk period is regarded as the era of primary state formation in Southwest Asia. Cultural forces and processes probably in operation for thousands of years culminated in this interval in the appearance of the complete checklist of civilization: cities, warfare, writing, social hierarchies, advanced arts and crafts, and other elements.

As many as 10,000 people may have lived in the city of Uruk by 3800 BC, and around the town were many smaller villages and towns whose sizes and distribution suggest they may not have been tightly integrated into Uruk's political and economic systems. Then, at about 3000 BC, the city of Uruk apparently grew rapidly to about 50,000 people, who lived behind substantial defensive walls. There is also evidence of widespread simultaneous abandonment of almost all the rural settlements surrounding Uruk--leaving little doubt...that the growth of the city was a result of the immigration or forcible transference of the population from the hinterlands into the city.

Archaeologists who have excavated Uruk settlements usually have found themselves ankle deep in the remains of millions of bevel-rimmed bowls, surely one of the ugliest ceramic types ever made outside a kindergarten, but also one of the most significant. Gregory Johnson has shown that various measurements of these bowls change over time, so that the Late, Middle, and Early Uruk periods can be defined in part by changes in their form. These bowls were mass produced, probably by simply molding, and they represent one of the first craft items for which the government organized some aspects of the production and distribution system. But these simple features of mass production and perhaps, government administration of commodity production an distribution were fateful steps in the evolution of states.

Urbanism does not just increase the size of communities, however: a key element of Mesopotamian urbanism was that proportionately greater numbers of people lived in larger settlements, and the people in these settlements became increasingly specialized in their occupations. All of these people--kings, priests, scribes, farmers, soldiers, slaves, etc.--became functionally integrated in the sense that they all depended on each other to perpetuate the community, and all derived benefits from the greater efficiency of functional differentiation an integration. Toward the end of the 'Ubaid period, almost all major settlements were fortified, and documents written much later, at about 2600 BC, speak at length of conflict between the people of Ur, Uruk, Umma, and the other city states. (46)

Adams argues that early Mesopotamian urbanization may have been imposed on a rural populace by a small, politically conscious superstratum that was motivated principally by military and economic interests. Because of defensive considerations and the cost of transporting labor and products, agricultural land nearest the urban areas would have been most intensively exploited, and this may have stimulated the construction of large irrigation systems.

In addition to suggesting that the ancient Mesopotamian state can be defined as a society with at least three levels of specialized administrators, Wright and Johnson contend that the effectiveness of such societies and their dominance over other societal forms are tied to their ability to store and process information and make correct decisions at specific points with the control hierarchy.

In most of Mesopotamia at this time, the administration of people and goods was facilitated by using pieces of inscribed stone to impress clay with signs of authorization. These stones were usually in the form of stamps, used like the rubber stamps of today, or cylinders that were rolled across the clay to make an impression, and they varied in size and in the complexity of the symbols incised on them. The impressed clay can be divided into two classes. Commodity sealings were used to certify the contents of a container such as a vessel, basket, bale, or storeroom. Other seals are termed message sealings and convey or store facts about goods or people. Writing, as we know it, did not exist until after the state--as defined by Wright and Johnson--emerged, but these stamps and seals obviously conveyed a great deal of information.

Wright and Johnson also analyzed the locational arrangement of the settlements in southwestern Iran and found that after about 3600 BC there were trends toward more regular spacing of settlements and the emergence of distinctive site size groupings--both consistent with the change from a two-level to a three-level control hierarchy. This pattern of developing settlement arrangements, which correlate with changes in the technology of administration, is apparently not unique to southwestern Iran.

The transition seems to occur in several adjacent regions in Iraq between [2700 BC and 3250 BC] around the ancient centers of Nippur, Nineveh, and Uruk .... Thus rather than one case of state emergence, there was a series of emergences of individual states in a network of politics.

Potters, using molds and mass-production techniques, turned out enormous quantities of pottery. In earlier periods great numbers of beautifully painted vessels were made at most larger settlements, but by the middle and late fourth millennium, pottery manufacture had become a centralized administered activity at Uruk and many other settlements. Other specialists included stonecutters, metal smiths, bricklayers, farmers, fishermen, shepherds, and sailors. Writing did not come into general use in Mesopotamia until the first half of the third millennium BC, but at Uruk and other sites, in levels dating from the fifth millenium onward, archaeologists frequently find stamp and cylinder seals which were used to impress clay sealings for containers, bales of commodities, and documents. Some of these seals convey in picture form the economic specialization of the community. Boats, domestic animals, grain, deities, and many other motifs are portrayed.

By the late fourth millennium BC, Uruk was already an impressive settlement of perhaps 10,000 people and several large temples. Between about 3200 and 3100 BC, the "White Temple" at Uruk was built on a ziggurat (a stepped tower of successively receding stories) some twelve meters above ground level. Constructed of whitewashed mud brick and decorated with elaborate recesses, columns, and buttresses, it must have been an impressive sight-especially to peasants coming into the city on market days. Inside the temple were tables and altars, all arranged according to the same ritual pan evident at Eridu some 2,500 years earlier.

Approximately thirteen city-states made up Sumerian "civilization" between about 3000 and 2350 BC.

The Sumerian extended family appears to have been a strong and durable unit, protected by laws governing rights of inheritance, recompense for injuries, etc. (46)

One of the less desirable "firsts" of Sumerian civilization was probably in the field of epidemic diseases. Just as there are certain disastrous things a hunter and gatherer can do (e.g., to presume on too slight evidence that a cave bear is not at home), one of the worst things a villager can do is contaminate drinking water with sewage, and this is hard to avoid in a primitive town. Typhoid, cholera, and many other diseases require certain levels of population density to evolve, to maintain a reservoir of infected individuals, and to perpetuate themselves.

Few economies in history or prehistory have been as organize as the Sumerian. Tablet after tablet records endless lists of commodities produced, stored, and allotted. Ration lists, work forces, guild members--all are recorded in numbing detail. Even the city's snake-charmers were organized.

Although Sumerian society was organized on the basis of kinship, people also belonged to and acted through occupational an social classes. In the event of war, for example, members of different "guilds," such as silversmiths or potters, would be under the command of their "guild president.'

At the pinnacle of Sumerian society was a god-king, assumed to be a descendant of the gods who was also in contact with the gods. Beneath him was a leisure class of nobles. There was also a leisure class of businessmen who lived in the larger, better houses of the city; of lesser wealth and prestige were the many artisans and farmers, including smiths, leather-workers, fishermen, bricklayers, weavers, and potters. Scribes apparently held fairly important positions, and literacy was an admired accomplishment. At the bottom society were the slaves, often war captives or dispossessed farmers.

Money, as we know it, did not exist in ancient Sumer; most exchange was "in kind," the trading of products for other products. Local and long-distance trade was voluminous, however, and ships sailed up the rivers from the gulf carrying shell, carnelian, lapis lazuli, silver, gold, onyx, alabaster, textiles, and food and other produce.

All together some sixteen "royal" burials were found at Ur, all of them distinguished from the myriad common graves by the fact that each was not merely a coffin but rather a structure of stone, or stone and mud brick, and by the inclusion of human sacrifices--up to eighty in one case. At least three categories of burials seemed evident, ranging from the sixteen royal graves to less elaborate but still richly furnished graves in which the common people were presumably placed. (46)

We find that 'Ubaid, Uruk, and Early Dynastic settlements subsisted on the produce of fields that could be irrigated by relatively simple, autonomous canal works.

The walling of towns does occur very soon after the emergence of urbanism, and warfare may have played a significant role in the major increases of cultural complexity that followed the earliest "states," but extensive circumvallation of sites is common on the southern alluvial plain mainly after about 2900 BC--some centuries after appearance of other evidence of cultural complexity. After 2900 BC the historical records leave no doubt that warfare was almost continuous throughout Southwest Asia.

There is simply no evidence for gradual population increases that might have helped to precipitate the Urban Revolution. Urbanization appears to have involved the widespread abandonment of large areas of formerly intensively farmed lands. Furthermore, there is no evidence that any of the areas of early state formation ever approached their agricultural limits.

...Two major forces were called upon to forge nation-states out of the heterogeneous Mesopotamian cities: militarism and complex administration. These two factors were the primary unifying elements, although in different proportions, in all Mesopotamian state governments and in subsequent ones.

At a fundamental level these civilizations were a set of ideas and social relations. The ideology that legitimized the strict hierarchies of power, prestige, and wealth, and the social relationships among the many peoples in these hierarchies are a crucial focus of analysis in trying to understand why Southwest Asian civilizations evolved and how they functioned. Ancient texts, in combination with other archaeological data, help us understand much about these social relationships, but there is much we still do not understand. (46)

Before the Sumerians there were no bakers, harpists, carpenters, metalsmiths, jewelers, artists, engineers, mathematicians, bureaucrats, or scribes. All these innovations appeared for the first time in their cities between 3700 BC and 3000 BC. In addition to irrigation, agriculture, kilns, and writing, they also invented the wheel, the chariot, bronze, sailboats, mathematics, the harp, astrology, schools, and the idea of trades and professions. In short, they invented nearly the entire foundation of all future civilizations-all in one fell swoop. (68)

Civilization after the Sumerians was based on five basic components: agriculture, cities, metallurgy, specialization, and social stratification. The Sumerians must have possessed some very special genes because they seem to have come out of nowhere to perform miracles--at least on technological matters--when compared with their contemporaries and the sum total of human prehistory. But the real problem surrounding all of these impressive accomplishments, so radically advanced in relation to the circumstances of the rest of Earth’s population at that time, is that there is no traceable, step-by-step path leading to them from the hunter-gatherer way of life. (68)

…the Uruk proto-cuneiform writing, whatever its antecedents, was "so radically different as to be a complete break with the past, a system different from anything else." It no doubt served to store, preserve and communicate information, but also was a new instrument of power. "Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Stalinist Poland," Dr. Michalows . said, "but I say coercion and control were early writing's first important purpose, a new way to control how people live." (110)

The earliest Sumerian and Egyptian representational sculptures and drawings include individuals holding scepters, staves with ankhs, varied crosses or helicoids, cups, and incense burners. Officious-looking figures wear elaborate robes, girded with decorative belts or aprons, conical hats with various flaps and distinctive symbols, and special necklaces. These personages frequently surround an enthroned individual or someone with other symbols of power. In other scenes they appear to be performing ceremonies around a table or altar. The best documentation of this priestly function comes from west Asian cylinder seals, figurines, and fragments of sculpture, and from paintings of the early Egyptian Pharaonic period four to five millennia ago. These depictions show ruling figures separated from the ordinary workers by a corps of retainers. (113)

Naram-Sin, the ancient Assyrian king, was quite simply a Phoenician. Certainly the Old World evidence points completely in the direction of Naram-Sin's having been in the New World. Sargon I, his grandfather (we're talking about 2800 BC and thereabouts), calls himself "Emperor of the Four Quarters of the World," "Lord of the Lands of the Lower Sea" (Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea) and of the Upper or Western Sea (Mediterranean), and of the "Tin-lands beyond the Western Sea" (Britain, Bolivia, Mexico, the Southwest.) (120) 1926 new evidence attesting to the nature of the destiny of the earliest kings and their courts was unearthed by Sir Leonard Woolley in his excavations of the so-called Royal Tombs of Ur, the city of the moon-god of ancient Sumer. So, from what we now know, it can be said with perfect assurance that in the earliest period of the hieratic city state the king and his court were ritually immolated at the expiration of a span of years determined by the relationship of the planets in the heavens to the moon...Among the Shilluk, the priests, who were the only ones knowing the will of God (whom they called Nyakang), saw to it that the king was killed after a term of seven years, or, if the crops or prosperity of the herds failed before that term, even earlier. The person of the king was sacred and could be seen by none but nobles. Not even his children could enter his dwelling. And when he stepped forth, surrounded closely by the nobles, criers sent the people flying to their huts. When the time arrived for his death, the high priest told the paramount noble, and the latter then assembled the members of his own class and apprised them, in silence, by a motion of his hand. The mystery had to be consummated on one of the dark nights that fall between the last and the first quarters of the moon, in the dry period before the first rain, and before the first seeds were sown. The charge was executed by the chief noble himself; none other should hear of it, know or speak of it; and there should be no weeping. The king was strangled and buried with a living virgin at his side. And, when the two bodies had rotted, their bones were gathered into the hide of a bull. A year later the new king was named, and on his predecessor's grave cattle were speared to death by the hundred.  (128)

Finally the facial features of early Sumerians and those from Mohenjo-daro exhibit many similarities, including style of beard, shaved upper lip and knot of hair at the back. The Sumerian legend relates, according to the historian Berosus, that civilisation came to them from the east out of the Persian Gulf and that they first peopled the southern part of Mesopotamia with Eridu, the oldest Sumerian city, as their capital. (135)

Evidence suggests that the Hurrians, who were the northern neighbors of Sumer and Akkad in the second millennium BC, had actually commingled with the Sumerians in the previous millennium. It is an established fact that Hurrians were present and active in Sumer in the third millennium BC, that they held important positions in Sumer during its last period of glory, that of the third dynasty of Ur. (146)

It was perhaps in order to deal with the most basic forms of commerce with neighbouring communities that the oldest known form of bartering tokens were developed by the tribal communities of the Kurdish highlands in the eighth millennium BC. These tokens gradually became more complex, until larger clay cases were made in which the smaller tokens could be kept safely without being damaged or defaced. By 3000 BC the token system had been completely replaced by sequences of markings inscribed on to the clay cases, and soon afterwards the first baked-clay tablets bearing ideogram scripts started appearing in the lowlands of Sumeria - their shape reflecting the fat cases originally used to contain the loose tokens. In other words, what was perhaps one of the earliest forms of written language in the Old World had developed initially in the highlands of Kurdistan. (149)

c. 4000-3000 BC The gradual emergence of city-states on the Mesopotamian plains, perhaps under the influence of the Anannage, the Sumero-Akkadian name given to the Watchers. c. 3000-2000 BC Continued influence of Anannage/Watchers over the Sumero-Akkadian city-states. This was recorded either as contact with gods and goddesses, generally through the Sacred Marriage ceremony, or through battles with demonic bird-men, like those encountered in the Kutha tablet. Kings descended from the Anannage/Watchers are granted deification, or are looked upon as part-demon. A similar contact takes place in Media and Iran. Final fragmentation of the fallen race. (149)

With the large and complex settlements of the Ubaid as a base, after 6000 B.P., dramatic changes occurred in southern Mesopotamia, and a number of communities became much larger. Between 5500 and 5200 B.P., the settlement at Uruk (also called Warka) became so large, with a population estimated to be more than 10,000, that we can reasonably call it a city - in fact, the world's first. (170)

Another site, Eridu, became an urban center soon after Uruk, with an estimated population of 5,000; a large, finely built temple; and a neighborhood of larger houses with more impressive material culture, belonging to the newly evolved elite. By the Early Dynastic Period of the Sumerian civilization, dated from 4850 to 4600 B.P., there were more than 20 urban centers, or city-states - each with its own temple and territory consisting of a four-tiered hierarchy of settlement types, including the city and its associated towns, villages, and hamlets. (170)


 But by 4000 BC agriculture had spread over much of Egypt, including the southern areas that had taken a few tentative steps toward agriculture in the late Pleistocene. Some people still depended on fish and wild plants for much of their food, while others were already heavily dependent on the wheat-barley, sheep-goat-cattle-pig combination that underlies so much of Middle Eastern cultural evolution. (47)

3000 BC First dynasty of United Egypt, seemingly Sumerian. (135)

The rise of the Egyptian "state" after c. 3100 BC is really just a bold reconstruction of what we infer happened. These inferences are based on: (1) the spread over much of Egypt of pottery and architectural styles that suggest close, continuing contacts among people over large areas of the country; (2) the investment of massive amounts of labor and resources in tombs and monumental buildings in such a way as to imply an unequal distribution of wealth, power, and prestige; and (3) some equivocal signs, like the Narmer Palette, that seem to indicate a potentate in the process of exercising kingly authority. (47)

Traditional sources suggest that Menes (also known as Narmer), a minor official from Upper Egypt, rose to power and conquered Lower Egypt at about 3100 BC, and that he and his successors established a theocratic political system over the entire navigable length of the Egyptian Nile. Menes is recorded as having built a capitol at Memphis (near modern Cairo), diverting the stream of the Nile to create a strategic position at the junction of Upper and lower Egypt. His next several successors were also powerful kings, but there is some evidence of internal dissension at about 2900 BC. Later, peace appears to have been restored, and major construction projects were undertaken in the centuries before 2700 BC. We know from tombs and other archaeological evidence that already by the early Old Kingdom (c. 2700 BC), Egypt was a complexly organized nation-state, with monumental architecture, a multi-tiered economy, and a centralized and hierarchically arranged bureaucracy. (47)

The middle of the third millennium BC was for Egypt a marvelous age in which many of the greatest pyramids and palaces were built, an integrated royal bureaucracy was formed, and arts and crafts were brilliantly executed. Because of the relatively comprehensive documents from this period, we know many of its political and social details. Economic exchange was apparently controlled almost entirely through the king; there were no “merchants”—in the capitalistic sense at least—until centuries after the end of the Old Kingdom. Craftsmen, scribes, peasants, and everyone else were required to perform some services in the name of the king and were liable for military and civil conscription… (47)

There seem to have been no standing armies during most of the Old Kingdom and no economically significant slavery. In some ways the economic system—although highly administered—was as simple redistributive, almost chiefdom-like system, quite different from that of early Mesopotamian states. (47)

…The Egyptian “theory of government was that the king was everywhere and did everything…The fiction of direct delegation of duty and of a direct report to the king was impossible to maintain in practice; but in the theory of government it was no fiction, it was a working reality.” Thus, the Egyptians viewed their state and culture metaphorically as a living organism, an organism of which they were all a part, from the pharaoh himself to the lowliest slave. A key concern to the Egyptian theory of government was “divine kingship.” The ancient Egyptians viewed their state as a complex blend of human and divine elements that was created and sustained by the interactions of people and gods, particularly through the agency of the pharaoh. The pharaoh’s responsibility was the “containment of unrule”—in other words, he had to ensure domestic tranquility and prosperity. To that end he participated in many religious rituals. (47)

Many simplistic notions about the origins of cultural complexity have foundered on the evidence from Egypt. Population growth, for example, may have produced fairly dense concentrations of people in favorable agricultural areas, but the long-term pattern of population growth was probably one of very slow increase through most of antiquity. But irrigation in ancient Egypt was primarily through the passive blessings of the Nile flood, and such irrigation works as were constructed seem to have been small, local installations that did not require a lot of people or “paperwork” to run them. But the location of settlements, the lack of walled towns and forts, and the art and literature do not support the notion that the critical factor in Egyptian state origins was Menes or someone else strapping on his sword, massing his troops, and marching to the Mediterranean, leaving a unified political state in his wake. Warfare was part of the state formation process, but probably as a mechanism, not a primary cause.

If we view these pyramids as mechanisms to mobilize and train a large work force, we must ask why such a work force would be an advantage, because when the first pyramids were built there were few large irrigation works and little demand for a standing army. If we view the vast expenditures of wealth in the funerary complexes as a means of "balancing" the economy by taking out of circulation inordinate amounts of gold, silver, or craft items, there is some difficulty in explaining why this would have been necessary in a society whose economic system and long-distance trade were strictly controlled by the monarchy and where there were few large markets and almost no free enterprise or capitalism of any kind.

In Conclusion, it has proven remarkably difficult to prise apart the many causes and effects that make up Egyptian cultural history, but we are beginning to understand at least some aspects of this history. And, like other early civilizations, there is much about Egypt that is interesting and rewarding at a level beyond that of its history. (47)

"Egypt was in no way a kind of magnificent dry run for Greece, which in turn gave rise to our brilliant civilization," says West. "The Greeks themselves acknowledged the greater fount and source of the wisdom that came later. In other words, civilization has been on a downhill slide since ancient Egypt. In fact, ancient Egypt itself was on a downhill trip from its very beginnings because, strangely enough, it reached its absolute peak--the height of its prowess and sophistication--fairly early in the Old Kingdom around 2500 BC...and pretty much everything thereafter was a lesser accomplishment, even the fabulous temples of the New Kingdom." (57)

3195 BC: Possibly this marks the final end of the "Sphinx culture" (a time that the Great Sphinx and other very ancient megalithic monuments were built), which, due to its collapse and the resulting cultural vacuum, paved the way for the dynastic culture of Egypt and other Mediterranean civilizations and the development of writing as we know it. (58)

Although excavations and the publishing of archaeological findings have continued to this day, scholars still cannot specify how a centralized Egyptian state emerged at the beginning of the third millennium BC. Explanations for the origin of the early Egyptian state remain hypothetical. (70)

In Egypt the gods resumed direct rule after the Flood, but around 7000 BC demigods assumed the throne. By 3350 BC, in a very chaotic period when the country was divided into Upper and Lower Kingdoms, rule had passed to human kings. This lasted until about 3100 BC when the first pharaoh was installed in Memphis. Known as the Old Kingdom, this period lasted for about a thousand years. (113)

The earliest Sumerian and Egyptian representational sculptures and drawings include individuals holding scepters, staves with ankhs, varied crosses or helicoids, cups, and incense burners. Officious-looking figures wear elaborate robes, girded with decorative belts or aprons, conical hats with various flaps and distinctive symbols, and special necklaces. These personages frequently surround an enthroned individual or someone with other symbols of power. In other scenes they appear to be performing ceremonies around a table or altar. The best documentation of this priestly function comes from west Asian cylinder seals, figurines, and fragments of sculpture, and from paintings of the early Egyptian Pharaonic period four to five millennia ago. These depictions show ruling figures separated from the ordinary workers by a corps of retainers. (113)

Diodorus Siculus suggests that the Egyptians used the word year of a lunar cycle or a month. He later says that the god-kings and heroes ruled Egypt for 18,000 years before Menes, which is approximately 1370 of our years. Since Menes, the first king of the first dynasty reigned about 3000 BC, it suggests that the professional god-kings ruled parts of Egypt about 4370 to 3000 BC. Diodorus says that later Egyptian kings were mortals. For he follows the distinction of the period in calling a mere Sumerian conqueror a mortal, while the professional god-kings were gods and always called such. Neither ancient history nor the book of Genesis can be understood until the terminology of the period is cottoned on to. (135)

Circa 3100 BC a similar yet not identical civilization was established in the Second Region in Africa, that of the river Nile (Nubia and Egypt). (137)

The Gerzean culture came to an end c. 3100 BC, just as Egypt was making its final transformation into the mainly arid desert we know today. At the same time, various chieftains or kings, each using different totemic emblems and signs of recognition, began establishing themselves as war-lords in both Upper or Lower Egypt. It was the suppression of these petty kings, and the eventual unification of their individual territories by early Pharaohs such as Narmer and Hor-aha, that established the foundations of Dynastic Egypt, just a hundred years before the rise of the Sumerian civilization. (149)

2700 BC Old Kingdom of Egypt ends (160)

Indus Valley

...the majority of the approximately 2600 'Harappan' sites so far discovered in fact lie outside the Indus valley, particularly to the east along the course of the ancient Sarasvati, a river that has been dry for almost 4000 years. This wide distribution of sites has been recognized by scholars, many of whom now prefer to speak of the 'Indus-Sarasvati civilization'…(124)

There is an unbroken archaeological continuum between Mehrgarh I A around 7000 BC and the upsurge of Mohenjodaro and Harappa as great cities after 3000 BC. For some reason the rate of growth and development became particularly rapid between 2600 and 2500 BC - the mature phase of incredibly vigorous urban expansion - but you can see the roots even of this phase in many small and large details more than 4000 years older exposed in the excavations of the first habitation layers at Mehrgarh. (124)

In the Indus area the sites that date to the mature Harappan period (after about 2600 BC) include three relatively huge communities (c. eighty-five hectares). These cities—Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, and Ganwariwala—are evenly spaced, as we would expect on the basis of locational theory of state-level settlement patterns, but there are also clusters of sites in other size categories. …the population in the region appears to have more than tripled between about 3200 and 2600 BC. In addition, more remote areas, such as the Kuli complex in Baluchistan, were brought into the Harappan cultural sphere. Betrween 3000 and 2400 BC, settlements appeared at Kot Diji, Harappa,Kalibangan, and elsewhere, perhaps founded by people moving in from the western highlands. The few excavated settlements of this period reveal simple mudbrick houses in small villages scattered in areas where no extensive irrigation would have been necessary. Some villages were walled, though there was certainly no shortage of land or pressure on other resources at this time. These various lowland settlements prior to 2600 BC show some stylistic uniformity and a great deal of economically and politically independent and self-sufficient, and reflect none of the rigid planning typical of later settlements here.(48)

According to anthropologists, the Indus Valley was home to the largest of the newly emerged ancient urban civilizations. Located in what is today southeastern Pakistan and western India, the Harappan civilization appears to have blossomed abruptly in an extraordinarily sophisticated form sometime around 3000 BC to 2500 BC. As established by archaeologists, the Harappans built half a dozen major cities of brick and stone, complete with sewer systems, orderly streets, and public and private baths. Their racially mixed society--as depicted in their statuary and other artwork--eventually extended 1,000 miles from its point of origin and included at least 1,500 separate settlements. We do not know who built this sophisticated urban society. Tablets with inscriptions have been discovered but they have yet to be deciphered. They found no evidence of armies, however. Clearly, this industrious civilization had managed to spread across an area larger than France without using force. Another interesting feature that separates this ancient civilization from others, such as those in Egypt and Peru, was its lack of temples, palaces, colossal architecture, and monumental displays of wealth, indicating that it was a relatively egalitarian society. (68)

As indicated by coins, tokens, and seals, they also used standard weights throughout the broad expanse of their civilization. The long-deserted Harappan city of Dholavira--discovered in 1967 in the state of Gujarat, India--can lay claim to several firsts: the first billboard, the first sewage system, and the first baths. On the upper level was the Citadel, which included an elaborate tank called the Great Bath. The Great Bath was 40 feet long and 8 feet deep--a large public facility by any standards. Constructed of fine-quality brickwork and drains, it was made watertight by the use of two layers of brick, lime cement, and bitumen as a sealant. The bath included a shallow section for children and was surrounded by a veranda. A giant granary, a large residential building, and several aisled assembly halls were also on this upper level.(68)

I discovered the Jesuit scholar H. Heras' Studies in Proto-Indo-Mediterranean Culture, and the worldwide importance of the Nagas as cultural movers, innovators, creators became clear to me. ...according to Heras, [they] had moved across the globe in prehistoric times influencing and shaping cultures that in turn had later influenced the New World in a kind of two-stage, two-step influence-pattern. Heras' book is basically a study of the influence of Dravidian culture on the West. We are back to 3000-5000 BC. The Greeks have not yet appeared. We are so far back that we are forced to conceive of the Dravidians at this time as a kind of proto-Indo-Mediterranean race, the essential, bottom stratum of Indo-Mediterranean culture, which is still in the process of acquiring its identity and creating its cultural forms. This proto-Indo-Mediterranean race migrates out of India (the Indus Valley) westward across the Arabian Sea into the Persian Gulf where, at the end of the Gulf in the Mesopotamian area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it establishes Sumer. This is one key proto-Indo-Mediterranean migration route. (120)

By 3500-3000 BC the Nagas, the oldest, "original" people of India, had established strong, permanent sea trade routes with China. They had established colonies all along the Indo-Chinese coast and well up into northern China. They had been instrumental in introducing Bronze Age culture into China itself and had a strong impact on early Chinese art. Then they moved out into the Pacific, through the East Indies, Micronesia, Oceania toward the Peruvian coast, where at Chavin they established what later became the nucleus/base for the entire Peruvian coastal culture as well as for Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and cultures in Brazil that have been seen by adventurers from the sixteenth century on but still are not part of the Amerindian archeological canon. (120)

I realized that if I had been standing in the northeast of India in 3000 BC and had started walking toward China, I would have met tribe after tribe of feather-headdressed, bead-wearing, bow-and-arrow-using, totem-based peoples who, in the last 5000 years, have changed little from what they were. The original "Dravidians" who had changed had been changed by a process of hybridization. They had "merged" with the Aryans from the northwest, then had crossed the Pacific and come in contact with another racial-cultural strain of "aboriginals" already settled on the coast and in the mountains. The imperial autocracy inherent in their Aryan leaders had expanded and developed in the near vacuum of the new environment. There had always been a tension between the imperial and the clan mystiques, and that had created a "war" between ruler and ruled: Aryan autocrat and Dravidian clansman. (120)

It is a curious thing that if one wishes to select a date that truly does seem to mark the beginning of some kind of 'new age' in the Indian subcontinent, then it would have to be around about 3100 BC - the epoch traditionally signaled as the beginning of the Kali Yuga. It was at this time, at any rate, along the river valleys extending down from the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges, that the largest urban civilization of antiquity began to stir. As we have seen it would later be called the Indus Valley civilization, or the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. At its peak around 2500 BC this mysterious prehistoric culture boasted at least six large inland cities - others may yet await discovery - with populations in excess of 30,000. These urban hubs were linked to hundreds of smaller towns and villages and to several key ports like Lothal and Dholavira at strategic locations along its coastline and up its navigable rivers. Its borders enclosed an area larger than western Europe - 1.5 million square kilometres, extending from Iran in the west and Turkmenia and Kashmir in the north to the Godavari valley in the south and beyond Delhi in the east. It also had outposts overseas, including a once thriving colony in the Persian Gulf, and it had an extensive trading network supported by a large merchant navy. (124)

...this is what the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro have now placed beyond question. They exhibit the Indus peoples of the fourth and third millennia BC, in possession of a highly developed culture in which no vestige of Indo-Aryan influence is to be found. Like the rest of Western Asia, the Indus country is still in the Chalcolithic Age - that age in which arms and utensils of stone continue to be used side by side with those of copper or bronze. Their society is organised in cities; their wealth derived mainly from agriculture and trade, which appears to have extended far and wide in all directions. They cultivate wheat and barley as well as the date palm. They have domesticated the humped zebu, buffalo, and short-horned bull, besides the sheep, pig, dog, elephant, and camel; but the cat and probably the horse are unknown to them. For transport they had wheeled vehicles, to which oxen doubtless were yoked. They are skilful metal workers, with a plentiful supply of gold, silver, and copper. Lead, too, and tin are in use, but the latter only as an alloy in the making of bronze. With spinning and weaving they are thoroughly conversant. Their weapons of war and of the chase are the bow and arrow, spear and axe, dagger and mace. The sword they have not yet evolved; nor is there any evidence of defensive body armour. Among their other implements, hatchets, sickles, saws, chisels and razors are made of both copper and bronze; knives and celts sometimes of these metals, sometimes of chert or other hard stones. For the crushing of grain they have the muller and saddle-quem but not the circular grindstone. Their domestic vessels are commonly of earthenware turned on the wheel and not infrequently painted with encaustic designs; more rarely they are of copper, bronze, or silver. The ornaments of the rich are made of the precious metals or of copper, sometimes overlaid with gold, of faience, ivory, carnelian, and other stones; for the poor they are usually of shell or terra-cotta. Figurines and toys, for which there is a wide vogue, are of terra-cotta, and shell and faience are freely used, as they are in Sumer and the West generally, not only for personal use of ornaments but for inlay work and other purposes. (135)

One thing that stands out clear and unmistakable both at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, is that the civilisation, hitherto revealed at these two places is not an incipient civilisation, but one already age-old and stereotyped on Indian soil, with many millennia of human endeavour behind it. Its history, within the limits of our archaeology, stretched from about 3250 BC. But the lowest levels of the cities have not been excavated since they are now below the water-table. K. N. Sastri, ...therefore reasonably places its beginnings very much earlier and puts forward the opinion that the Sumerians for much of the time formed the ruling class. Certainly, from an examination of skeletons, it seems that the upper classes were Mediterranean man, the lower classes Australoid, with a number of Chinese and Mongol visitors. Sastri gives a number of reasons for saying that the ruling class was Sumerian. He shows Indus seals of bull-fighting as in Crete. He shows the similarity of the tree legend, the tree of knowledge of the book of Genesis, found both in Sumer and India. The botanic name is ficus religiosa; it is the pipal or bo-tree, beneath which Buddha achieved enlightenment. (135)

Finally the facial features of early Sumerians and those from Mohenjo-daro exhibit many similarities, including style of beard, shaved upper lip and knot of hair at the back. The Sumerian legend relates, according to the historian Berosus, that civilisation came to them from the east out of the Persian Gulf and that they first peopled the southern part of Mesopotamia with Eridu, the oldest Sumerian city, as their capital. (135)

It was as compensation to Inanna/Ishtar that she was granted dominion over the Third Region of civilization, that of the Indus Valley, circa 2900 BC. (137)


 In the early third millennium BC, the people of North and central China--at least on the basis of our limited archaeological evidence--seem the very picture of egalitarian, peaceful villagers; but by the beginning of the second millennium BC, signs of social rank and violence are everywhere. (49)

Based on an analysis of pig skulls in burials at several Neolithic sites, Seung-Og Kim has argued that pigs were used as important status and wealth markers. Pigs were supremely adapted to Neolithic Chinese agriculture. Kim found that the Chinese Neolithic graves with the most wealth in the form of ivory and jade ornaments, pottery, and other goods also, on average, had more pig skulls and carved pig tusks in them. Kim argues that between about 4000 and 2000 BC the elites in many Chinese communities used pigs as "concentratable and productive internal wealth in order to establish political authority." (49)

K. C. Chang has summarized the overall developments of China in the third millennium BC in terms of eight features that, taken together, indicate evolving cultural interaction and complexity: (1) the beginnings of copper metallurgy; (2) the widespread use of sophisticated potter's wheels and presumably the emergence of a specialized class of potters; (3) the stamped-earth walls found at some sites, and their implication of the need for civil defense; (4) burials of bodies in wells, mass graves, and other conditions that suggest warfare; (5) the use of animal and other motifs in artworks in ways that indicate emerging status differences; (6) decorated jade masks and other objects that suggest an emerging ritual system practiced over a large part of the country; (7) the widespread use of scapulimancy, also suggesting ritual interaction over a large area; and (8) signs of social ranking and wealth differences in burials. We can easily draw parallels here with Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley: the Chinese use of jade, scapulimancy, and so forth are distinctive in their specifics but the general pattern is one of emerging and evolving class-consciousness, functional specialization, and administrative complexity. (49)


 By about 2700 BC Troy, Poliochni on the island of Lemnos, and other communities were already cities, with impressive stone buildings, efficient roads, and a diversified economy that included specialized and lucrative production of objects in gold, tin, and other metals. (50)

No area of the world has contributed more to world civilization than the Mediterranean Basin, especially in the form of Greek science, arts, and letters. But throughout the history of this region it also seems to have been the most fractious, with at least a 5000 year history of warfare and resistance to political unification. Some of the communities of later third millennium BC seem to have been redistributive centers for the towns and villages around them, but for the most part this was an era of hundreds of small and competitive cities. (50)

Until about the seventh millennium BC, "Barbarian Europe"--the great forests, grasslands, and mountain ranges beyond the Aegean Sea and extending north to Britain, Scandinavia, and Russia, was inhabited only by hunters, and foragers. In succeeding millennia, Europeans developed complex forms of subsistence and adaptation, and a rich cultural repertoire of technology and social systems, but throughout prehistory and well into the early centuries of the first millennium AD, European cultures were not the equal of those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and other areas in most of the characteristics of cultural "complexity". (50)

Population densities were heaviest in the central European areas where rivers supplied broad alluvial fields, but after 3000 BC villages appeared in light to heavy densities over almost every area where the environment permitted stock-raising and cereal agriculture. (50)

A metal-using people in about 3000 BC began to replace the neolithic people of Crete. For the next 500 years the foundations of the great structure of Minoan civilisation were laid; gold, jewellery and fine stone vessels being evidence of an advanced technology. Copper tools began to be used. (135)

There is now general agreement that the foundations of the distinct Greek civilization were laid on the island of Crete, where the Minoan culture flourished from circa 2700 BC to 1400 BC. (146)

South America

 The first formative area in America was seemingly Bolivia and Peru; the period was the Copper Age. In the fourth millennium certainly, but probably as early as the fifth or sixth, prospectors sought to meet the needs of the Fertile Crescent. The cause of the contact between these two distant parts of the world was the need for copper, silver and gold, and later, tin. High up in the Sierra, among the peaks of the Andes rising to 25,000 feet, a mining city comparable with Kimberley and Johannesburg in modern Africa, was developed by varying groups of white men some 5,000 years ago in South America. Behind Peru and Bolivia were the creative energy of the Semitic sea-people, the Aryans and the Sumerians, their astronomical, mathematical, and navigational skills, their knowledge of irrigation farming, their proclivity for terraced agriculture. From this local centre of civilisation they traded with and travelled throughout the Americas. In this centre the peculiar form of Amerindian civilisation was developed that spread north to Central America, the Peruvians themselves, as well as the Sumerians and Cretans, taking it to Mexico and Yucatan. (135)

There was East-Asian contact with Ecuador as early as 2500 BC. It was metal-hunger that had set them voyaging, the need for copper and tin: it was iron that helped put a stop to it. For iron is ubiquitous and plentiful. (135)



North America



 …I visited the Jomon site of Sannai-Muryama in Aomori Prefecture, and was surprised to discover how large and how well-organized the ancient settlement had been at its peak 4500 years ago - the same epoch exactly as ancient Egypt's 'pyramid age'. Sannai-Muryama, with its spacious public buildings, wide streets and planned sanitation, was not at all what I had expected of primitive hunter-gatherers. These were the obvious signs of permanent settlement, stability, order, organization and economic success. And they were accompanied by equally clear indications of a society with evolved spiritual ideas. In particular, the use of grave goods by the ancient inhabitants, and of symbolic burial patterns, are suggestive of complex beliefs in the afterlife of the soul. A ceremonial pathway that dominates the site proved, on excavation, to be lined on each side by tombs with the feet of the dead pointing towards the path and their heads away from it. (124)