I. Prehistoric Times > M. Later Old World Prehistory (3000 B.C.E. and Afterward) > 2. Webs of Relations
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
2. Webs of Relations
 
For all their complexity and sophistication, the early civilizations ruled over relatively small geographical areas by modern standards. But their insatiable demands for exotic raw materials—for gold, copper, iron ore, even such prosaic items as timber or textiles—brought them into contact with dozens of prehistoric, nonliterate societies that lived on the margins of, or outside, their boundaries. The last 5,000 years of prehistory are remarkable for the ever-expanding tentacles of interconnectedness that linked hundreds of prehistoric societies with one another, and with more complex literate civilizations many miles away.  1
This web of relations began to expand as early as 7000 B.C.E. in the Near East, when the obsidian trade linked small farming settlements seeking fine toolmaking stone. In time, these small regional trading networks became well-traveled caravan routes that linked Mesopotamia with the Mediterranean and the Nile Valley to the Levant.  2
During the fourth millennium B.C.E., long-distance trade exploded throughout the Near East, linking societies all the way from the Indus Valley in Pakistan and Iran with Mesopotamia, the Levant, Anatolia, and the Nile Valley. This rapidly evolving “world system” transformed human life. A millennium later, it embraced not only the Near East, but Cyprus, the Aegean, and mainland Greece as well. It developed because of an insatiable demand for nonlocal raw materials in different ecological regions where societies were developing along very similar lines. The Sumerians of Mesopotamia, for example, lived in a largely treeless environment with no metals. Yet they produced large grain surpluses, which they traded for timber and metals with the highlands by boat and across the desert by donkey camels. Nowhere did this emerging world economic system have a greater impact than in Africa.  3
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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