II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 1. Origins of Civilizations, 4000–2000 B.C.E. > d. Comparisons
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
d. Comparisons
 
Civilized societies show many similarities and differences.  1
Civilizations and river valleys. Origins of civilization were frequently identified with river valleys in early modern historical scholarship. Some scholars felt that irrigation was the necessary catalyst for creating a hierarchical society of dominant managers. While this may have been true for the cases of the three earliest civilizations, further study of early Chinese civilization shows that irrigation-based agriculture did not play a major role in developing hierarchical institutions, and the absence of major river valleys in Mesoamerica and the region of the Andes civilization brought an end to the old “river valley theory” of the origins of civilization.  2
Cities took different forms in ancient societies but were distinguished from the agricultural village. Cities were generally significantly larger and contained a cosmopolitan population consisting of more than a cluster of kinship-defined clans. The city had a clearly defined nucleus of settlement, often marked with a wall, that separated it from its related agricultural hinterland. It had institutions that are identified with the city as a unit, and these municipal institutions in ancient cities included temples and grand monuments, palaces, markets, and the defense structures like walls. Cities in Sumer and the Indus Valley most completely fit this definition, while the large population centers in ancient Egypt were more palace-temple complexes and had structures that were less clearly municipal. In China, there is no evidence of true cities until the Shang dynasty (See 2357–2256 B.C.E), but the Shang capital, Anyang, was a major city of the ancient world. In early Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations, the major population centers were similar to those in Egypt, being more ceremonial centers of power than true urban areas. At the extreme, clusters of villages around ceremonial monuments distinguished the early mound builder societies and showed their character as complex, nonurban societies.  3
Agriculture provided another area of diversity among the early civilizations, with each being associated with a distinctive cluster of products and methods. Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus Valley society were similar in terms of the basic crops grown, which were standard grains like wheat and barley, and the field method of cultivation using plows. Irrigation in Sumer and the Indus Valley required utilization of canals and levees to control and distribute river waters that could otherwise cause significant damage. In Egypt, basin irrigation simply channeled water into fields because Nile floods were less violent and in cycle with the growing season. In China, the primary early crop was millet, with rice being introduced later. The basic method for garden cultivation did not include the use of a plow or draft animals and gave a distinctive tone to Chinese society. In the Western Hemisphere, the lack of available draft animals and cattle for domestication gave increased importance to distinctive crops like corn and potatoes. In Mesoamerica, water control involved creating fields from swamps by building raised plots or chiampas, and in the larger areas, older methods of slash-and-burn agriculture were continued.  4
 
 
 
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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