Cradle of civilization

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The cradle of civilization is a term referring to locations where, according to current archaeological data, civilization is understood to have emerged. Current thinking is that there was no single "cradle", but several civilizations that developed independently; with the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt)[1] and the Indus River in the Indian Subcontinent[2][3] understood to be the earliest. Other civilizations arose in Asia among cultures situated along large river valleys, notably the Yellow River in China.[4] The extent to which there was significant influence between the early civilizations of the Near East and those of East Asia is disputed. Scholars accept that the civilizations of Mesoamerica, mainly in modern Mexico, and Norte Chico in present-day Peru emerged independently from those in Eurasia.[5]

Scholars have defined civilization using various criteria such as the use of writing, cities, a class-based society, agriculture, animal husbandry, public buildings, metallurgy, and monumental architecture.[6][7] The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China (the predecessor of East Asian Civilization). It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iran, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western Civilization[8]—even when such sites are not understood as an independent development of civilization, as well as within national rhetoric.[9]

History of the idea[edit]

The concept "cradle of civilization" is the subject of much debate. The figurative use of cradle to mean "the place or region in which anything is nurtured or sheltered in its earlier stage" is traced by the OED to Spenser (1590). Charles Rollin's Ancient History (1734) has "Egypt that served at first as the cradle of the holy nation".

The phrase "cradle of civilization" plays a certain role in national mysticism. It has been used in Eastern as well as Western cultures, for instance, in Hindu nationalism (In Search of the Cradle of Civilization 1995) and Taiwanese nationalism (Taiwan — The Cradle of Civilization[9] 2002). The terms also appear in esoteric pseudohistory, such as the Urantia Book, claiming the title for "the second Eden", or the pseudoarchaeology related to Megalithic Britain (Civilization One 2004, Ancient Britain: The Cradle of Civilization 1921).

Rise of civilization[edit]

The earliest signs of a process leading to sedentary culture can be seen in the Levant to as early as 12,000 BCE, when the Natufian culture became sedentary; it evolved into an agricultural society by 10,000 BCE.[10] The importance of water to safeguard an abundant and stable food supply, due to favourable conditions for hunting, fishing and gathering resources including cereals, provided an initial wide spectrum economy that triggered the creation of permanent villages.[11]

The earliest proto-urban settlements with several thousand inhabitants emerged in the Neolithic. The first cities to house several tens of thousands were Memphis and Uruk, by the 31st century BCE (see Historical urban community sizes).

Historic times are marked apart from prehistoric times when "records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations";[12] which may be in written or oral form. If the rise of civilization is taken to coincide with the development of writing out of proto-writing, the Near Eastern Chalcolithic, the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age during the 4th millennium BCE, and the development of proto-writing in Harappa in the Indus Valley of South Asia around 3300 BCE are the earliest incidences, followed by Chinese proto-writing evolving into the oracle bone script, and again by the emergence of Mesoamerican writing systems from about 2000 BCE.

In the absence of written documents, most aspects of the rise of early civilizations are contained in archaeological assessments that document the development of formal institutions and the material culture. A "civilized" way of life is ultimately linked to conditions coming almost exclusively from intensive agriculture. Gordon Childe defined the development of civilization as the result of two successive revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution, triggering the development of settled communities, and the Urban Revolution, which enhanced tendencies towards dense settlements, specialized occupational groups, social classes, exploitation of surpluses, monumental public buildings and writing. Few of those conditions, however, are unchallenged by the records: dense settlements were not attested in Egypt's Old Kingdom and were absent in the Maya area[citation needed]; the Incas lacked writing altogether; and often monumental architecture preceded any indication of village settlement. For instance, in present-day Louisiana, researchers have determined that cultures that were primarily nomadic organized over generations to build earthwork mounds at seasonal settlements as early as 3400 BCE. Rather than a succession of events and preconditions, the rise of civilization could equally be hypothesized as an accelerated process that started with incipient agriculture and culminated in the Oriental Bronze Age.[13]

Single or multiple cradles[edit]

A traditional theory of the spread of civilization is that it began in the Fertile Crescent and spread out from there by influence.[14] Scholars more generally now believe that civilizations arose independently at several locations in both hemispheres. They have observed that sociocultural developments occurred along different timeframes. "Sedentary" and "nomadic" communities continued to interact considerably; they were not strictly divided among widely different cultural groups. The concept of a cradle of civilization has a focus where the inhabitants came to build cities, to create writing systems, to experiment in techniques for making pottery and using metals, to domesticate animals, and to develop complex social structures involving class systems.[5]

Current scholarship generally identifies six sites where civilization emerged independently: Mesopotamia, the Nile River, the Indus River, the Yellow River, the Central Andes, and Mesoamerica.[7][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22]

Old World[edit]


Main articles: History of Mesopotamia and Sumer
Map showing the extent of Mesopotamia
The ancient Near East
Portal:Ancient Near East
Regions and States
Fertile Crescent

Mesopotamia • Akkadian Empire • Assyria • Babylonia • Neo-Assyrian Empire • Neo-Babylonian Empire • Sumer
Egypt • Ancient Egypt
Persia • Achaemenid Empire • Elam • Medes
Anatolia • Hittites • Hurrians • Neo-Hittite states • Urartu
The Levant • Ancient Israel • Phoenicia

Archaeological Periods
Chronology • Bronze Age • Bronze Age collapse • Iron Age
Akkadian • Aramaic • Assyriology • Cuneiform script • Elamite • Hebrew • Hittite • Hurrian • Phoenician • Sumerian • Urartian
Babylonian literature • Hittite texts • Sumerian literature
Babylonian mythology • Hittite mythology • Mesopotamian mythology • Egyptian mythology
Other topics
Cradle of civilization • Assyrian law • Babylonian astronomy • Babylonian law • Babylonian mathematics • Cuneiform law • History of the Middle East

Around 10,200 BCE the first fully developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phases Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (7600 to 6000 BCE) appeared in the fertile crescent and from there spread eastwards and westwards.[23] One of the most notable PPNA settlements is Jericho in the Levant region, thought to be the world's first town (settled around 8500 BCE and fortified around 6800 BCE).[24][25] In Mesopotamia, the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers are among the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. It is because of this that the fertile crescent region, and Mesopotamia in particular, are often referred to as the cradle of civilization.[26] The period known as the Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BCE) is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain, although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium.[27][28] It was during the Ubaid period that the movement towards urbanization began. Agriculture and animal husbandry were widely practiced in sedentary communities, particularly in Northern Mesopotamia, and intensive irrigated hydraulic agriculture began to be practiced in the south.[29] Eridu is the oldest Sumerian site settled during this period, around 5300 BCE, and the city of Ur also first dates to the end of this period.[30] In the south, the Ubaid period had a very long duration from around 6500 to 3800 BCE; when it is replaced by the Uruk period.[31]

Sumerian civilization coalesces in the subsequent Uruk period (4000 to 3100 BCE).[32] Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia and, during its later phase, the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script. Proto-writing in the region dates to around 3500 BCE, with the earliest texts dating to 3300 BCE; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BCE.[33] It was also during this period that pottery painting declined as copper started to become popular, along with cylinder seals.[34] Uruk trade networks started to expand to other parts of Mesopotamia and as far as North Caucasus, and strong signs of governmental organization and social stratification began to emerge leading to the Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2900 BCE).[35][36][37] The earliest ziggurats began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period, although architectural precursors in the form of raised platforms date back to the Ubaid period,[38] and the second phase of the Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2700 BCE) is also when the legendary king Gilgamesh is believed to have reigned.[39]

Eannatum, the Sumerian king of Lagash, established one of the first verifiable empires in history in 2500 BCE.[40] The neighboring Elam, in modern Iran, was also part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic period.[41] Elamite states were among the leading political forces of the Ancient Near East.[42] The emergence of Elamite written records from around 3000 BCE also parallels Sumerian history, where slightly earlier records have been found.[43][44] During the 3rd millennium BCE, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians.[45] Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere between the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BCE.[46] The Semitic-speaking Akkadian empire emerged around 2350 BCE under Sargon the Great.[35] The Akkadian Empire reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BCE. Under Sargon and his successors, the Akkadian language was briefly imposed on neighboring conquered states such as Elam and Gutium. After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the Akkadian people of Mesopotamia eventually coalesced into two major Akkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north, and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south.[47][47][48]


The maximum territorial extent of ancient Egypt

The developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phases Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (10,200 BCE) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (7600 to 6000 BCE) appeared in the fertile crescent and from there spread eastwards and westwards.[23] Contemporaneously, a grain-grinding culture using the earliest type of sickle blades had replaced the culture of hunters, fishers, and gathering people using stone tools along the Nile. Geological evidence and computer climate modeling studies also suggest that natural climate changes around 8000 BCE began to desiccate the extensive pastoral lands of northern Africa, eventually forming the Sahara. Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.[49] By about 5500 BCE, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of inter-related cultures as far south as Sudan demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert; it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and its use of copper.[50] The oldest known domesticated bovine in Africa are from Fayum dating to around 4400 BCE.[51] The Badari cultures was followed by the Naqada culture, which brought a number of technological improvements.[52] As early as the first Naqada Period, Amratia, Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes.[53] By 3300 BCE, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper Egypt to the south, and Lower Egypt to the north.[54]

Egyptian civilization begins during the second phase of the Naqda culture, known as the Gerzeh period, around 3500 BCE and coalesces with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt around 3150 BCE.[55] The Gerzean culture coincided with a significant drop in rainfall,[56] and farming produced the vast majority of food.[56] With increased food supplies, the populace adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle, and the larger settlements grew to cities of about 5,000 residents.[56] It was in this time that the city dwellers started using mud brick to build their cities, and the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect became popular.[56] Copper instead of stone was increasingly used to make tools[56] and weaponry.[57] Silver, gold, lapis, and faience were used ornamentally,[56] and the grinding palettes used for eye-paint since the Badarian period began to be adorned with relief carvings.[57] Symbols on Gerzean pottery also resemble traditional Egyptian hieroglyphs, making the proto form of the Egyptian writing system contemporaneous with the proto-cuneiform Sumerian script.[58] Early evidence also exists of contact with the Near East, particularly Canaan and the Byblos coast, during this time.[59] Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt, also underwent a unification process. Warfare between Upper and Lower Egypt occurred often. During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule.[60]

The Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Naqada III archaeological period until about 2686 BCE, or the beginning of the Old Kingdom.[61] With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Thinis to Memphis with a unified Egypt ruled by an Egyptian god-king. Abydos remained the major holy land in the south. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period. The strong institution of kingship developed by the pharaohs served to legitimize state control over the land, labour, and resources that were essential to the survival and growth of ancient Egyptian civilization.[62] Major advances in architecture, art, and technology were made during the subsequent Old Kingdom, fueled by the increased agricultural productivity and resulting population, made possible by a well-developed central administration.[63] Some of ancient Egypt's crowning achievements, the Giza pyramids and Great Sphinx, were constructed during the Old Kingdom. Under the direction of the vizier, state officials collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects to improve crop yield, drafted peasants to work on construction projects, and established a justice system to maintain peace and order.[61] Along with the rising importance of a central administration arose a new class of educated scribes and officials who were granted estates by the pharaoh in payment for their services. Pharaohs also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples, to ensure that these institutions had the resources to worship the pharaoh after his death. Scholars believe that five centuries of these practices slowly eroded the economic power of the pharaoh, and that the economy could no longer afford to support a large centralized administration.[61] As the power of the pharaoh diminished, regional governors called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the pharaoh. This, coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BCE,[64] is assumed to have caused the country to enter the 140-year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period.[65]

Indus Valley[edit]

Indian cultural zone

One of the earliest Neolithic sites in South Asia is Bhirrana along the ancient Saraswati riverine system in the present day state of Haryana in India, dating to around 7600 BCE.[66] Other early sites include Lahuradewa in the Middle Ganges region and Jhusi near the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna rivers, both dating to around the 7000 BCE.[67][68] The aceramic Neolithic at Mehrgarh lasts from 7000 to 5500 BCE, with the ceramic Neolithic at Mehrgarh lasting up to 3300 BCE; blending into the Early Bronze Age. Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia.[69][70] It is likely that the culture centered around Mehrgarh migrated into the Indus Valley and became the Indus Valley Civilisation.[71]

The Indus Valley Civilisation starts around 3300 BCE with what is referred to as the Early Harappan Phase (3300 to 2600 BCE). The earliest examples of the Indus Script date to this period,[72][73] as well as the emergence of citadels representing centralised authority and an increasingly urban quality of life.[74] Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. By this time, villagers had domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton, as well as animals, including the water buffalo.[75][76]

2600 BCE marks the Mature Harappan Phase during which Early Harappan communities turned into large urban centres including Harappa, Dholavira, Mohenjo-Daro, Lothal, and Rakhigarhi, and more than 1,000 towns and villages, often of relatively small size.[77] Mature Harappans evolved new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin and displayed advanced levels of engineering.[78] The ancient Indus systems of sewerage and drainage that were developed and used in cities throughout the Indus region were far more advanced than any found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle East and even more efficient than those in many areas of Pakistan and India today. The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive walls of Indus cities most likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have dissuaded military conflicts.[79]

Around 1800 BCE signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE most of the cities had been abandoned. Many scholars believe that drought and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia caused the collapse of the Indus Civilisation.[80] The migration of Aryan peoples into the region at this time is also notable; however, the idea of a violent invasion is no longer widely accepted.[81] The Indus Valley Civilisation did not disappear suddenly and many elements of the civilisation continue in later South Asian and Vedic cultures.[82]


Mainland China, Taiwan, and countries linked to the Chinese cultural and political history

Early evidence for Chinese millet agriculture is dated to around 7000 BCE,[83] with the earliest evidence of cultivated rice found at Chengtoushan near the Yangtze River, dated to 6500 BCE. Chengtoushan may also be the site of the first walled city in China.[84] This Neolithic Revolution gave rise to the Jiahu culture (7000 to 5800 BCE).[85] Some scholars have suggested that the Jiahu symbols (6600 BCE) are the earliest form of proto-writing in China.[86] However, it is likely that they should not be understood as writing itself, but as features of a lengthy period of sign-use which led eventually to a fully-fledged system of writing.[87] Excavation of a Peiligang culture site in Xinzheng county, Henan, found a community that flourished in 5500 to 4900 BCE, with evidence of agriculture, constructed buildings, pottery, and burial of the dead.[88] With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators.[85] In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a center of Yangshao culture (5000 to 3000 BCE), and the first villages were founded. Later, Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture, which was also centered on the Yellow River from about 3000 to 2000 BCE.[89] The earliest bronze artifacts have been found in the Majiayao culture site (3100 to 2700 BCE).[90][91]

Chinese civilization begins during the second phase of the Erlitou period (1900 to 1500 BCE), with Erlitou considered the first state level society of East Asia.[92] There is considerable debate whether Erlitou sites correlate to the semi-legendary Xia dynasty. The Xia dynasty (2070 to 1600 BCE) is the first dynasty to be described in ancient Chinese historical records such as the Bamboo Annals, first published more than a millennium later during the Western Zhou period. Although Xia is an important element in Chinese historiography, there is to date no archeological evidence to corroborate the dynasty. Erlitou saw an increase in bronze metallurgy and urbanization and was a rapidly growing regional center with palatial complexes that provide evidence for social stratification.[93] The earliest traditional Chinese dynasty for which there is both archeological and written evidence is the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE). Shang sites have yielded the earliest known body of Chinese writing, the oracle bone script, mostly divinations inscribed on bones. These inscriptions provide critical insight into many topics from the politics, economy, and religious practices to the art and medicine of this early stage of Chinese civilization.[94] Some historians argue that Erlitou should be considered an early phase of the Shang dynasty. The U.S. National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the period between about 2000 and 771 BCE; a period that begins with the Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule.[95] The Sanxingdui culture is another Chinese Bronze Age society, contemporaneous to the Shang dynasty, however they developed a different method of bronze-making from the Shang.[96]

The Shang dynasty was succeeded by the Zhou dynasty (1046 to 256 BCE). The succession of dynasties, known as the dynastic cycle, is an important political theory in Chinese history. This theory sees a continuity in Chinese history from early times to the present by looking at the succession of empires or dynasties. Emperors would legitimize their rule by invoking the Mandate of Heaven.[97][98] During the Zhou dynasty, Chinese script evolved into its almost-modern form with the use of a clerical script that emerged during the late Warring States period.[99] In 221 BCE, China became culturally and politically unified under a large centralized empire, the Qin Dynasty, founded by Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di. Successive dynasties in Chinese history developed bureaucratic systems that enabled the Emperor of China to control the large territory from the center.[100][101]

New World[edit]

Central Andes[edit]

Caral of the Norte Chico, the oldest known civilization in the Americas

The earliest evidence of agriculture in the Andean region dates to around 4700 BCE at Huaca Prieta and Paredones.[102][103][104] The oldest evidence of canal irrigation in South America dates to 4700 to 2500 BCE in the Zaña Valley of northern Peru.[105] The earliest urban settlements of the Andes, as well as North and South America, are dated to 3500 BCE at Huaricanga, in the Fortaleza area,[5] and Sechin Bajo near the Sechin River.[106][107]

The Norte Chico civilization proper is understood to have emerged around 3200 BCE, as it is at that point that large-scale human settlement and communal construction across multiple sites becomes clearly apparent.[108] Since the early 21st century, it has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas. The civilization flourished at the confluence of three rivers, the Fortaleza, the Pativilca, and the Supe. These river valleys each have large clusters of sites. Further south, there are several associated sites along the Huaura River.[109] Notable settlements include the cities of Caral, the largest and most complex Preceramic site, and Aspero.[110]

Norte Chico is unusual in that it completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no visual art. Nevertheless, the civilization exhibited impressive architectural feats, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas, and an advanced textile industry.[5][111] The platform mounds, as well as large stone warehouses, provide evidence for a stratified society and a centralized authority necessary to distribute resources such as cotton.[5] However, there is no evidence of warfare or defensive structures during this period.[112] Originally, it was theorized that, unlike other early civilizations, Norte Chico developed by relying on maritime food sources in place of a staple cereal. This hypothesis, the Maritime Foundation of Andean Civilization, is still hotly debated; however, most researches now agree that agriculture played a central role in the civilization's development while still acknowledging a strong supplemental reliance on maritime proteins.[113][114][115]

The discovery of quipu, string-based recording devices, at Caral can be understood as a form of "proto-writing" at Norte Chico.[116] However, the exact use of quipu in this and later Andean cultures has been widely debated.[5] Additionally, the image of the Staff God has been found on a gourd dated to 2250 BCE. The Staff God is a major deity of later Andean cultures. The presence of quipu and the commonality of religious symbols suggests a cultural link between Norte Chico and later Andean cultures.[117][118]

Circa 1800 BCE, the Norte Chico civilization began to decline, with more powerful centers appearing to the south and north along the coast, and to the east inside the belt of the Andes.[119] Pottery eventually developed in the Amazon Basin and spread to the Andean culture region around 2000 BCE. The next major civilization to arise in the Andes would be the Chavín culture at Chavín de Huantar, located in the Andean highlands of the present-day Ancash Region. It is believed to have been built around 900 BCE and was the religious and political center of the Chavín people.[120]


Main articles: Mesoamerican chronology and Olmec
The Olmec heartland, where the Olmec reigned

The Coxcatlan caves in the Valley of Tehuacán provide evidence for agriculture in components dated between 5000 and 3400 BCE.[121] Similarly, sites such as Sipacate in Guatemala provide maize pollen samples dating to 3500 BCE.[122] It is estimated that fully domesticated maize developed in Mesoamerica around 2700 BCE.[123] Mesoamericans during this period likely divided their time between small hunting encampments and large temporary villages.[124] What would become the Olmec civilization had its roots in early farming cultures of Tabasco, which began around 5100 to 4600 BCE.[125]

The emergence of the Olmec civilization has traditionally been dated to around 1600 to 1500 BCE. Olmec features first emerged in the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, fully coalescing around 1400 BCE. This rise of civilization was assisted by the local ecology of well-watered alluvial soil, as well as by the transportation network provided by the Coatzacoalcos River basin.[125] This environment encouraged a densely concentrated population, which in turn triggered the rise of an elite class and an associated demand for the production of the symbolic and sophisticated luxury artifacts that define Olmec culture.[126] Many of these luxury artifacts were made from materials such as jade, obsidian, and magnetite, which came from distant locations and suggest that early Olmec elites had access to an extensive trading network in Mesoamerica. The aspect of Olmec culture perhaps most familiar today is their artwork, particularly the Olmec colossal heads.[127]

San Lorenzo was all but abandoned around 900 BCE at about the same time that La Venta rose to prominence. A wholesale destruction of many San Lorenzo monuments occurred around 950 BCE. La Venta continued as the center of Olmec culture until its abandonment around 400 BCE; constructing monumental architectural achievements such as the Great Pyramid of La Venta.[127][125] The exact cause of the decline of the Olmec culture is uncertain. Between 400 and 350 BCE, the population in the eastern half of the Olmec heartland dropped precipitously.[128] This depopulation was probably the result of serious environmental changes that rendered the region unsuited for large groups of farmers, in particular changes to the riverine environment that the Olmec depended upon for agriculture, hunting and gathering, and transportation. These changes may have been triggered by tectonic upheavals or subsidence, or the silting up of rivers due to agricultural practices.[127][125] Within a few hundred years of the abandonment of the last Olmec cities, successor cultures became firmly established. The Tres Zapotes site, on the western edge of the Olmec heartland, continued to be occupied well past 400 BCE, but without the hallmarks of the Olmec culture. This post-Olmec culture, often labeled Epi-Olmec, has features similar to those found at Izapa, some 550 km (330 miles) to the southeast.[129]

The Olmecs are sometimes referred to as the mother culture of Mesoamerica, as they were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed.[130] Although, the causes and degree of Olmec influences on Mesoamerican cultures has been a subject of debate over many decades.[131] Practices introduced by the Olmec include ritual bloodletting and the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of subsequent Mesoamerican societies such as the Maya and Aztec.[130] Although the Mesoamerican writing system would fully develop later, early Olmec ceramics show representations that may be interpreted as codices.[125]


The following timeline shows the approximate dates of the emergence of civilization (as discussed in the article) in the featured areas and the primary cultures associated with these early civilizations. It is important to note that the timeline is not indicative of the beginning of human habitation, the start of a specific ethnic group, or the development of Neolithic cultures in the area; which often occurred significantly earlier than the emergence of civilization proper.

Maya civilization Olmec Cultural periods of Peru Chavín culture Cultural periods of Peru Norte Chico civilization Jin dynasty (265–420) Han Dynasty Qin Dynasty Zhou Dynasty Shang Dynasty Erlitou culture Middle kingdoms of India Vedic Period Indus Valley Civilization Ptolemaic Kingdom Late Period of ancient Egypt New Kingdom Middle Kingdom of Egypt First Intermediate Period of Egypt Early Dynastic Period (Egypt) Gerzeh culture History of Iran Assyria Babylon Akkadian Empire Sumer

Cradle of Western civilization[edit]

The Colosseum and the Acropolis, symbols of the Graeco-Roman world. Via the Roman Empire, Greek culture spread throughout Europe.

There is academic consensus that Classical Greece is the seminal culture which provided the foundation of modern Western culture, democracy, art, theatre, philosophy and science. For this reason it is known as the cradle of Western Civilization.[8][132][133][134][135][136][137][138][139][140][141][142][excessive citations] Along with Greece, Rome has sometimes been described as a birthplace or as the cradle of Western Civilization because of the role the city had in politics, republicanism, law, architecture, warfare and Western Christianity.[143][144][145][146][147]

See also[edit]



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