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A Very Short History of the Ancient World

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Contents


Introduction

In the beginning, before there was anything, God pushed a button & got things started. Of course, this was a figurative button. Because if there wasn't anything, how could there be a button to push? And does God have a finger? But this all happened so long ago that it's basically irrelevant.

Anyhow, things got underway. The universe came into being. The sun occurred & planets formed. (Don't bother me with details; it happened! Hey, we're here aren't we?)

Billions of years passed. Maybe 19 billion. O.K., maybe 18 or 20 (or more precisely, according to a recent report from the Hubble telescope, 13.7 billion). But what's a few billion or so years to humanity? Anyhow, somewhere during that time, there was an "organized" spark that set life into being -- that gave organisms the opportunity to recreate themselves. Neat, huh?

And they evolved according to the plan that put them into gear & started the engine. (Lots of folks call that "God.")

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Well, we humans think we're the top of the food chain, the beings with more intelligence & whatever than any of the other organisms (for lack of a better word) here on this tiny planet called (by us) earth.

Maybe we are. But let's take a look backward. Sixty million years ago, the age of giant reptiles came to an end. Dinosaurs ruled the earth; mammals were not able to evolve because they could never challenge the dinosaurs. Then, a comet hit the earth and the dinosaurs disappeared. Mammals, including primates, were then able to evolve. More than 5 million years ago, primates walked on all fours. Then they started to walk on their two hind legs. The less they hung on trees, the more they used their arms to carry things, and they began to develop the use of their hands. Two million years ago the hands were used as tools, which is the first characteristic that is recognizably human. The jaw muscles relaxed, which allowed the skull to grow larger to fit a larger brain. In another 400,000 years, the first creature that looked like us -- and was as tall as us -- had evolved.

The physical evolution of the body and hands enabled these early humans to use tools in everyday life. These primitive tools saved them from using their teeth for a lot of things. People turned carnivore from vegetarian because they were able to use tools to help catch their food. They were then able to make fire, shelter and many tools for living and evolving as semi- civilized people.

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When did we become "human"? When did we change from a pretty smart monkey to a kindof intelligent sentient being? What gene or genes were programmed into us to enable us to make this leap from the animal to the human?? Did God -- sometime after "pushing the button" -- somehow snap his finger???

Animals operate primarily on instinct; they are "programmed" to do things according to their species. In contrast, humans operate on a combination of instinct and thought -- cognitive processes that allow us to consider options & make decisions are what enables us to be sentient beings. It allowed us to produce what we call civilization.

How did we obtain this "difference" between us and the rest of living matter? Was it a spark that gradually grew into a flame? A gradual temperature rise that caused a combustible material to ignite? A lightning bolt that struck a burnable bush? Who knows? We do not know the how; we only know the end result.

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Presumably (hey, I wasn't there, how should I know?) these early humans scratched out a living eating nuts & berries & an occasional small animal. As they got smarter, they figured out tools & weapons -- first rocks, then spears & such and eventually bows & arrows. And at some point, these hunters and gatherers found fire! Wow! No more extra rare dinosaur steaks! (Can you imagine the delight in eating roast lamb versus raw lamb!! With a little rosemary & garlic thrown on???)

Was there one group or many? Hey, I can't say -- again, I wasn't there. But as they either moved around or evolved in place, differences occurred (perhaps in part because of where they lived or genetics -- or both): Darker skin in Africa where the sun was hot. Epicanthic eye fold in the Orient because; why? Who knows. Blondes & fair skin in Scandinavia. Etcetera, etcetera.

There were several significant epicenters of civilization early on. We'll take a very brief look at the four considered most significant (Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China) -- plus three others (Greece, Rome and the Hebrews) that contributed so much to Western society.

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Great rivers appear to be the key to all four of these very early civilizations. The Nile was key to Egypt. The Tigris-Euphrates dual river system to Mesopotamia. These roughly parallel great rivers rise in the mountains of eastern Turkey and flow southeast -- almost coming together at Baghdad -- into the northern end of the Persian Gulf. This area, known as the "fertile crescent" because of its shape, is often referred to as the "cradle of mankind." Also key were the Indus and Ganges rivers in India and the Yellow River and the Yangtze in China.

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