For the last ten thousand years or so, our planet has been in an interglacial period known as the Holocene Epoch. The end of the last ice age was the crucial climatic change that enabled all of the nearly miraculous transformations that Homo sapiens made in the rest of this chapter. It opened up a whole new hemisphere for the first native Americans 10 to 30 TYA. The warmer climate also opened up the temperate latitudes for permanent settlement and easy cultivation of plants. Settler-cultivators gradually progressed to the world’s first farmers, ranchers, and herders by 10 TYA.
As population densities increased, humans became a hyper-social species, cooperating in communities of hundreds, thousands, and millions – well beyond the natural limit of clans. Collective action magnified the power of the human mind immensely. Technology abruptly advanced from stone tools and thatched huts to metal, masonry, and vehicles. For the first time, some people were able to take breaks from food production in order to develop diverse skills and trades. True history began with the invention of writing in the -4th millennium, though the surviving written record from this period is limited.
Large-scale cooperation involved major challenges. It necessitated a ruling class and layers of social inequality. Communities standardized their spiritual instincts into organized religion. Religion served as a social glue to hold a nation together peacefully. At the same time, it provided the ultimate basis for a leader’s authority. Wealth, power, and organized numbers evolved together to strike a balanced solution whereby rulers served their own selfish needs while also managing collective welfare.
The first civilizations – nations, countries, and states – emerged in the cradles of agriculture. Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China all had advanced historic civilizations by -1000. The Mesoamerican and Peruvian civilizations also started to come into their own by that time.
Civilizations have always engaged simultaneously in war and trade, a perpetual disequilibrium determined by each state’s needs and capabilities. They competed in a tournament without rules. State-organized religion helped to unify “us” into ever-larger nations, while at the same time making “them” all the more foreign.
Stay updated with Chapter 4 “Margin Notes”, blog posts about ongoing discoveries
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