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Natural Science
NATS 1775
Vera Pavri

2009 © Vera Pavri Lecture 2: Technology in Ancient Civilizations I. Early Civilizations - Urban Revolution – 6000 years ago - Where? At least six different centers around the world: Mesopotamia (after 3500 BC); Egypt (after 3400 BC); Indus River Valley (after 2500 BC); Yellow River in China (after 1800 BC); Mesoamerica (500 BC); South America (after 300 BC) - Characteristics: high populations, centralized political and economic authority, regional states, stratified societies (status/class), complex architecture, higher learning - Why did they develop? Larger populations needed intensified agricultural production - Simple agriculture replaced by field agriculture - Large scale water management networks (‘public works’) built and maintained by “the corvee” which were conscripted labor gangs - Projects supervised by state employed engineers II. Hydraulic Hypothesis - Fact that all these early civilizations required large-scale hydraulic engineering projects (because of either too much or too little water for practicing intensified agriculture) has led some scholars to explain this phenomena as hydraulic hypothesis (Wittfogel and Steward) - HYDRAULIC HYPOTHESIS: there is a link between the rise of early civilizations and the technology of large scale hydraulic systems - Large scale irrigation: heavy water use, and in some cases, growing of crops in otherwise unsuitable regions by extreme use of water (e.g. rice paddies on arid land). - Large scale irrigation necessitates centralized co-ordination and this leads to greater political integration in society - Irrigation on such a large scale thus “causes” the emergence of centralized and hierarchal political system - Civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, etc… are therefore types of “irrigation civilizations” which have common features and develop in a similar way because of this need to adapt to their environment via large scale irrigation - For example, these civilizations have very hot climates which makes it easier to produce large amounts of crops - Civilizations able to grow because they are in a environmental restricted space – when warfare occurs, groups that are defeated cannot move anywhere like they could in earlier times – instead, become slaves and peasants who work to maintain intensified farming practices 2009 © Vera Pavri - This allows more people to be fed but also requires society to be organized in a way that allows for maintaining system, distributing goods, settling water disputes, controlling grain surpluses - Therefore there is the development of an authoritarian state because water (a scarce commodity) must be controlled - N Mass labor had to be coordinated, disciplined when necessary, and “led” by higher political authority III. Criticisms of Hydraulic Hypothesis - Major criticisms of hydraulic hypothesis stem from idea that large-scale irrigation “causes” this type of hierarchal political system - This association between irrigation and the political systems present in these civilizations is very deterministic - Critics argue that centralized political power did not just center around irrigation activities - in fact in places like Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica had centralized states even before they began having large-scale irrigation projects; large cities were already developed - thus irrigation more a “consequence” or “product” rather than “cause” of this kind of state organization (although it does facilitate development of bureaucratic elite) - also question whether large-scale irrigation products always require this kind of political organization (i.e. Hohokam society, ancient Ceylon) - William Mitchell: reformulate hypothesis to state that, “it is not irrigation itself, but the centralized coordination of irrigation activities that has important social consequences” - Feedback system: centralized control of irrigation means greater political integration and this then allows people in power to come up with an “excuse” for more political control (i.e. the right to limit access to water) IV. Early Science and Technology in Ancient Civilizations - Urban civilizations mastered art of bronze metallurgy (study of metals); leads to this era being known as the “Bronze Age” - Metal used for tools and weapons instead of stone means that these civilizations able to master complex sets of technologies such as mining ore, smelting, hammering and casting metals at temperatures greater than 1100 degrees Celsius - Along with bronze metallurgy came silver and gold metallurgy but this was done mostly in new world for decorative or ceremonial purposes - Leads to more trade in minerals; specialization of labor (i.e. craft production, beer brewing) - These civilizations also used new sources of energy such as wind power, boats, ox plow, horse and wheeled cart, camel 2009 © Vera Pavri a. Mesopotamia - Writing (Sumerian cuneiform system of writing on clay tablets), new scribal tradition - Schools developed to teach scribal (writing) skills - Mathematics (sexigesimal (base 60) system that uses digits to represent powers of 60 (think of today’s hours, minutes, circle) - Place system – 135 = 100 + 30 + 5 - - sophisticated astronomy and highly accurate calendars – Babylonians were very knowledgeable about solstices, equinoxes, sun and moon cycles; could predict solar and lunar eclipses, computed and extrapolated information about planets such as risings, settings, visibility - knowledge eventually transferred to Greeks who made further developments - did not just keep records, conducted systematic research - astrology, meteorology, magic - built great monuments – temple complexes, pyramids (for example, Tower of Babel story based on Nebuchadnezzar’s tower which was over 270 feet) b. Egypt - large scale architectural/construction projects like pyramids show highly sophisticated level of engineering knowledge in Egyptian civilization - most pyramids in Giza built around 2789-2767 BC (give or take 200 years) - Great Pyramid at Giza: 2.3M blocks (2.3 tons each) = 6M tons; 485 feet h
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