Lecture Four: Technology and Ancient Civilizations
September 22, 2011
The Urban Revolution
Occurred about 6000 years ago.
This period of time was characterized by the development of urban civilizations
Examples: Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt
All of these urban centers developed because
- geography: there were some sort of barrier such as mountains (brought
- highly populated communities
- simple agriculture was replaced by field agriculture
Higher levels of learning, technological achievements, scientific achievements,
complex architecture were all characteristics.
These were stratified societies (centralized/hierarchical). The majority of the
power was held by the smallest groups of people. Most of the population was at
the bottom of the hierarchy.
The Hydraulic Hypothesis
This hypothesis makes a connection between the development of certain large
scale technological systems, and the development of these social, economical
and organized societies.
Water became a precious commodity in these societies for two main reasons
- Not enough water
- Too much water
People needed to control and have water because the new agricultural system
required more water (as there was more population to feed). Populations became
more static and sedentary. The building of large irrigation systems was meant to solve these problems for
the people. It was because of the need to create and control these systems that
caused the development of these stratified societies.
This is a determinist theory because it centers its idea on the belief that the
invention of these technologies essentially created and shaped the culture and
Problems with this Theory
Determinism - it is problematic because it assumes that the technology shaped
the people and caused social, political and economical changes.
It completely disregards all other factors for why this may have happened.
Some historians believe that the societies were already stratified civilizations,
before this technology was even created (therefore there is no reason to assume
that the technology shaped the society). It is more believed that the society
created the need for these irrigation systems, as opposed to the other way
Another criticism is that there were other societies that developed and used large
scale water irrigation systems, but did not necessarily evolve into stratified
Hypothesize that an irrigation system was just another way for the ruling class to
gain more power because they were in charge of distributing the water supply.
Reformulate hypothesis to state that, “it is not irrigation itself, but the centralized
coordination of irrigation activities that has important social consequences”
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)
Early Science and Technology in Ancient Civilizations Urban civilizations during this time were able to manipulate and use materials
such as bronze, which is why this time period is also referred to as the “Bronze
This is another case of determinism. The civilization is being labelled by only one
of the technologies used during that time. It ignores other uses of the technology
or other important things that happened during this period of time.
“Bronze Age” - these civilizations could manipulate metals in temperatures up to
1000 degrees, jobs needed specialized workers now, people gained more skills,