Human Communities – History Essay
One of the most important traits of mankind is our tendency to live in communities. From the earliest hunter-gatherer societies to the modern technology dependent city, the ability to live together and form communities has been critical to our survival. Since the first humans appeared around 200,000 years ago, these communities have constantly developed and changed. Climate factors, migration, and technological innovation have all helped guide this change. This claim is especially true for humanity’s way of life up until 1000 BCE.
Beginning somewhere around 200,000 years ago the first humans began to populate the earth, beginning in Africa. From the start humans have been forming and living in communities. Early on these communities must have been very small with at least a few hundred members. This minimum size would have had to be maintained in order to preserve their languages. These communities were constantly evolving around their own habitat, free from any permanent settlements, towns, or institutions, staying and going with their primary sources of food. Whenever food disappeared or became scarce in one area, these nomadic humans moved on to a different region with hopes of better prospects.
Early hunter gatherer communities were moving around quite a bit, so they must have had very few possessions amongst themselves to make these moves as easy and efficient as possible. Socially, they would have truly been communal and egalitarian. There was no money and very little trade amongst the first humans. Outside of the community there was likely contact with other neighboring communities but likely only when two migrating communities happened to cross paths or the occasional migration from one community to another, whether by choice or by exile. Humans lived in this nomadic way until about 15,000-10,000 years BP. It was during this time when the development of agriculture took off, thus changing the way humans lived, migrated, and interacted.
By 15,000 years ago, human beings had already populated most of the planet. They had also begun experimenting with and mastering agriculture, such as domestication of cattle in Africa, wheat in the Fertile Crescent, and squash in the Andes. The ending of the ice age had brought warm temperatures to much of the planet and agricultural develops blossomed everywhere. Around 12,000 BP, a period of a cooler and dryer climate known as the Younger Dryas began. This new climate created the need for much more efficient agriculture techniques, which in turn helped facilitate large growth in human population. This agricultural revolution brought on the development of cities. Now people were beginning to live in densely populated areas and the need to migrate wasn’t as great. The division of labor became much more valuable and we also see the development of social hierarchies. Migrating people brought with them new techniques for agriculture and new types of plants and animals were introduced around the world. Of course, life also became more difficult. As it is because of this influx in the human population and the more connected communities were that diseases would have a much greater impact. Warfare also changed during this period become more large scale, with resources and land becoming important to more and more people. Perhaps the largest impact agriculture had on communities and the way of life was by laying the groundwork for commerce.
Commerce was created entirely as a consequence to agricultural revolution. The world’s population was growing at its fastest rate yet, permanent settlements established, the division of labor, and the establishment of political systems effectively required commerce to function. Commerce became easier through agriculture, especially through the domestication of animals, the want for foreign goods, and the ability for people to labor on things other than food.
Commerce brought enormous change to the way people lived and functioned as communities. By the fifth millennia cities began exceeding 10,000 inhabitants, in 3000 BCE the Nile valley united and became Egypt, and by 2250 the first empire was born. Social life changed dramatically during this period. Elite social classes began to emerge, a select few people could write, and artistic creativity really began to blossom. Major bodies of water also regain significant importance again as towns that were located along these became the epicenter for global trade. The Phoenicians are the greatest example of this. They were located in a prime spot along the Mediterranean and became one of the largest trading partners in Eurasia. People now worked entirely on the sea and some select migrants would travel to other locations to help facilitate a trade network within that community. By this time period, the world was a much different place than what it had been roughly 200,000 years before.
The world changed incredibly between the time humans first appeared and 1000 BCE. Communities had developed and evolved to fit the changes around them. Environmental factors necessitated the use of agriculture in order to sustain entire communities amongst an unforgiving climate. Agriculture facilitated the development of commerce and wealth. Ideas now moved faster than ever around the world. Communities, while still closely connected amongst themselves, were now more complicated than ever before.