Advanced Civilization takes a Huge Step Forward with the Bronze Age

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 2nd, 2011

Technology 101

Bronze gave the Artisans the Tools to Unleash their Human Capital and Increase the Quality of Life

Two things put man at the top of the food chain.  The ability to think.  And hands that could build the things we thought of.  In particular, tools.  First it was sharpened sticks and antlers.  Stone and flint.  These were steps forward.  But the quality of these tools was poor.  They weren’t ideal.  They were the best we could chip out from what we could find.  And they didn’t hold a sharp edge very long.  But that all changed with metallurgy.

Enter the Bronze Age.  Where man could cast pretty much any tool he thought of.  By pouring molten metal into a mold.  This was a huge step forward.  Because we could make tools to fit the job.  Any job.  They were strong, too.  And could hold a sharp edge for a longer time.  This exploded the growth of cities.  Farms.  And urban life.  Artisans now had the tools to unleash their human capital.  Cities became rich in finished goods.  Things that increased the quality of life.  And attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  And the uncivilized barbarians beyond the civilized frontier.

With bronze they could make better weapons to defend themselves.  And they did.  The Sumerians used bronze to create one of the most formidable defensive units of the time.  The phalanx.  A formation of soldiers armed with bronze-tipped spears.  This spear could reach further than a sword.  So swordsmen attacking a phalanx were at a disadvantage.  The phalanx could stab with the spear before the swordsman could stab with his sword.  The same principle of the defensive mechanism of the porcupine.  The phalanx was such a formidable defensive unit that it saw service for many centuries.  Letting civilizations grow because they could defend themselves from their envious neighbors.

It took Regional and Long Distant Trade to get the Copper and Tin to Smelt into Bronze

The Stone Age lasted a long time.  And the change to the Bronze Age didn’t happen overnight.  Because you don’t mine bronze.  You make it.  When you melt two or more metals together.  And the two most popular metals of the time were copper.  And tin.

The Sumerians used bronze tools and weapons.  But the Fertile Crescent didn’t have any ore deposits.  So the metals necessary to make bronze were not indigenous to the Fertile Crescent.  That land between the Euphrates and the Tigris.  So how did a people with no ore deposits smelt copper and tin into bronze?  Trade.

You have to dig copper out of the ground.  You have to dig tin out of the ground.  And you typically don’t dig copper and tin out of the same mine.  Worse, tin wasn’t as close to the Sumerians as copper was.  So it took regional trade.  And long distant trade.  To get the ore to smelt into bronze.

Trade gave us the Bronze Age and Advanced Civilizations

The Bronze Age created advanced civilizations.  But it took an advanced civilization to make bronze.  So what came first?  The Bronze Age?  Or advanced civilization?  That’s an easy answer.  Trade.

An advanced civilization could create great things.  As long as they had the ingredients to make those things.  Some of these things were indigenous to their civilization.  A lot of them were not.  So you traded.  To get the things you needed but didn’t have.  With the things you had.  And the things you built.  From both.


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The Division of Labor Produced the First Great Civilization: Sumer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 25th, 2011

History 101

The Sumerians’ Large-Scale Farming Produced the First Reliable Food Surpluses in History

The first civilization was in Mesopotamia.  The Cradle of Civilization.  In the Fertile Crescent.  That land between the Euphrates and Tigris.  Roughly modern day Iraq.  Where things started happening around 5,000 BC.  And lasted a long time.  A few thousand years.  And some.  During this time we see the first city-states.  Like Babylon in the north.  And Ur in the south.  Home of Abraham.  Yes, that Abraham.  The biblical one.  Who was part of the great Sumerian civilization.

Why here?  Because of the fertile soil along the river banks.  And the source of fresh water.  For drinking.  And farming.  For the Sumerians harnessed this water to irrigate their fields.  In Sumer they farmed for the first time on a grand scale.  Marshalling and organizing a great labor force.  Made possible by language.  That they could read and write.  They became specialists in food production.  And with these specialists we see the development of the division of labor.

They domesticated animals.  For food.  And for work.  This advance into large-scale farming produced the first reliable food surpluses in history.  Which allowed a lot of people to live in crowded cities.  Many of who had a lot of spare time.  And they used it.  To create other things.  Becoming specialists themselves.  Civilization became more complex.  And better.  Thanks to the division of labor.  That created all of these new specialists.

Sumer had the Surpluses to make Trade Possible and their Location put them in the Center of a Civilizing World

In Sumer they created the potter’s wheel.  Pottery.  And a kiln to bake it in.  Others did, too.  But they most likely did it first. Some thought about the potter’s wheel led to the wheel and axel.  Heavy transportation.  And the war chariot.  Pulled by their domesticated animals.  With the harnesses they made.

They also had boats.  For the two great rivers (Euphrates and the Tigris), their tributaries and the canals they made.  And, yes, they were builders.  Made easier by their creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.  And they were astronomers.  Among the first to map the stars and planets.  Which formed the basis for much of the work the Greeks did.  Leading the way to open-water seafaring.  Navigation by the stars.  And long-distance trade.

A priest-king probably ruled each Sumerian city-state.  And each city-state worshipped in their own way.  As theocracies.  Everything belonged to the priest-king.  What the people produced went to the temple.  And the priest-king distributed the proceeds of their labors.  So there were no markets.  But there was trade.  For they have found items in Sumerian digs that are not native to Sumer (such as cedar from Lebanon).  But the details of that trade are sketchy.  But what is certain is that they had the surpluses to make trade possible.  And their location put them in the center of a civilizing world.

Fertile Soil, Irrigation, Large-Scale Farming and the Division of Labor Produced the Great Civilizations

Sumer was the first great civilization.  Egypt was right behind them.  With their kingdoms on the Nile.  Civilization soon followed on the banks of the Indus in Indian.  And on the banks of the Hwang-Ho in China.  These were isolated areas that began without outside influence from other advanced civilizations.  They were the first of the firsts.  And they all shared some things in common.  Fertile soil in their river valleys.  Irrigation.  Large-scale farming.  And a division of labor that produced the other great things of their civilizations.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #6: “No one bitched about global warming when it ended the ice ages.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2010

ICE AGES AND glacial movement are complicated.  We know that glaciers exist.  And that they move.  They do so today. 

Scientific study has determined that we have had at least 5 major ice ages.  During these periods the glaciers moved out from the north and south poles.  During the last ice age, they covered many of today’s populated areas.  Most of Canada, Seattle, Chicago, New York, most of Great Britain, northern Europe and Moscow were all under ice at one time.  The ice moved closer to the equator during previous ice ages.  Ice may have covered the entire earth at one time.  Or come close to it.

During the cooling and warming of the earth, glaciers traveled great distances.  Close to 2,000 miles in North America during the last ice age.  And this great movement is cyclical.  It’s happened 5 times already.  And it will most probably happen again.

In front of the glaciers is permafrost (permanently frozen soil).   As the glaciers and permafrost moved forward, life moved away from the cold.  Species died out (the woolly mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger and Neanderthal man, for example).  The advancing ice pushed life towards each other and into conflict as they fought for the increasingly limited food supply.  When the cold receded, life followed, the newly warmed lands able to support life again.

There are various theories about what caused the ice ages and glacial movement.  One thing for certain, though, cold kills.  Warmth, on the other hand, allows life.  Warmth is good.

THE KEY TO civilization is the food supply.  Only when there was a surplus of food did civilization begin.  The surplus of food allowed the division of labor.  Farmers farmed.  Tool makers made tools.  Leaders led.  And soldiers protected the civilization.  None of this happens without a surplus of food.  If you didn’t have to grow food, you could do something else.  And people did.  And they created modern civilization as we know it.

Farming was the quantum leap forward in producing a food surplus.  The first civilizations grew grain and cereal crops in the fertile soil of river valleys.  An arc from the Nile valley up through the eastern Mediterranean, through Lebanon, Syria, and down the fertile river valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris valleys forms the ‘fertile crescent’.   Anchoring the crescent at each end are history’s first civilizations.  Sumer (#1) and Egypt (#2).

Fertile soil and a warm growing season allowed this.  Again, warmth is good.

THE EARTH HAS cooled and warmed.  There are many theories why.  No one can be certain.  But what we can be certain of is that warmth is good.  Cold is bad.  Ice ages are cyclical.  And the glaciers receded further in periods when there was not a single man-made greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

We’re probably 50,000 years or so before the glaciers come back and cover civilizations everywhere.  If man-made greenhouse gases warm the world greater than the natural cooling mechanisms advance the ice, perhaps life will continue.  None of us alive today, though, will have to worry about that.  When the ice comes again, future generations will face that horror.  Until then, let there be warmth.  And life.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAID the sky was falling and there was panic.  And so it is with global warming.  Well, the sky wasn’t falling on Chicken Little.  And it is unlikely that man is causing global warming.  Global warming existed before man created greenhouse gases.  The ‘scientists’ who say the world as we know it will end unless action is taken are more politician than scientist.  Ever wonder why the solution to global warming is the growth of government?  To me, that sounds something like what a politician would say, not a scientist.


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