In my opinion, primary characteristics are the most important. Secondary characteristics are important as well, however I do not think that they are completely necessary for a civilization if I was forced to choose between the two. For example, one of the Primary characteristics, state authority, is very important to a civilization or a state. Without a system of decision making, which is the power, and without a way to enforce the decisions made, which is the authority, the state would be in complete chaos. People need a leader and for someone to tell them what to do and to represent the different opinions of the masses. People in a state also need to know that they are safe and protected (and that the state is not in chaos) and criminals need to know that there will be repercussions for their actions. Agriculture, another primary characteristic, is also extremely important for a civilization or state. I think that it is the foundation of a civilization. Intensive agriculture allows for a stable and steady food supply and settlement in a single location. It also helps with trading with other regions as well; some forms of agriculture can be used as dyes which can be used and/or traded, which boosts the economy. Branching off from my last point, it is important for a state to have a complex economy, another primary characteristic. Another important primary characteristic is that the state is Urban; meaning that it is large and dense. It must be large and dense in order for neighborhoods to be established, public and government buildings, etc. If the state was not dense, everything would be spread apart, people would not feel as if they were a part of a community and they may begin to stop listening to their ruler. There would be no businesses thus no stimulation of the economy. As I mentioned earlier, secondary characteristics are important for a civilization as well. Characteristics such as a state religion (and its associated arts; calendrics and astrology) organizes daily life and brings people together. Mass production of goods shows that a civilization is specialized. Tribute or taxation are also really important secondary characteristics because the money is used to support the economy and the region as a whole. Epidemic Disease and Malnutrition show that the state is unified and helps people become resistant to other strains of diseases which makes the state stronger health wise. Concluding, I think that primary characteristics are much more important than secondary characteristics.
I thought that learning about the Incas in the last section of class was one of the most interesting civilizations or ancient states that we looked at. First off, the fact that their empire was so incredibly large is outstanding to me. They were the only group of people in the region to unite both the South and North regions of their empire, which is one reason why it was so huge. Something that kind of seemed hard for me to grasp when we first discussed it in class, was the Inca idea of split inheritance. Split inheritance is a social practice in which a dead ruler is mummified and all of his prior possessions while living remain his even after he is dead. Things like his palace land or servants were all things considered his possessions after his death. The deceased ruler would attend all further meetings as well. (weird…?) There fore, the next ruler would in turn, receive nothing apart from his political power and political rights. As confusing as this seems at first, it actually helped expand the Inca state. This meant that the new ruler would have to build his palace within land that he conquered himself. The empire grew bigger and bigger because the rulers would want to gain as much land as they could to ensure a good afterlife. In order to build his new palace, he would use mit’a, or mandatory public labor that all adult citizens had to pay to the state annually. Wouldn’t this seem so strange if that was the way our government was today? What if that was the ideology of the modern United States? How far do you think we could expand? Would it end at North America or would we go overseas and take over European or African countries? I think that in modern times with all of our war technology, we would not get very far. We may expand on our Canadian and Mexican borders a little bit however, I think that if this were the way our government worked today, we would be in constant warfare and would not gain or lose any significant amount of land. What I liked about the Incas is that when they did conquer land and people, they did not instate their own rulers in those areas. They made a leading member of the local community a local ruler instead of kicking out old rulers. I think this is how they internally kept civil strife to a minimum for so long, although it was in fact one of the reasons for their eventual collapse, along with Spanish Conquest.
I know this probably applies to many of the ancient civilizations we have discussed throughout the year so far, I think it is just absolutely fascinating how advanced the Indus Valley Civilization was. They were so incredibly large, having supported around five million at its peak. Their houses were built with baked break and they had elaborate water drainage systems (which is something a lot of places in Europe did not even have during the Industrial Revolution!) It’s just so interesting how organized and urbanized they were while not having technology, something that I have always grown up with. Its crazy how people were able to communicate enough from far away places tin order to be able to share things like resources or spread news. Its also pretty interesting that as time went on, the Indus Valley residents became more concerned with hygiene and urban sanitation so they developed waste water drains that were covered lining some of their streets. This type of technology was the most advanced at the time and I wonder why other civilizations did not have it? Maybe it was not an issue for them because there were not as many people living closely in one area such as the Indus Valley residents did.
What is really different about the Indus Valley Civilization is that archeologists still have not found any evidence for a government. It seems so odd that a civilization having around five million people at a certain time did not have a government. How were they so advanced without any ruler telling them what to do? How did people know their roles and place in society without a ruler? Was everyone enjoying equal status or were there just many rulers who were lenient? We do know however that there was at least some sort of long distance communication because of the clear similarities of all of their artworks such as pottery, bricks/homes, jewelry and other artifacts that archeologists have found.
One of my favorite facts about the Indus Valley Civilization is that their script has still never been deciphered! Those types of things are what I really love learning about… ancient mysteries. I wonder how much more the Indus Script could tell us about the way they lived if we were able to decode them! Maybe we could figure out if there was a ruler or not or what type of government they had.
I am really excited to be learning about Mesopotamia in this class. I actually have never learned about it in a classroom setting, mostly just from my own research, so I am excited to fill the gaps in my knowledge about Mesopotamia; which I probably have many. I thought it was so interesting how large and geographically expansive the ancient state was meaning there had to be SO many people from different ethnicity living under one rule. It’s so interesting how they had the same scripture and gods but had different languages in certain areas, different laws and different social customs. I mean, it is pretty expected for an ancient state as big a Mesopotamia to have such differences, but when you look at it on a map, its just so big. This can only be one of the reasons why the Mesopotamian ancient state is sometimes referred to as the “cradle of civilization.” Because of its internal differences, crucial civilizations came from it such as the Babylonians and the Sumerians. Another reason why it is referred to as the “cradle of civilization” is because of the fertile crescent which was a crescent shaped plot of land that contained extremely rich soil due to the constant flooding of the Tigris Euphrates river system. Just having the fertile crescent led the way for the invention of some of the most important tools we have today such as the wheel and complex irrigation systems. Because of this, I think its very interesting that ancient Mesopotamians tended to be nomadic pastoralists, herding sheep and goats to river pastures and then to grazing lands despite the fact that they were located between the Tigris Euphrates river system.
Something else that I have found to be true of the ancient Mesopotamians is that women were allowed to participate in owning land, owning their own businesses making contracts in trade situations and filing for divorce. I just find that to be so fascinating considering some of those things were looked down upon and/or illegal in the United States and other countries around the world until around the 1920s.
I can already see how Mesopotamia and Egypt are similar in the ways they separated people into classes in order to decide cultural and political roles. They are also similar in the way that both of their economies were based on agriculture. Agriculture (and irrigation) is usually what brings people together in the rise of a civilization.
In these past few lectures we have been learning a lot about ancient Egyptian ceramics and what they can tell us about early Egyptian life. To me, its absolutely fascinating that Anthropologists not only have been able to identify and group different types of ceramics according to date, style and origin, but they have even figured out each one’s purpose. I thought it was very interesting that we have found that the Egyptians saw the need to have normal kitchen ceramics that were of relatively low quality compared to other ceramics that were mostly used in a mortuary context.
Something that specifically struck me during our lecture on Hierakonpolis (or Nekhen) was learning about the Potter’s House. Throughout this semester I have been constantly surprised at how much detail Anthropologists can figure out about ancient life, just by looking at artifacts such as ceramics. In this lecture we learned that the Potter’s House was very well preserved because it had been burned down. Professor Watrall said that it had been most likely burned down by kilns that were located too close to the outside of the house, but I always wonder how Anthropologists can know for sure. How do we know the owner did not burn it down him/herself? What if someone else burned it down?
Sometimes I question interpretations of other things such as the Narmer palette; one because I am generally a skeptic on most things but because I just really do not think we can ever know for sure. We learned that it is argued by some scholars that the Narmer palette is representative of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt however, there is not archeological evidence or enough evidence to support this because unification of upper and lower Egypt did not happen over night nor did it occur under just one ruler’s authority. The palette also occurred many years before the unification of upper and lower Egypt. Others argue that it is at the very least, a record of some military event. Therefore, there is much debate over whether the palette depicts actual events or not. I think that it’s quite possible that the Narmer palette could be one of those interpretations but is it out of the ordinary to think that maybe it was a plan for the future? Maybe the unification of upper and lower Egypt was something the author(?) wanted to happen and they brought it to the temple so maybe it would come true? and honestly who says that the Narmer palette is important? Maybe it’s only important to us because it is an extremely old artifact that was found in relatively perfect condition. What if somehow we could go back in time and have someone translate it for us, and it really did not mean anything of importance?
One of the reasons why I love learning about Ancient Egypt so much is because it is such a mystery. Things such as the Narmer palette hold secrets that may stay with the Ancient Egyptians forever.