“College cancels classes over racist postings” These were the headlines on page four of my morning paper. It seems like a movement; Yale and University of Missouri are two of the most prominent examples of what some say is political correctness gone wild, while others say it is the voice of an oppressed group who is finally speaking out for social justice. In order to understand issues like this, I try to put myself in the shoes of both sides before issuing my judgment.

Pretending I am a White student at Western Washington

On one side, we have the white students. I am white and most probably I have Viking ancestors on both sides of my family. I should be proud of Vikings, right? My high school mascot was a Viking. It will be easy therefore, for me to pretend I am a white student at Western Washington, where 75% are white and 25% are non-white. Since I am proud of my Viking heritage, hypothetically, I am incensed that the school is considering changing from the Viking mascot. I will take it personally, as a mental experiment. One reason I came to this university was that the mascot is a Viking like my own high school. I talk to my friends, who are all white, and they are angry too. Who is trying to steal our Viking from us? It is the African Americans. “They are too politically correct. They are hyper-sensitive. They are cry-babies.” I go home, angry and type a racist comment on Yik Yak.

Pretending I am a Black Student at Western Washington

One the other side we have the African American students. Now, I imagine I am African American. My parents are both African American professionals with advanced degrees. I have black friends and white friends, but I have had experiences of being followed in department stores by security officers when my white friends were not. I have been stopped by police for no apparent reason when my white friends did not have this problem. At this university, I am treated with a little more respect by my black friends. When I sit with white students in the cafeteria, they ignore me, but not so with my black friends. They like me. We talk about school events like the changing of the mascot.

I did not take much interest in history in high school so some of the things I heard in the cafeteria were new to me. One guy said that Vikings were like pirates and marauders. They would invade towns, rape and kill all of the women and children, and then take all of their gold. For that reason alone, it seemed like Vikings were not the best role model. But then, they went on to talk about slavery and they compared the raping by Vikings with the slave-holder raping of slave women. More was said about Emmitt Till and how he was murdered by two white guys in 1955 because he made a pass at a white woman. Then, the discussion went onto segregation, Bull Connor fire-hosing children, and other events of the civil rights movement. I was beginning to wonder what all this had to do with Vikings. Then they talked about how African Americans have been blocked out of wealth accumulation in real estate due to red-lining. That rang a bell with me because I remember my grandpa telling me how he could not buy a house where he wanted because he was black.

The conversation soon moved to Ferguson and Baltimore and the extremely large number of unarmed African American men who have been killed by police. We talked about the war on drugs and how a disproportionate number of African Americans have been incarcerated for drugs even though drug usage among white people is just as high as among black people. That reminded me of how I was ignored by white people at this university. I was getting angry at this conversation and so were all of my friends. Are we just going to sit around and talk about this or are we going to do something? What can we do? We can speak out against that Viking symbol that reminds me of one of the stern police who stopped me on the street for no apparent reason.

Back to the Real World

As I emerge from my imaginary world of walking in the other guy’s shoes, I can understand both sides better. I can see why it would seem silly to protest about a mascot that is used widely in the United States. But I can also understand the anger that the Viking figure could evoke. In the case of Western Washington, it was a good idea to close the school to allow for cooler heads to prevail. The frontal lobe responsible for impulse control is not fully developed until about age 25. These college kids are reacting to their feelings. There needs to be more discussion in a calm environment. By closing the school for a couple of days, this issue got published by the Associated Press. Now it will be discussed nation-wide. We need to have this discussion so people can understand both sides.



I listened to the Lecture about Alexander Hamilton at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/lectures-in-history/id506779862?mt=2#episodeGuid=trimmed%2Fprogram%2F038%2F387505%2Fprogram.387505.MP3-STD.mp3.

She argued that there were two primary functions of government: Internal control and protection from predators. The old model was based on the the assumption that your neighbors will always try to steal from you. What inspired me to write this post was that that argument made sense in light of how other government functions sprung from those two. Government needs to prevent insurrections and one way of doing that is to put them down violently as in Shay’s Rebellion. Another way is to placate the people by keeping them happy. This need was most dramatic with FDR’s New Deal, but we also saw it in the Roman Empire grain give-aways. My point here is that knowing this helps us understand the world better. Right now there is rancor in Congress because the conservatives want to reduce the deficit and go back to the two basic functions of government. Meanwhile, income inequality has grown and the people are discontent about it. In order to put down the rebellion, the government will still be pressured to avoid insurrection by redistributing the wealth in some fashion.

In response to:
I think it would be more accurate to use the plural, “public faces of Christianity” rather than the singular, public face of Christianity. Christianity has over 41,000 denominations worldwide. (http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm)
Such diversity can be attributed to the many ways in which the scriptures may be interpreted, hence Christians were able to be on both sides of many issues throughout history as you mentioned. Fortunately, Pope Francis, the largest face of Christianity, has come down on the side of love and unity rather than hatred and division. The problem is that there are many biblical verses that can support hatred of LGBT; for example, Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:9–10. How Christians grapple with contradictions such as these are part of the explanation for the diversity of denominations.
As for me, I prefer to think of Jesus Christ as one of many philosophers who advocate for love. Since the Bible is so conflicted, why not just stick with humanitarianism, which focuses on love for all humanity without being tied to ancient scriptures?
Posted by: rudyruddell | June 13, 2015

African-American Poser Fascinates Me

Allegedly, a white NAACP leader in Spokane has lied about her ethnicity, apparently in order to become an insider in the fight for African American civil rights. This fascinates me because it cuts against the grain of my cultural expectations. I have heard of similar stories. John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me tells the true story about a white man who made himself look black and then traveled into the deep South to learn what it feels like to be harassed and treated like a second-class citizen, but he did this as a temporary measure to perform a social experiment. He never intended to live as an African American the rest of his life. Rachael Dolezal, the alleged black pretender, did not seem to have any plans to unveil her true racial identity.

As a high school teacher, I also see white students who exhibit African American cultural attributes such as clothing and vernacular, but that is nothing like what Dolezal has done. She cannot easily shed her persona whenever she feels like it. So why did she do it? This is a question for sociologists, historians and psychologists to answer. In my cursory Google search, I found no other examples of black posers, just pages and pages of Dolezal hits. So, I reached inside myself for answers and I found something.

I found a part of me that wants to be a part of the African American culture. I first discovered it in the mid-2000s when I ran into an African American acquaintance from my Cal years and we struck up a conversation. I had kindled a black friendship and I liked it. I started coming over to his house for visits. Ultimately, I wore out my welcome and they stopped answering my phone calls.

I think I identify with black people because I too have faced discrimination, although minor in comparison to what many African Americans and LGBT experience. As a child, my family changed residences a lot and I found making new friends at every new school to be challenging. I was bullied a few times, but my dad just told me to talk my way out of bully taunts. I finally ended up settling in Holtville, California for grades 3-12. Holtville was a town of 3500 in Imperial County near the Mexican border. By the way, there was exactly one black family residing in Holtville in the late 60’s and early 70s. More to the point, there was a man in Holtville named Dwight Ricker. Kids called him “Deee-white.” He was considered to be crazy because he told tall tales about his WW2 adventures. My fellow students started calling me Deee-white and taunting me. Sometimes I would hear that name being called out in the distance by strange voices. I imagine my feelings about hearing “Hey, Deee-white” by an anonymous voice in the distance would be something akin to hearing to “Hey nigga” or “Hey, faggot” that African Americans and gays often hear. I think that this is why I identify with both African Americans and gays.

Suppose my experience as “Deee-white” was so traumatic that I pretended to be Dwight Richter. I would have donned a cowboy hat and some cowboy boots and walk around telling tall war stories. I would also have talked about how mean it was to make fun of people like me. Suppose people liked the way I acted because I made them laugh and suddenly I had more friends than I ever had before. Suppose that little Dee-white poser had become happier than he had ever been before because now he had more friends than ever before. Would it not be possible that that boy would permanently adopt the Dee-white persona and keep that happiness? Could there be a similar story that explains Dolezal?

Posted by: rudyruddell | November 27, 2014

Israel/Hamas Compared with Ferguson

Israel/Hamas Compared with Ferguson

My second listening to Chomsky’s speech (http://www.democracynow.org/2014/10/22/in_un_speech_noam_chomsky_blasts )  inspired me to write something about Israel and Hamas. Chomsky’s thesis is that the U.S is perpetuating the conflict in the Middle East by supporting and financing Israel’s occupation of Palestine. While I wish Chomsky would have more directly addressed the issue of Hamas lobbing rockets into Israel, he did implicitly did say that Hamas would stop the bombing if Israel would stop the occupation.

This chicken and egg dilemma can be observed in contemporary American racial tensions, as most recently manifested in Ferguson, and the U.S./Israel imprisonment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_of_territories_captured_by_Israel). The US imprisons African Americans in penitentiaries, as outlined in Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Jim_Crow). Israel uses the pretext of self-defense against the crime of shooting rockets at Israel to imprison Gazans. America uses crime as a pretext to jail black people disproportionately, where the crime is often minor and would not result in jail time if it involved white people, e.g. possession of a joint.

This comparison falls apart when you consider that Gaza is a region on the map whereas prisons are spread throughout the U.S. However, the chicken and egg analogy holds up when it is observed that the US claims that the US would stop imprisoning people of color if people of color would stop committing crimes, just like Israel claims they would stop occupying Gaza and violating their human rights if Palestinians would stop bombing Israel. Likewise, African Americans claim they would stop rioting and burning cars and buildings if they were not systematically disenfranchised via the New Jim Crow and omitted from prosperity by historically being excluded from the real estate and quality-education/wealth-building-machine that white people have enjoyed for centuries. Gazans claim they would not launch rockets aimed at Israel if Israel would stop military occupation of Gaza.

How do we stop the endless chicken and egg cycles? The US can stop supporting the human rights violations inflicted on Palestinians by Israel. The US can still be friends with Israel, but like “friends don’t’ let friends drive while drunk,” the US does not need to let Israel violate human rights. While it is granted that Israel needs to defend itself, it is not acceptable that countries of the modern world violate the human rights of innocent people in order to attack militants who threaten them. This is comparable to American oppression of African Americans because of feeling threatened by African American actions that are caused by oppression.

What needs to be done in both situations is for all parties involved to realize the reality of what is happening and the oppressor needs to be compelled to stop violating rights because there is no excuse for violating human rights of innocent people. Simultaneously safeguards must be installed to allay the fears of the oppressor. For example, UN troops could temporarily be responsible for ensuring Israeli security. I realize that the UN has not demonstrated that it has the capability of such a challenge, but, we as a planet need to start to try to learn how to provide such peacekeeping tasks if we are to ever have peace. In order to learn how to do something, you must start trying and begin the process of learning from mistakes.

As to Ferguson, we must stop the war on drugs and begin to treat drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal problem. We need to use more restorative justice (http://www.restorativejustice.org/university-classroom/01introduction)  in the court system and public schools. We need to realize that there is no color-blindness; there are only varying degrees to which we are aware of our racial biases. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/us/ferguson-racism-or-racial-bias/index.html).  In other words, we need to look for and try to resolve root causes of problem instead of dealing with the surface issues, which is like sweeping the dirt under the rug instead of into a dust pan.

Posted by: rudyruddell | November 27, 2014


I am a news junkie, therefore I have been listening, reading, and thinking about Ferguson and I need to put some things down in writing to crystalize my thoughts. Why did Michael Brown get killed and riots break out nationwide? I have heard both sides of the story and I can see that it might have been a case of racism on the part of Wilson or perhaps Wilson’s version is true and that he had no choice but to shoot to kill. Because Wilson was not indicted, we will never find out what a jury might have concluded. Although I do not condone the violence, riots were bound to happen if there were the slightest doubt of Wilson’s innocence because the rioting is inevitable in a society in which institutionalized racism has calcified. Our nation’s racism has gone undercover because intellectually, we know it is wrong to be openly so. But lately, I have felt hope that some voices in the system are starting to speak out. I am hopeful now that my grandchildren, if they survive climate change, will live in a nation that is aware of the institutionalized racism and is undergoing rehabilitation to solve it.

The story of course begins in 1619 with the beginning of slavery in North America (http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/slavery/a/The-Start-Of-Slavery-In-North-America.htm) After the Civil War, our nation had a chance to do the right thing and include the African Americans in our society by living up to General Sherman’s promise of 40 acres to Freedmen in Georgia, thereby including them in the primary source of wealth accumulation in America. Or perhaps things would have been different if the Freedmen’s Bureau had continued to improve the educational lives of black people or if Republicans had not compromised in the Election of 1876 and ended Reconstruction in 1877. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise_of_1877 The United States had many opportunities to prevent the alienation and oppression of African Americans, but none of these chances were taken. Now we are left with the legacy of disenfranchisement and institutionalized racism.

Many people argue that we are passed the racism of the past and that we should be color-blind, but that is based on the presumption that this was all caused by our great grandparents. It was not. Segregated education was happening in my lifetime. Redlining and covenants and restrictions continued to keep African Americans out of white people’s source of wealth, real estate into the 60s. At that time, due to the Civil Rights Movement, racism had to go under cover and it did in the form of the War on Drugs as outlined in Michelle Alexander’s impactful book, “The New Jim Crow.” (http://newjimcrow.com/ ) Alexander outlined step by step how Reagan’s war on drugs led to disenfranchisement of black people via the penal code and federally subsidized militarization of the police. Even black people hate crime and supported the war on drugs, but, because of being blocked out of the wealth machine of real estate and therefore kept out of good schools, African Americans were living in ghettos where they could easily be swept up and put in the penal system where they were sentenced to spend their lives, even upon exiting prison. This new system was able to do this without being overtly racist.

Today, however, partially as a result of Alexander’s work, more people in power are aware of this institutionalized racism. Even libertarian Republican Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky is now publically advocating for reforming the penal system and ending the war on drugs. Newt Ginrich and Chris Christie have also joined in the chorus to end the war on drugs. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/conservatives-prison-reform-right-on-crime ) This is not to mention democrats such as Elizabeth Warrren and Bernie Sanders who also favor prison reform

Ferguson riots happened because such violence happens when a group of people are made voiceless through disenfranchisement. This covert racist system is deeply entrenched. Like the oil industry’s grip on the perpetuation of climate change, the prison-for-hire system also has the status quo ensured for years to come. Events like Ferguson focus attention on the problem and force more people to seek permanent solutions. When they do seek these solutions and see that the root cause is the war on drugs, more and more politicians will join the bandwagon and propel us toward positive change. This is what gives me hope for a more equal society in the United States.

Posted by: rudyruddell | June 19, 2013

Unalienable Rights

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I do not agree that the Creator endowed us with certain unalienable rights. Claiming a creator endowed us with rights simply legitimized claiming of those rights in the same way the divine right of kings legitimized the monarch’s power. We have these rights that we will not let anyone take away simply because the super-majorty of westerners want those rights and will fight to protect those rights. They are inalienable because, as a nation, we have committed to not let anyone take them away.

There is no need for faith in a “Creator” to have faith in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States; it only takes acceptance of the historical fact that, while most people are good people, some people are  greedy for money and  power. It could be said that there is a “natural law” that men will be selfish. The Declaration asserts we have individual rights and will fight to protect them and the Constitution protects those rights from usurpation with a system of checks and balances.

The English Kings descended from Vikings and other Germanic tribes that made their living off of pirating. The Egyptians relied on agriculture. Appeasing the gods was much more important to the Egyptians than the Vikings and English who never had to worry about producing food since they just stole it. Hence, there was an attitude I will do whatever I want.

Posted by: rudyruddell | December 28, 2012

Holtville Junior High Class of ’71. Jeff Munger

Holtville Junior High Class of 1971

Posted by: rudyruddell | December 28, 2012

Comparison of the First Civilizations

Comparison of the Development of Early Civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Mesoamerica

Melvin Ruddell

History 20 at West Hills College

Professor Rene Sanchez

 November 16, 2012

The purpose of this paper is to compare the developments and features of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia (Sumer), Egypt, India (Indus River Valley, Harappa), China (Shang dynasty), and Mesoamerica (Olmec), starting from the creation of villages to the formation of civilizations. These civilizations appear to have developed in response to their environment and in reaction to their human need for survival and security.

The first human civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus River Valley, and China (but not Mesoamerica) all developed around rivers; as such they were called alluvial, or located in the plains surrounding a river. For Mesopotamia and Egypt, controlling where the water went, using irrigation, was critical to their survival. Irrigation allowed water to be used farther away from the river itself, thereby allowing more people to use the river water. Plus, controlling the flood water was a necessity. The people of these alluvial or river societies became so dependent on the rivers that they developed much of their culture and society around it.[1]




The first civilization was located in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in what today is known as Iraq. This is not where the agricultural revolution began, however. Farming began in the Fertile Crescent in about 8000 B.C.E., but to the north and east of the Tigris Euphrates Rivers, where the weather was wet and the soil was fertile. The highest concentrations of villages were along the Jordon River Valley in Palestine. The people of Mesopotamia came from the hills north of Mesopotamia where they farmed without irrigation. The population growth in the hills forced people to migrate to the plains where there was insufficient water for farming without irrigation. The weather was hot and dry in the summer and cold in the winter. The annual floods caused anyone trying to live there to flee to higher ground. Before 5500 B.C.E., there was little sign of human existence in what was later called “the cradle of civilization,” Mesopotamia.[2]

“Still, the annual but unpredictable floods created natural levees that could be drained and planted, and the nearby swamps contained abundant fish and wildlife.”[3]

Anyone who tried to farm near the banks of the rivers would be wiped out by the floods. Thus, the people who were pushed out of the hilly farm land and forced to figure out a way to make a living out of the desert. Based on the quote above, the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia lived on the outskirts of the “natural levee,” drained the flood water for later use and then farmed the fertile flood plains and hopefully harvested before the next flood.[4]

The early inhabitants of Mesopotamia started by developing primitive methods of seasonal irrigation, recognizing that they needed to harvest before the floods or their work would be destroyed. They built small canals from the feeder streams of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In order to protect against flooding, they built levees on the river banks so that the water could rise higher before flooding and they dug ditches and canals to channel the water to the fields. Later in their development of irrigation, they invented water-lifting devices to lift the water from the river. “To ensure a plentiful supply of water in the later growing stages, they needed highly developed water-lifting devices. In pioneering water storage, Mesopotamians were the first hydraulic engineers.”[5] Thus, the first Mesopotamians were formed as a result of responding to their environment in order to survive.

It was not until the Sumerians started building artificial mounds and built walls around the city did they begin to have any protection from the floods. One of the first Mesopotamian cities, Uruk, had 5-miles of fortified walls. Before the walled cities (citadels) existed, people needed to keep fleeing to the hills when the floods arrived. With the walled cities, the people had a layer of protection from the floods in case the unpredictable flood waters rose above the natural levees. Later, they learned to build dikes to hold back the flood waters closer to the Persian Gulf into which the rivers flowed and they learned to build canals to channel that dammed flood water to farms where it was needed. The most important possession, the temple (ziggurat), was built on an artificial mound that offered further security from the sometimes overzealous flooding.[6]

Irrigation, however, required organized manpower. In order to have organized manpower, an organizer was necessary. This is where religion played a major role. Sumerians developed a religion based on rituals and sacrifice to the god of their particular city-state in order to placate him/her and promote the right amount of flooding. Each city-state had its own deity. The people’s religion gave them a sense of security that, if the right rituals were performed, the floods would not destroy them, and they would survive. Thus, it is evident that even the religion was created based on environmental influences.

Once the people were convinced that the city leaders knew what the god(s) wanted in order to ensure a good harvest, they did as they were told to do, which was to build/maintain the irrigation system. The priests’ job was to perform the necessary sacrifices and rituals necessary to appease the deities. Thus a hierarchy of leaders and religious officials developed. Since the people did not know what the right rituals were, having a priest that did know what to do and did so also fulfilled the inhabitants’ need for security.

In addition, technology was necessary for this successful canal network. The Sumerians invented important technology such as  bronze-working and the wheel/cart. Another step in the development of Mesopotamian civilization was their invention of the wooden plow, which allowed them to till a wider variety of soils more quickly than before the plow. Then, they discovered bronze, which is a combination of copper and tin, that is stronger than either of the two ingredients separately. The Mesopotamians used this bronze to make their plows even more efficient. The production of such technology required artisans such as metal workers. The agricultural surplus produced by this complex system paid for the rulers, priests, and artisans.

What made this area particularly suitable for the development of a civilization, besides the water, soil and sunshine, was its location in an easily accessible area, not surrounded by mountains. This openness allowed for trade with other civilizations that developed later, such as the Indus Valley city of Mohenjo-Daro. The agricultural surplus along with the trade allowed cities to develop.

“Agriculture and trade made Sumerian city-states prosperous. They bartered grain, vegetable oil and leather with one another and with foreign regions, from which they acquired natural resources not found in Sumer, such as metals, timber, and precious stones. Sumerian traders travelled as far east as India, sailing for weeks to reach that distant land.”[7]

The easy access of Mesopotamia thus contrasts with China, which was isolated by mountains and deserts. Egypt too is protected from outsiders by the Sahara Desert on their western border. Egypt had a superior agricultural system, but Mesopotamia’s thriving trade made up for their inferior farming set up.

The irrigation development necessary for farming thus forced the people to develop a complex society in which cooperation was required. Thus, out of the adversity of being forced to live in a lifeless desert, came a budding civilization. By 3500 B.C.E., lower Mesopotamia had evolved into about a dozen city-states, each with their own territory. The first Mesopotamian city-states were collectively called Sumer and the people were Sumerians.[8]

As a result of their agricultural surpluses and active trading facilitated by their easy access, settlements became larger and larger as more people gave up farming to become traders and artisans such as metal workers. They set up homes and businesses in the villages. Because of these people moving from the rural areas into the villages, the villages grew into the first cities in about 3500 B.C.E. The first Sumerian cities were Eridu, Nippur, and Uruk. These cities grew gradually over a period of 1000 years, layer on top of layer:

Consider Eridu, which had first been settled as a village around 6000 B.C.E. Home to the Sumerian water god, Ea, Eridi was a sacred site where temples full of fish bones were built one on top of the other for more than 4000 years. During the course of more than twenty reconstructions, the temples became increasingly elaborate, built on an ever-higher base. Eventually, the temple was on a raised platform like a mountain, looming over the featureless landscape and visible for miles in all directions.[9]

Eidu is an example of how the Mesopotamian culture developed around the gods, since the gods were thought to be responsible for their prosperity. The gods were anthropomorphic and personified natural forces; for example, Inanna was the goddess of fertility and Enlil was the god of storms. Appeasing the gods was so important that the inhabitants of each Sumerian city-state built the rest of the city around the temple, so as to make the temple the center. The temple was extremely important to them because the temple was considered to be that particular god’s home on earth. The priestly elites controlled a large part of the social, economic, and ritual life of the city-state.[10]

The Mesopotamian religion evolved first over centuries based on oral tradition and finally put to writing in the third millennium in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known work of literature in the world.[11] The story is about Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk and his drama in dealing with the gods’ floods and droughts. Like the weather of Mesopotamia, the deities were unpredictable and violent. Take, for example, this verse from the primary source of The Tale of Gilgamesh that clearly shows that the writer said that the gods sent the flood:

“Then came the flood, sent by gods’ intent. Mama, Anu, and Enlil were at Shuruppak. So too was their coachman, Ninurta,…”[12]

In this verse, it clearly states that is was “gods’ intent” that the region be flooded, thus clearly establishing what they believed caused rain and their resulting floods. The Sumerian city-states each had a ruler called an ensi who was responsible for the public works projects. The ensi was considered an agent of the city god; thus, people thought they were following orders from the city’s god. The ensi’s job was to placate the unpredictable gods and their unpredictable floods. The people believed that the ensi could convince the god(s) to make the floods come at just the right time and in just the right amount for them to grow their crops. With the ensi’s subjects believing that he influenced the floods, they wanted to cooperate with him. That way, there was less governmental force needed to get the peasants to work than if they thought the project was a selfish project of the ruler. Motivated in this manner, the ensi could impose taxes and run the military without much resistance from the peasants.[13]

As cities grew larger, they competed for resources such as water, land, and trade routes. The cities were relatively equal in size and power until around 2200 B.C.E. when Sargon the great united Ur, Uruk, Lagash, and Akkad into an alliance of cities in southern Mesopotamia. Many building projects resulted from this alliance thus indicated the advantages of uniting. Thus, Mesopotamia developed from small farming communities to a group of cities united under a single ruler by 2200 B.C.E. [14]

The Mesopotamian society developed from egalitarian to a rigid hierarchy. Before cities, most people were equal, doing sustenance farming. Then some people produced more and accumulated more livestock than others, thus gaining higher status. As the agricultural surplus grew, more people began to specialize as artisans, for example, in metal working or trading. This new group of specialists was considered to be higher in status than farmers. As time marched on, society stratified into a hierarchy, with the king on top, followed by the priests, then bureaucrats, artisans, unskilled workers, and slaves at the bottom. Once a person was in a class, it was difficult to work one’s way up to a higher level.[15]

Women had lost rights and power upon introduction of the agricultural revolution, but at the family level, the women lost even more rights and power as cities grew larger.  As people began to accumulate wealth, men became the conduit for inheritance, thus establishing a patriarchal method of passing property to the sons. Some women did own property and some even became priests, but overall, the status of women declined as Mesopotamia developed.[16]

Perhaps one of the most important developments in Mesopotamia was the invention of writing. As more people filled the cities, it was no longer the case that everyone knew each other as they might have in a small village. Furthermore, the sheer volume of transactions in the cities begged for some way of recording them so that they would not be questioned later due to differing recollections about a transaction. So, the Mesopotamians developed cuneiform, which is a series of wedges made by pressing reeds into wet clay that is later dried so the writing is permanent. Once developed, the written language could be used for recording non-business events. For example, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest literature in history and was quoted earlier in the paper, was written in cuneiform. Moreover, other Mesopotamian regimes such as the Akkadians, Babylonians, and the Persians also wrote in cuneiform.

This writing system developed over centuries. At first, the writing was used to record business transactions, but later writing was used for other purposes such as the first written law, the Code of Hammurabi, and to record their religion.

India, Indus River Valley, or Harappa

The evidence indicates that the early Indus River Valley people came from the area now known as Iran and settled around the Indus River and its tributaries. They herded goats, sheep, and cattle and they farmed wheat and barley. They worshiped goddesses that were associated with bulls and rams.[17]

The Indus River Valley culture began to develop in the early Rivi Phase of 3500 – 2800 B.C.E. when agricultural villages were established around the Indus River and its tributaries and Mesopotamia and Egypt were already in the Copper Age.

“Unlike in Mesopotamia, developments in the Indus River basin reflected an indigenous tradition combined with strong influences from the peoples of the Iranian plateau, as well as indirect influences from the peoples of more distant cities on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.”[18]

Like the Mesopotamians, however, the Harappans were pushed out of the hills due to population growth. The “indigenous peoples” referenced in the quote above were the inhabitants of the foothills of the Baluchistan Mountains who migrated into the valley as the hills became crowded.

The first small cities were formed in the Kot Diji Phase of 2800 B.C.E. The Harappa phase of 2600 – 1900 B.C.E. saw the expansion of those cities and was in the Bronze Age of Mesopotamia and Egypt. This Harappa phase was divided into three sub-phases based on new buildings and new styles of writing. The late Harappa Phase from 1900 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E was a period of decline.[19]

Unlike Mesopotamia and Egypt, there was plenty of rain for the farmers of the first Indus River villages. There were even marshes and jungles in this area.[20] The Indus civilization was located between two rivers, the Indus River and the Ghaggar-Hakra River, giving it a large fertile plain for agriculture. The plain was fertile because of the silt deposited annually by the floods:

The expansion of agriculture in this basin, like those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China, depended on the river’s annual floods. Here the river provided the land with predictable amounts of water, drawn from the melting snow of the Himalayas and beyond, that replenished the soil and averted draughts. From June to September, the rivers inundated the plain. Once the waters receded, farmers planted wheat and barley on fertile soft alluvium. They harvested the crops the next spring as temperatures rose.[21]

Thus, the Harappans had more rain than the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, but they still relied on the silt of the floods to create the fertile soil. They also were plowing the soil as early as 2700 B.C.E.[22] As such; they were able to combine their fertile soil, ample water, and the latest technology to produce the agricultural surplus necessary to develop a civilization. Plus, the Harappans had a flood plain, over 500, 000 square miles, which was three times that of Mesopotamia.[23]

The period 2800 – 2600 B.C.E. was called the Kot Diji period, in which Harappa developed into a bustling business center. This center was also the highest level of city planning the world had seen up to that point. The city was laid out in a grid-like street pattern and had public wells and a sewer system. The urban planning skill is one of the most prominent historical aspects of Harappan society because it was the first instance of extensive urban planning in world history.[24]

The homes were equipped with bathrooms that drained into this sewer system that was used to fertilize the farms. This sophisticated planning was duplicated throughout the Indus River Valley, which covered an area twice the size of Mesopotamia and Egypt put together. The early Harappans experienced their “Golden Age of Harappa” in 2600-1900 B.C.E. Unlike the homogeneous populations of developmental Egypt, the Olmec, and Mesopotamia, the Harappan culture represented history’s first heterogeneous culture, with people of many classes and occupations living together.[25]

The first known settlements were Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Although there was some writing in this civilization, only short sentences of 5 to 10 words have been found and none of it has been translated; thus, little is known about how this civilization developed. We can only deduce from the archaeological findings what the people may have been like.[26] Furthermore, because we have no written record, there is not even a list of kings; perhaps they did not even have kings.[27]

Because Mohenjo-Daro is the best preserved ruins and the Indus River cities were all very similar, Mohenjo-Daro was used as the example to describe the features of the Indus people. Mohenjo-Daro was built on a large man-made mound about 50-feet high and supported by a brick wall with embedded towers. The walls were used for defense, as evidenced by stone ammunition found at the site. There was a large tank that archaeologists think may have served some religious purpose. Since there was no palace found, archaeologists believe that a priest or a committee of priests may have ruled the city.[28]

Some of the features of the fully developed cities were as follows.[29] Most cities had gated walls around the perimeter. Although these walls most likely were used for defense, but they also protected against floods and controlled trade by keeping out undesirable trading partners. The walls were made from the same shape bricks throughout the Indus River Valley. In fact, when archeologist located cities outside the Indus River Valley with these bricks, they could tell it was from the Harappans. It was once thought that the uniform size of the bricks was due to centralized control, but the historical consensus now is that the brick makers all learned how to make bricks from the same source. Archaeologists frequently found public areas, for markets located inside the major gateways into Indus cities. At Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, there were large buildings that were either used for public rituals or for some governmental purpose. One building found at Mohenjo-Daro may have been a palace or a temple, but it was not obviously religious like ziggurats of Mesopotamia or Pyramids in Egypt.Thus, the “Harappan peoples began to fortify their cities and to embark on public works similar in scale to those in Mesopotamia, but strikingly different in function.”[30]

The Indus people have their own form of writing, not from another region like Sumer, and it dates back to the Ravi Phase of 3500 – 3300 B.C.E. in Harappa. Cuneiform was developed about the same time. The writing developed further in the Kot Diji Phase into the Early Indus script and by 2600 B.C.E. all cities throughout the 500,000+ square mile Indus region were using the script. In this script, each symbol represents a word, syllable or sound. Some symbols have different meanings when juxtaposed with other symbols like in Chinese writing. This flexibility implies that the Indus language may have been used for many purposes other than just business transactions, e.g. poetry or history. The script has not been deciphered because there is no bilingual script and the existing writings are too short, i.e. less than 10 words. Some copper script was found that may be coins that pre-date the Archaemenid coins by 1000 years.[31]

The Indus religion is somewhat a matter of educated guessing since there is no deciphered writing to explain it. There were little statues of women who were thought to be Mother Goddess images, but some may have been toys since toys were an Indus specialty. There were limestone statues of a priest king found at Mohenjo-Daro, so at least one figurine was religious in nature.[32] Also, fire altars were found that indicate fire worship and so were statues of a Yoga-sitting man who may have been a prototype of the modern Hindu god, Shiva.

Seals were writing and images stamped into clay to designate ownership by a specific person. Some seals had images of people worshiping and performing rituals, which implies that at least some people must have engaged in such activity. Other seals, such as one with a woman grasping two tigers by the throat, indicate that the Indus people must have had a mythology system.[33]

The scholarly consensus regarding the Harappan political structure is that it was based on a highly stratified social organization and many urban centers. There were no royal burials or large buildings for central government like those found in Mesopotamia, Egypt or China so it was probably not centrally governed. Rather, the Harappan culture was probably run by competing classes of elites, with one being dominant at any particular point in time, but none being dominant long enough to establish a central government. Thus, the largest cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro controlled their city and their corresponding suburban area, but at any given time, a certain class of elites would determine the ideology, economic system, and script for the whole region.[34]

The Indus cities traded extensively among each other and with distant lands. They bartered with the Sumerians via boats traveling through the Persian Gulf. They went overland using pack animals to trade with modern day Iran. The exports included jewelry, metal tools, and pottery. They also traded cotton, lumber, grain, and livestock. Indus artisans specialized in small things like jewelry and toys. They did not make large pyramids like the Egyptians or large stone heads like the Olmecs to glorify the upper classes. Luxury items for the rich were made from exotic materials and advanced technology; whereas, local materials and lower technology was used for ordinary people. In order to ensure fairness in commerce and taxation, the Indus rulers and merchants set up a standardized weight system.[35]



The way Egypt developed from hunters and gatherers around the Nile River was as follows. Circa 5000 B.C.E., people from Sinai, Libya, the Mediterranean, Nubia, and central Africa migrated to Egypt and they brought grains, plants, and farming knowledge with them. Egyptians began farming next to the Nile River. As more people crowded around the river, Egyptians developed irrigation techniques to enable farmers to produce crops further away from the river. Eventually, they developed a complex irrigation system that used walls and basins to catch the flood water. These walls and basins enabled them to harness the flood waters and take advantage of the fertile soil that the silt left by the flood waters. Since the Egyptians were adjacent to the Sahara Desert, sunshine was never in short supply. The combination of water, sunshine, and fertile soil amounted to a formula for agricultural surpluses:[36]

It was well known that the Nile was a most fertile land, agriculture needing only the annual flood to replenish it (but not of course to accomplish it). Accordingly, the fields were not irrigated, but were inundated, this requiring a rise of river level optimally of 16 cubits to cover all the (previously leveled) farmland. In addition to the leveling, the construction of dykes and ditches/canals managed the inundation and ponded water back for thorough soaking of the soil.[37]

The Egyptians thus figured out how to harness the flood waters of the Nile. The topography of the Nile River valley was much more uniform than that of Mesopotamia. Also, the population of early Egypt was more homogeneous than Mesopotamia’s. As a result, the Sumerians developed larger city-states in pockets of similar people and topography than did Egyptians. In Egypt, thousands of small villages developed with fewer cities than Mesopotamia. Since the Egyptians were so homogeneous, they could all follow the same ruler more easily than the Sumerians, whose city-states often fought among themselves for resources of land and water. The Egyptian villages did not fight as much among each other as the Sumerians. The Egyptians needed to cooperate with each other to make use of the complex irrigation system. For the Egyptians, there was plenty of water as long as they worked the irrigation system to make use of the regular flood waters that arrived each year. For the Sumerians, the floods were unpredictable; so many times there was not enough water to go around; hence they fought over water at times.[38]

Unlike the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Niles River was gentle and predictable; it flooded the same time every year. Also, the Niles predictably brought about 200 million tons of silt that made Egyptian lands among the most fertile in the world, more so than Mesopotamia’s lands. The Nile was particularly slow moving around where Egyptian villages were forming. This experience of a gentle river developed a perception among the Egyptians that their gods were gentle and benevolent, which stood in sharp contrast to the tempestuous deities of the Mesopotamians. Overall, the conditions for agriculture were superior to Mesopotamia’s. The Egyptians had a more optimistic outlook on life as a result of the predictable cycle of the floods. [39]

This optimistic Egyptian outlook based on a predictable and benevolent nature was also reflected in Egyptian religion. Egyptians of the Old Kingdom (2649-2150 B.C.E.) developed a religion based on the pharaoh, i.e. king, being an incarnation of one of their gods, Horus, rather than just an agent of a god, as the ensi was in Mesopotamia. Rather than placating a volatile god, the Egyptians just wanted to keep the peace and harmony that they were experiencing to keep going. The Egyptians did, however believe that it was the gods that controlled the weather, as evidenced by the following passage from The Book of the Dead, a book to help people into the afterlife.

“This storm was the raging of Ra at the thunder-cloud which [Set] sent forth against the Right Eye of Ra (the Sun).”[40]

The Egyptians thus thought that the thunder was just the expression of Ra’s anger. Both Egyptians and Sumerians depended on anthropomorphic deities to control flooding. The only way for the Egyptian commoners to take part in controlling the floods was to take good care of their god incarnate, the pharaoh. The Egyptians therefore treated the Pharaoh like a god and prepared him for his afterlife by building huge tombs such as the Great Pyramid (c. 2700 B.C.E) for each pharaoh.[41]

The Egyptian pharaohs, in return, were responsible for the peace and harmony, called “maat,” of the land. With this responsibility came immense power. By taxing the people’s labor and crops, the pharaohs built a complex central government, facilitated by the homogeneous population. The pharaoh ruled over a large bureaucracy consisting of the upper level of court officials, religious leaders, and military leaders as well as a lower level of scribes, artisans and tax collectors. The pharaoh commanded the elite nobles who governed about 40 administrative districts. The pharaoh ruled over the entire Nile River Valley after Menes united the north and south in 3000 B.C.E. Thus, the Egyptian area of governance was much larger than the Sumerian city-states.[42]

One of the main differences between Egypt and the previously described river civilizations was the narrow width of the agricultural area of Egypt. Ancient Egypt consisted of the eight-mile wide strip of arable land along the 4000+ mile river plus a relatively small 100-mile wide area around the delta. When the Nile flooded, the water did not spill out onto a large plain; rather, it was limited to a narrow green strip around the river. “The result was a society whose highly coherent culture stretched out along the axis of the river and its carefully preserved banks.”[43]

“Egypt had no vast fertile hinterland like the sprawling plains of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. In a sense, Egypt was the most ‘riverine’ of the riverine cultures.”[44]

Each Egyptian village was very much like the others, each having a view of the Nile River. The city-states of Mesopotamia each had different views and situations and therefore were more heterogeneous than those of the Nile.

Another difference between Egypt and its northern first civilizations was that it’s self-containment. It had all the resources it needed from local sources and it was less open to outsiders than Sumer or Indus. Although Mesopotamia was poor in natural resources, its weakness was overcome by its accessibility, which helped it become a center of trade. This extensive trade helped Sumer become a civilization. Thus, Egypt was more like China, in this respect, than Sumer or India. China too was protected from invaders by deserts and mountains like Egypt was protected by the Sahara Desert.[45]

Although Egypt was, in many ways, different from Indus and Mesopotamia, Egypt also had a lot in common with Sumerian and the Indus River Valley civilizations. They all had densely populated areas where the people depended on irrigation for survival and prosperity. All three built monumental architectural structures such as the Egyptian pyramids and Sumerian ziggurats. Moreover, these societies gave their leaders great authority and created complex social orders.[46]

Like Sumer and Harappa, Shang, and Olmec, the Egyptians developed a writing system. Unlike writing from Harappa and the Olmec, the Egyptian system, called hieroglyphics, has been translated by modern linguists using a translator key called the Rosetta Stone made during the Cleopatra reign. Hieroglyphics and Cuneiform were writing systems that died and therefore need a Rosetta Stone-like key to translation. China’s ancient writing system did not die; it evolved to become the modern writing system of today’s China, as discussed in the next section.




Agriculture began to develop in China circa 7000 B.C.E., about 1000 years after it developed in Mesopotamia. Archeologists have found many Neolithic settlements in northern China around the Yellow and Wei Rivers. There was scant rainfall and frequent flooding, similar to Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Indus. The alluvial soil around the Yellow River was fertile because of flooding, but also because of the dust blown in from the Gobi Desert. The farmers farmed millet at first because it was drought resistant, but later they planted barley, possibly imported from Mesopotamia or India.  They also grew wheat, pears, and apricots in the North.[47]

In the South, other settlements formed around the Yangzi River, where a wetter and warmer climate prevailed. There, they grew rice using irrigation since rice grew under water by taking advantage of nutrients from the ambient water. Thus, between the two regions, the North and South, the region between the Yellow and Yangzi produced a substantial surplus, which enabled specialization, one of the first ingredients of a civilization. Cooking became a form of art in China and a god of the kitchen was developed in different regions, thus producing a highly diverse culinary field.[48]

The first known Chinese culture developing out of the agricultural surplus was the Yangshao, beginning around 5000 B.C.E. in the middle part of the Yellow River. The Yangshao manifested several characteristics of a civilization. They had specialist artisans who weaved thread, made pottery, and bred dogs and pigs. They had advanced technology such as the kiln for baking pottery for hardening. They also had the technology for raising silkworms and turning the cocoons into silk clothing. They carved jade too. Archaeologists uncovered a 7000 year old 7-holed flute, which is currently the oldest known playable musical instrument. In terms of religion, they buried their dead in cemeteries. They also experimented with ways to avert the frequent earthquakes and floods as well as to predict the future.

There were many other settlements that developed after the Yangshao and these budding villages traded freely amongst themselves. One such culture called the Longshan (also spelled Lungshan) thrived during 3000 – 2200 B.C.E. In addition to the specialization and advanced technology that the Yangshao displayed, the Lungshan had social classes. They lived in walled villages and had weapons, so they were able to defend themselves. These people used diamonds to polish rubies used in ceremonies and they developed this technology 1000 years before the rest of the world. They also utilized a simple pictographic writing system.[49]

After the Longshan, there may have been a dynasty called the Hsia (2183-1752 B.C.E.), but there is no corroborating written evidence to support the tradition, which claims that it had a large capital city, had scribes, had metallurgists, artisans, and bureaucrats. There are, however, some archeological remains that corroborate the Hsia dynasty.[50]

In 2nd millennium B.C.E. China, food and water was abundant without having centralized government to organize large irrigation projects like in Mesopotamia or Egypt. Thus, a decentralized series of villages grew as the population increase, which led to the formation of the Shang Dynasty.

“One of the first kingdoms of East Asia, the Shang state built on the small agricultural and riverine village cultures of the Longshan peoples…The Shang state did not grow out of urban polities such as those in Mesopotamia and Egypt, for the lands in the areas around the Yellow and Yangzi rivers enabled China to maintain a more decentralized local form of life.”[51]

With population growth, though, came conflict among villages that necessitated a stronger centralized government, a need met by the Shang. The Shang state built on the Longshan’s metal technology, standardized architectural forms, walled towns, and divination using animal bones. To these ingredients for civilization, the Shang added a recorded blood line of ancestors to worship, a writing system, tribute, and rituals that they believed enabled communication with the ancestors. Thus, the Shang Dynasty, the first historical Chinese dynasty began about 1766 B.C.E.[52]

Also during this time, the Shang dynasty took over when they acquired bronze metal-working technology, improved their writing system and, in the process, became a full-fledged civilization.[53] The ancient Chinese religion was different from the Sumerian/Egyptian worship of the gods who controlled the floods and the Harappan gods who did not seem to be connected to the river. The Chinese based their religion on ancestor worship and they tried to use their ancestors for divination to light their way to the future.[54] Much of the Shang religion was focused on communicating with their ancestors to help them govern, not to plead to deities for good weather. Much of what historians know about the Shang comes from their divination.  The Shang leaders talked to the gods using animal bones or sea shells. By reading oracle bones or shells, historians were able to decipher much about the Shang:

The Shang king’s diviner would inscribe a question on the prepared bone or shell, dig a small pit part way through the piece, and then apply a heated metal rod to the pit, which would cause the shell or bone to crack. The nature of the crack indicated the answer. A typical bone or shell contains a date, followed by the question, for example, ‘Is the drought caused by ancestor X?’ or “If we raise an army of 3000 men to drive away from Y, will we succeed?[55]

Thus, whereas the Sumerians (Mesopotamians) and Egyptians wrote about anthropomorphic and unrealistic deities, the Chinese were writing about more realistic and practical things, like history and government. It was this primitive writing system that evolved into today’s modern Chinese writing.

“Unlike the earliest Indian oral traditions and written documents, which dealt with religion and philosophy, ancient Chinese writings were, from the beginning, concerned with historiography, or recording of historic events, with an emphasis on socially applicable morals and virtues.”[56]

The Shang religion was similar to the Sumerian and Egyptian religions in one respect: The ruler was responsible for keeping the peace and harmony. The Egyptians called this peace and harmony “maat.” The Shang version was the “mandate from heaven.” The difference was that the mandate from heaven meant that the people had a right to replace their leader if the peace and harmony disappeared.

Thus, although there are many similarities between East Asia and the rest of Asia, China seems to have fewer similarities with Mesopotamia than Egypt or India does. This is not surprising given China’s geographic isolation. China’s isolation is minor, though, compared to the isolation of the next and last civilization of this paper: the Olmec.




The first civilization in Mesoamerica was the Olmec in the 1st and 2nd millennium B.C.E., although the non-Mesoamerican Chavin culture also was developing in the modern-day Peru during the same period. The early Olmec were living in villages around 2200 B.C.E. They grew maize in the heavy rain area on and near the southern shores of the Gulf of Mexico where they had plenty of fish, game, and dogs to eat. In this wet weather, there was no irrigation needed to produce their agricultural surplus that they used in trading. The early Olmec traded salt, rubber, tar, pottery clay, basalt for monuments, shells, skins, cacao, exotic feathers, medicines, jade, incense, and obsidian used to make sharp tools. Traders traveled all over Mesoamerica including present-day eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras. The traders brought their culture with them, leaving signs of influence in the central mountains of Mexico as well as southern Guatemala, 400 miles from central Olmec territory. There in Guatemala, they founded a large city called Copan.[57]

In Mesoamerica, located in modern Mexico and Central America, early civilizations did not form around large rivers like in Afro-Eurasia. The Olmec developed in what is now called Mexico. The development of this civilization was very different from the Afro-Eurasia river civilizations. They relied on fishing and growing Maize in moist areas, as did the Chavin culture, but they also were very active in trading their products for many raw materials for artisans. Based on this trading, they were able to develop institutions and writing, thus making them an actual civilization. Like China, they adapted to their environmental isolation by developing a local trade network.

“Unlike the territorial states of Mesopotamia, these native American peoples had no preexisting high cultures from which to draw inspiration. Rather, the Mesoamerican cultures were something new, created out of local village roots. The peoples of the region formed themselves into a loose confederation of villages.”[58]

Thus, the Olmec were more like the Chinese in this respect. China was more isolated than Sumer, Egypt, and Indus because of the deserts and mountains that separated China from the rest of Afro-Eurasia. Thus, both the Chinese and Olmec culture developed more independently than the others. Also, perhaps coincidently, the Olmec and Shang civilizations began around the same era, beginning in 1500 B.C.E. The Sumer/Egypt/Indus civilizations did not develop as independently as the Olmec/Chinese. The ancient Sumerians were not the first farmers in their area. Their culture drew from the hundreds of villages of the Fertile Crescent where the agricultural revolution preceded them. Likewise, the Egyptians and Indus Valley settlements were influenced by the Sumerians because they traded with each other.

The Olmec were similar to the Indus River society in that they were united more by culture than by government. In Mesopotamia, each city-state had its own god. In the Shang dynasty there was a central government, although it did not cover all of modern day China. India, like the Olmec, did not have a central government; rather, they were united by a single language, a single religion, and thus a single culture.

The Olmec’s city-states did not appear to be governmental centers; rather, they were religious centers. The Olmec were like the Mesopotamians and Egyptians in their efforts to appease deities so that the deities allow rain and agricultural fertility. All three of these societies attempted to bribe the gods with sacrifices to provide the rain and soil necessary for a bountiful crop. The Olmec went so far as to sacrifice humans. The ball game played by the Olmec may have been part of a ritualization of human sacrifice:

What added to the thrill of the ball court was that they were dangerous yet fecund places associated with water and agricultural fertility, for an equally important aspect of devotional culture was the practice of human sacrifice. Indeed, it is likely that athletes and sacrifice were blended in the same rituals. Many monuments depict a victorious and costumed ballplayer atop a defeated, bound human, though it is not known whether the losers were literally executed. Rainmaking rites also included other forms of human sacrifice. Captives – we do not know how they were selected or seized – were excecuted and dismembered. There is increasing evidence that Olmecs practiced ritual warfare to supply rulers with humans whose death and torture was meant to ensure that the soil would be fertile and rains would continue.[59]

Although the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Indians sacrificed animals to their deities, none of them were known to sacrifice humans. However, the Shang Dynasty did show evidence of human sacrifice.

“Remains of human sacrificial victims were found interred in the main chamber and scattered in other parts of the grave, as were dogs, horses harnessed to chariots.”[60]

However, the writer found no other references to human sacrifice in Chinese history, therefore this quote may have been an anomaly. The gory fact of human sacrifice in Olmec history, however is reinforced by their Aztec and Mayan successors who also engaged in human sacrifice. Thus, human sacrifice could be considered to be  a unique difference between the Olmec and the other civilizations discussed in this paper.

Because, like the Harappans, we do not have decipherable writing from them, much of the writing about the Olmecs is based on educated guesses, which leaves much room for disagreement. For example, the Upshur textbook stated that the giant basalt head sculptures were Olmec rulers[61] whereas Tignor’s “World’s Together Worlds Apart” indicated that the heads are of the team members. Perhaps the rulers were team players.[62]

The Olmec also had astronomy in common with China and Mesopotamia. It was the Olmec who created the calendar on which the Mayans improved to come up with the famous Mayan calendar, that modern folklore said predicted the end of the world in December, 2012.[63]

“As in China and Mesopotamia, a flowering of (Olmec) culture encouraged priests and scholars to study the world around them – and the heavens – so that they might accurately chart the rhythms of the terrestrial and celestial worlds.”[64]

Also, the Olmec were similar to the Sumerians, Chinese and Egyptians in their beliefs that their leaders needed to be provided with things for the after-life. “Some trophies were buried in the tomb of a dead (Olmec) ruler so that he could play ball with the gods in the underworld.”[65] Also like the Sumerians, Shang and Egyptians, the Olmec had priests who communicated with the gods.

Like the Sumerians and Egyptians, the Olmec leaders used religion to control their subjects. The Olmec used artisans to create religious objects that were transported from one village to another in a very ceremonial manner, which reinforced the leaders’ position as being communicators with the gods that provided their livelihood. Just like the leaders of Egypt and Sumer were able to convince the peasants to do public work on irrigations systems, palaces and tombs, so too were the Olmecs able to get the people to transport basalt blocks many miles to pay tribute religiously:[66]

The priestly class, raised and trained in the palaces at La Venta, San Lorenzo, and Tres Zapotes, directed the exchanges of ritual objects between farming communities. Because these exchanges involved immense resources, the engagement of the ruling families was necessary and their involvement with these objects buttressed their claim to be descended from divine ancestors. At the same time, their control of the commerce in precious secular goods added to their fortunes. In this fashion, dominant families blurred the line between the everyday and the religious, the profane and the sacred heritages, and thereby legitimized their domination of their subjects.[67]

The way the Olmec used these religious objects to show their power was similar to the way the Shang Dynasty used religion:

“Tribute could also take the form of turtle shells and cattle scapula, which the Shang used for divination. The ability to divine the future was a powerful way to legitimated royal power – and then to justify the right to collect yet more tribute. By placing themselves symbolically and literally at the center of all exchanges, Shang kings reinforced their power over others.”[68]

The Olmec eventually developed a writing system.[69] Below is an example of Olmec writing, although it has not yet been translated.[70]



Other Comparisons


What these civilizations have in common is that they all first became civilizations in the third and second millennium B.C.E, but the differences are that Mesopotamia developed first in the 36th century B.C.E., while Egypt was second in about 32nd century B.C.E. India was fourth in 28th century B.C.E, China was 5th in 16th century B.C.E., and Mesoamerica was sixth in the 15th century B.C. E. The historical significance of this sequence is that Sumer became a civilization first and was instrumental in transferring the knowledge to Egypt to get them started as a civilization and Sumerians also traded with Indus thereby influencing their development too. China may have had help, but it would have been almost impossible to help the Olmec get started, given the geographic barriers.[71]

Urban Development

 Of the 5 civilizations, it appears that Mesopotamia and Egypt became the most developed as urban centers. See the table 6.1 in Appendix A.[72] Note that the writer added the last column on the Olmec with information from Upshur.[73]



Grains and Domesticated Animals

One thing all of the civilizations of this paper have in common is agriculture because only cultures based on growing crops became complex civilizations. The fishing based villages and the pastoral nomadic communities did not become civilizations in ancient times.

“The techniques of food production and storage, transportation, and communication restricted the surpluses available to feed those who did not cultivate the land. These communities did not grow in size and complexity.”[74]

The civilizations of this paper all grew some sort of grain and domesticated some sort of animal, but the differences were in the types of grains they grew. All four Afro-Eurasian civilizations grew barley and wheat and domesticated goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle.  However, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, and Egypt also grew and peas, beans, and lentils and raised goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. These agricultural products of Egypt most likely came from Mesopotamia.[75]

In addition, the Indus River people grew sesame, melons, and dates and domesticated horses and fowl.[76] China grew rice in the South and millet in the North. Mesoamerica, with its separate western hemisphere habitat, grew maize (corn), potatoes, and beans while they raised llamas and poultry. The table in Appendix B summarizes the agricultural product distribution. An “X” means the ancient civilization did produce that product.





Organized Labor Forces

 One thing all of these civilizations had in common was a sufficiently powerful government to organized forced labor for public works projects using forced peasant labor. The Sumerians built their irrigation systems and ziggurats. The Egyptians built their irrigation systems and pyramids. The Shang had their Chenghow wall that took about 10,000 men 18 years to build.[77]  “The Shang established an authoritarian state, perhaps in part to coordinate irrigation and dam building.”[78] The Mohenjo-Daro of India too had was fortified by a brick wall with a tower that must have required peasant power, although we do not have written records of it like we do the other Afro-Eurasian cultures of this paper. The Olmec required organized labor to haul the ten-ton basalt blocks 30-miles and sculpture them into giant heads too.



 The conclusion of this paper is that these civilizations were highly dependent on the environment. The Sumerians were forced to find a way to survive in the desert and they adapted to their new environment by harnessing the flood waters. Even the early Mesopotamian religion reflected the volatility of their environment. The Egyptians too adapted to flooding through irrigation and their religion reflected the predictability and benevolence of the river in their environment. The religion of the culture of Harappa took a very different course than the Sumerians and Egyptians, perhaps reflecting their very different environment that did not include as much flooding as Sumer and Egypt. The Shang dynasty developed in a geographically isolated region and thus developed a culture quite different from the rest. The Shang, though, had at least some limited contact with India, but the Olmec environment was even more isolated than China by two huge oceans. The Olmec environment thus offered no opportunities for contact with any humans in Afro-Eurasia. The most amazing part of this study for the writer was how similar the totally isolated Olmec developed cultures with many similarities with the Afro-Eurasian civilizations. Perhaps our common humanity determines culture as much or more than the environment.


Appendix A

Table 6.1 Attributes of Urban Revolution as found in Egypt Mesopotamia, Indus, and China

Attribute Egypt Mesopotamia Indus China Olmec
  1. Cities
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Full-time specialists
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Surplus concentration
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Monumental public  buildings
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Ruling class and functionaries
1 1 0 1 1
  1. Writing and numerical notation
1 1 ? 1 1
  1. Exact and predictive sciences
1 1 1 1 0
  1. Representative art
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Regular foreign trade
1 1 1 0 0
  1. Organic social solidarity
1 1 1 1 1
  1. Temples and shrines pre-eminent
1 1 0 1 1
  1. State organization dominant & permanent.
1 1 0 1 0



Appendix B

  Sumer[79] India[80] Egypt[81] China[82] Olmec[83]
































































Baum, Deborah, Brown University, Media Relations, September 14, 2006. Oldest Writing in New World Found in Vera Cruz, Mexico. http://brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-021.html

Carr, Tarini J. The Harappan Civilization, http://www.archaeologyonline.net/artifacts/harappa-mohenjodaro.html http://brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-021.html

Dictionary Completed of Language Used in Ancient Egypt, Science Daily, September 18, 2012. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120918145005.htm

Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia, Bonnie G. Smith. The Making of the West, Peoples and Cultures Volume I to 1740s, Third Edition. Boston: Bedfords/St. Martin’s, 2009.


Jones, Ed. Lindsay, Encyclopedia of Religion.Vol. 7. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.  P4468-4475.From Gale Virtual Reference Library. Found using Infotrac Power Search of “Harappa” at Westhills College Library website.


Lockard, Craig A. Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History, Second Edition. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011.

Maisal, Charles Keith. 1999, Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of  Early Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India, and China. N.P.: Routlage, 1999 eBook (EBSCOhost), p. 328. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=102626&site=ehost-live&scope=site&ebv=1&ppid=pp_34

McGrath, Jane, What’s So Important About the Code of Hammurabi?  http://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-events/code-of-hammurabi.htm.

Rand McNally, Atlas of the World 1993, (Rand McNally and Company, New York, NY).


 Tignor, Robert, Jeremy AdelmanPeter Brown , Benjamin ElmanXinru Liu , Holly PittmanBrent Shaw, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present, Second Edition, Vol. 1: Beginnings Through the Fifteenth Century (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008)


Upshur, Jiu-Hwa L., Janice J. Terry, James P. Holoka, and Richard D. Goff, World History  Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, Fourth Edition (Stamford: Wadsworth Publishing, 2002)

Whitworth, Mark, The Curious History of Taosi, The Longshan and the Xia – Page 2, 5/15/12 http://www.marquemywords.co.uk/stories/academic-articles/the-curious-history-taosi.html?start=1


Witzel, Michael and Steve Farmer. The Direction of Harappan Writing, (Frontline, India’s National Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 20, (September 30 – October 13, 2000):10. http://www.flonnet.com/fl1720/17200040.pdf


Wolpert, Stanley. Encyclopedia of India.  Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. p258-267. From Gale Virtual Reference Library, 260.

[1] Robert Tignor Jeremy AdelmanPeter Brown , Benjamin ElmanXinru Liu , Holly PittmanBrent Shaw,

Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present, Second Edition, Vol. 1: Beginnings Through the Fifteenth Century (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008), 31.

[2]  Ibid.,  31.

[3]  Craig  A. Lockard. Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History, Second Edition (Wadsworth Publishing, Boston, MA 2011), 30.

[4]  Ibid., 30.

[5]  Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 59.

[6]  Ibid., 32.


[7] Lynn Hunt, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia, Bonnie G. Smith, The Making of the West, Peoples and Cultures Volume I to 1740s, Third Edition (Boston: Bedfords/St. Martin’s, 2009), 8.

[8] Rand McNally, Atlas of the World 1993, (Rand McNally and Company, New York, NY), 12.

[9] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 60.

[10]Ibid., 62.

[11]Ibid., 61.

[13]Jiu-Hwa L. Upshur, Janice J. Terry, James P. Holoka, Richard D. Goff, and George H. Cassar, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, Fourth Edition (Stamford: Wadsworth Publishing, 2002), 16.

[14]  Ibid., 16.

[15]Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 63-64.

[16] Ibid., 64.

[17] Ed. Lindsay Jones. Encyclopedia of Religion.Vol. 7. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.  P4468-4475.From Gale Virtual Reference Library. Found using Infotrac Power Search of “Harappa” at Westhills College Library website.

[18] Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 68.


[19]Stanley Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India.  Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. p258-267. From Gale Virtual Reference Library, 260.

[20]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 48

[21] Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 68.

[22]Ibid., 68.

[23] Ibid., 69.

[24] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 141.

[26]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 48.

[27] Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 69.

[28]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 48-49.

[29] Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India, 261.

[30] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 68.

[31]Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India, 263.

[32]Ibid., 263.

[33] Ibid., 263.

[34]Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India, 263.

[35]Wolpert. Encyclopedia of India, 264-5

[36] Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 73.

[37] Charles Keith Maisal, 1999, Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Early Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India, and China. N.P.: Routlage, 1999 eBook (EBSCOhost), 34. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=102626&site=ehost-live&scope=site&ebv=1&ppid=pp_34

[38]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 16.

[39] Ibid., 21.


[42]Ibid., 21.

[43]Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 73.

[44] Ibid., 73.

[45]Ibid., 74.

[46]Ibid., 73.

[47] Lockard. Societies, Networks, and Transitions, 74.

[48]Ibid., 74-76.

[49] Lockard. Societies, Networks, and Transitions, 76.

[50] Ibid., 76.

[51] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 120.

[52] Ibid.,  120.

[53] Lockard. Societies, Networks, and Transitions, 76.

[54] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 120.

[55] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 61-62.

[56] Ibid., 59.

[57]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 40-41.

[58]  Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 208.


[59] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 210-211.

[60] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 61.

[61]Ibid., 41.

[62]  Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 211.

[63] Upshur, et al., World History Before 1600, 41.

[64] Tignor et al.,  Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 211.

[65]Ibid. 210.

[66] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 211.

[67]Ibid., 211.

[68] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 124.

[69] Upshur, History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 41.

[70] Deborah Baum, Brown University, Media Relations, September 14, 2006, http://brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-021.html

[71] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 207.

[72] Charles Keith Maisal, 1999, Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Early Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India, and China. N.P.: Routlage, 1999 eBook (EBSCOhost), p. 328.

[73] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 40-42.

[74] Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 56.

[75] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 486.

[76] Ibid., 49.

[77]Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 60.


[79]  Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 59.

[80] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization, 49.

[81] Lynn Hunt, et al., The Making of the West,  16.

[82] Upshur, World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization,  64.

[83]  Tignor et al., Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, 208.

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