The important thought to hold on to is that for the first 99 percent of our history as beings we didn’t do much of anything but procreate and survive. Then people all over the world discovered farming, irrigation, writing, architecture, government, and the other refinements of being that collectively add up to what we fondly call civilization. This has been many times described as the most momentous transformation in human history, The interesting thing about the Neolithic Revolution is that it happened all over the Earth, among people who could have no idea that others in distant places were doing precisely the same things. Farming was independently invented at least seven times—in China, the Middle East, New Guinea, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Mexico, and West Africa. Cities likewise emerged in six places—China, Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, Central America, and the Andes. That all of these things happened all over, often without any possibility of shared contact, seems uncanny. As one historian has put it: “When Cortés landed in Mexico he found roads, canals, cities, palaces, schools, law courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, temples, peasants, artisans, armies, astronomers, merchants, sports, theatre, art, music, and books”—all invented quite independently of similar developments on other continents. And some of it is a little uncanny, to be sure. Dogs, for instance, were domesticated at much the same time in places as far apart as England, Siberia, and North America. It is tempting to think of this as a kind of global lightbulb moment, but that is really stretching things. Most of the developments actually involved vast periods of trial, error, and adjustment, often over the course of thousands of years. Agriculture started 11,500 years ago in the Levant, but 8,000 years ago in China and only a little over 5,000 years ago in most of the Americas. People had been living with domesticated animals for 4,000 years before it occurred to anyone to put the bigger of them to work pulling plows; Westerners used a clumsy, heavy, exceedingly inefficient straight-bladed plow for a further 2,000 years before someone introduced them to the simple curved plow the Chinese had been using since time immemorial. Mesopotamians invented and used the wheel, but neighboring Egypt waited 2,000 years before adopting it. In Central America, the Maya also independently invented the wheel but couldn’t think of any practical applications for it and so reserved it exclusively Bryson, Bill. At Home (p. 64). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. At Home (pp. 63-64). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. At Home (p. 63). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. At Home (pp. 62-63). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

— invention of civilzation  

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