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And there was plenty: The Urban Revolution

The walls of Jericho today

By about 10,000BC, the last Ice Age came to an end. Ice sheets which had covered most of the northern hemisphere were melting by this time and the water that had been locked up in them was released with the effect of raising ocean levels by over 400 feet, severing land-bridges between Britain and Europe, as well as those that connected Siberia and North America, Indonesia and Malaya. As rainfall increased, deserts receded too. Conditions for human existence were extremely favourable at this time, allowing for what historians have called an Urban Revolution.

This revolution first took place in what we now call the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, Israel and Turkey. Up until this point, man had subsisted largely by hunting for meat, and gathering plants. Though hunter-gatherers had harvested wild cereals before, they now started to actively grow them themselves. Wheat seemed to be the first of the farming crops, and barley, lentils and beans came after. By selecting the best strains the small wild plants were developed into bigger domesticated ones.

The second facet of this Urban Revolution lay in the domestication of animals. It is likely that dogs were the first animals to be trained and kept domestically, mainly for the purpose of hunting and later for herding and guarding livestock. Next came sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. The great advantage of domestication of animals was their provision of "living larders", which provided easy access to milk, meat and later, wool.

With these developments it was no longer necessary to roam for food, as much of what was needed could be found within a limited locality. There was also greater incentive to remain in fixed locations, as livestock had to be tended, and crops tended to. Man started to settle down, at first in small fairly isolated communities, and later into bigger ones. The first proper "town" (that being a self-sufficient, enclosed, permanent community) that is known of is the biblical city of Jericho, founded in 900BC. It was surrounded by a 3 m thick stone wall, strengthened by a 9 m high circular stone tower. Jericho's basis was agricultural, cultivating wheat and barley, and raising herds of sheep and goats. A local shrine has been uncovered, and traces of religious activity have been found there, dating to at least 7000BC.

This Urban Revolution spread quickly, first along the Jordan rift and along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and later, around 7000BC, also Mesopotamia and Anatolia. Smallish urban sites have been discovered in all these areas. The largest such site found so far is Catal Hujuk, founded in Anatolia, covering 13 hectares. It was built closely packed together and raised above the ground, so that access could only be gained by ladders. It had a curious source of wealth: the black obsidian to be found in the nearby mountains appears to have been traded. Catal too shows traces of religion and ritual. Human skulls have been found lined up on benches, beneath reliefs of bulls' and rams' heads; and in some of the buildings figurines of goddesses were found, shown pregnant or giving birth, perhaps mementos of a fertility cult. These artefacts, gruesome though some are, were harbingers of the birth of Civilization. That most humanising of all human traditions.

The achievements of the Neolithic Revolution spread from the Middle East in all directions, to the Balkans and to Europe, Eastern Asia and Africa. A similar process occurred independently in America a few millennia later. The result over all was the development of denser human populations around particularly fertile areas. Indeed, the earth may well have supported some 10 million people by the middle of the Neolithic period.

Further new inventions followed: textile weaving, pottery, and, by the seventh millennium BC, casting of gold and copper were discovered. Bronze was first cast in three thousand years later in the fourth millennium, and was used mainly for tools and weapons. From this new diversity of skills, long distance trade started to develop, laying the foundations for the communication that allowed a more global "history" of humankind, to flourish.

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