If Mesopotamia wasn't the beginnings of civilization, then what was? There are several candidates.
Gonur-depe, a vast city of about 1,000 square miles located in present-day Turkmenistan, has re-emerged from a forgotten past. These people farmed, built irrigation canals and palaces, and are believed to have traded with people as far away as Egypt [source: Eurasianet].
Catal Huyuk in southern Turkey is another city that some archaeologists think may have been the true origin of civilization. This city was home to about 10,000 people who raised livestock and farmed here about 7000 B.C. They also built shrines for worship and created art [source: Stockton]. But there is no evidence of a hierarchy or a social stratification, which, unfortunately, is necessary for a civilization to exist.
If simply living in a city is the only criterion for civilization, then other groups may have the Mesopotamians beaten. But there's more to civilization than building cities, and until more evidence comes to light, Sumer, Assyria, Babylon and the other cities of Mesopotamia will stand as the groups who gave birth to civilized life.
It's difficult to say whether civilization would have developed without the work of the Mesopotamians and prior groups. Do we as humans have a natural urge to live together in large groups? It's interesting to note that people seemed to have experienced the same impulse to band together in cities around the same time in different places. But what do we make of the fact that for the first several million years of human existence, people lived together only in small wandering bands? Is civilization a natural process of human evolution? If so, what's our next step?
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- Diamond, Jared. “The worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Discover. May 1987. http://ecr.lausd.k12.ca.us/staff/fbeerstein/Diamond,%20The%20Worst%20Mistake.doc
- Kreis, Steven. “What is civilization?” February 28, 2006. http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/lecture1b.html
- Kreis, Steven. “Ancient Western Asia and the civilization of Mesopotamia.” February 26, 2006. http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/lecture2b.html
- Tomczak, Matthias. “Introduction: What is science? What is civilization?” Flinders University. 2004. http://www.es.flinders.edu.au/~mattom/science+society/lectures/lecture1.html
- “Domestication.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition. 1990. http://hcs.osu.edu/hcs/TMI/HCS210/HortOrigins/BrDomestic.html
- “Turkmenistan: Making a bid for cradle-of-civilization status.” EurasiaNet. May 21, 2007. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav052107_.shtml