In the river valleys
A small number of major river valleys in different parts of the Eastern Hemisphere played a critical role as cradles of civilization where all the “foundational” civilizations emerged. The great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China all belonged to this category.
River valleys offer areas of well-watered, fertile soil. With high agricultural productivity, river valleys can support large human populations concentrated in a comparatively small area. But why did they lead to a completely new kind of society, very different from what had gone before? Why didn’t the rise of large populations in river valleys simply result in a multiplication of small-scale farming villages, closely scattered across the plains?
The answer to this question is partially guesswork, since no records have survived from these times. However, modern scholars have developed explanations that are supported by archeological evidence.
Spring floods in dry climates
In the fertile river valleys, large rivers provide plentiful water and huge amounts of fresh, fertile mud. In the spring, the rain and mountain snowmelt cause the rivers to flood large areas of land. The water and mud creates some of the most fertile farmland in the world.
The floodwaters only cover the plains for a few weeks before flowing to the sea. In places such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the northwest Indian subcontinent, the rest of the year is hot and dry, so that crops soon die. Early farmers therefore found these areas difficult to settle. Agriculture began to flourish when they started digging pools and constructing dams to keep some of the floodwater from flowing away, and irrigation channels to carry the stored water to their fields. The population grew in the valleys, becoming dense concentrations of people.
Conflict and co-operation
Source: The Origins of Civilization
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