Author Topic: What came before Western Civilization?  (Read 137 times)

Offline Baruch (OP)

What came before Western Civilization?
« on: November 28, 2017, 04:51:10 AM »
Egypt and Babylon of course ...



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Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2017, 07:35:09 AM »
So who came up with writing first? Old school says it was the Mesopotamians, but clay labels inscribed with early hieroglyphs found in the 90's in the tomb of Scorpion I in Naqada are as old as anything found in Mesopotamia.
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Offline Baruch (OP)

Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2017, 08:02:58 PM »
So who came up with writing first? Old school says it was the Mesopotamians, but clay labels inscribed with early hieroglyphs found in the 90's in the tomb of Scorpion I in Naqada are as old as anything found in Mesopotamia.

Depends on what counts as writing:

Clay counter shapes (natural or abstract) are Neolithic in Mesopotamia, and used for practical accounting, but were later used to emboss the outside of the clay envelope containing them, so you could know how many sheep etc were represented, without opening the clay envelope.  Eventually the clay envelope was only opened, to compare with the outer markings, as an audit.  Later still the contents of the envelope were discarded, and the envelope flattened into a tablet ... but the markings on the outside remained.

In late pre-dynastic Egypt, property was marked with name tags, that had names scratched on them using pictograms, but this was later than the accounting tokens of Mesopotamia.  In Mesopotamia stone seals were used on clay for this purpose as well, invented about the same time as name tags in Egypt.  Accounting developed in Egypt, directly with symbols for things, and their quantity scratched onto a hard writing surface (it showed a later start point).  So we have owners, types of goods, quantity of goods .. in both cases.  But the accounting is much older in Mesopotamia ... though the name tags happened at about the same time.  Ownership, bookkeeping and accounting are where writing starts from ... not literature, which remained oral a very long time.

https://www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/mathematical-treasure-mesopotamian-accounting-tokens

https://www.ancient.eu/article/846/cylinder-seals-in-ancient-mesopotamia---their-hist/

http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=3883

So if by writing, you mean bookkeeping, then Mesopotamia is first.  If by writing, you mean name tags, then it is tied, Egypt and Mesopotamia started it about the same time.  If you mean literature ... then again they are tied, this first happening about a 1000 years after name tags.  In Sumer with the Uruk temple liturgy, and in Egypt with the Pyramid texts.  So are you a temple accountant?  Or a elite property owner?  Or a religious literati?
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Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2017, 07:34:51 AM »
I'm OK with the bookkeeping being the beginning of writing. Probably started to keep up with who had paid their taxes. Don't want to behead those who are supporting the royal household. Just those who aren't...
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Offline trdsf

Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2017, 12:38:04 PM »
I'm OK with the bookkeeping being the beginning of writing. Probably started to keep up with who had paid their taxes. Don't want to behead those who are supporting the royal household. Just those who aren't...
That's one of the theories, that writing began with accountants, although more humbly than something as socially advanced as taxation.  A clay envelope held tokens, one for each sheep in a flock, and all the innumerate shepherd had to do was drop in one token for each sheep in his care, and the clerk wrote the number on the outside of the envelope.  At the end of the day, the shepherd could verify the number by one-to-one matching sheep with tokens, and the clerk by the number written thereon, who could also check that number against the count of tokens.

From there, it had to be a fairly short step to writing down words.  After all, if you could put down a concrete mark for an abstraction like a number, you could equally well put down a concrete mark for abstract non-numeric concepts.
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"I thought I committed regicide today, but I committed deicide!" -- Sadie Doyle, Beyond Belief

Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2017, 09:48:27 AM »
That's one of the theories, that writing began with accountants, although more humbly than something as socially advanced as taxation.  A clay envelope held tokens, one for each sheep in a flock, and all the innumerate shepherd had to do was drop in one token for each sheep in his care, and the clerk wrote the number on the outside of the envelope.  At the end of the day, the shepherd could verify the number by one-to-one matching sheep with tokens, and the clerk by the number written thereon, who could also check that number against the count of tokens.

I'm going to go with probably not on the bolded part. To begin with taxes are probably as old as central governments. The chief and/or priests have always had nice things. Good food, bigger houses, fancier beads, servants/soldiers, and the like. They didn't get those things by growing more barley than anyone else. They got it by taking a share of what everyone else produced.

I also doubt the tokens in the clay envelope denote someone's share of the communal flock or grain reserves. These records weren't found in the outlying villages where the flocks were raised. They were found in the palace. They are records of what the government received.
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Offline trdsf

Re: What came before Western Civilization?
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2017, 01:22:36 PM »
I'm going to go with probably not on the bolded part. To begin with taxes are probably as old as central governments. The chief and/or priests have always had nice things. Good food, bigger houses, fancier beads, servants/soldiers, and the like. They didn't get those things by growing more barley than anyone else. They got it by taking a share of what everyone else produced.

I also doubt the tokens in the clay envelope denote someone's share of the communal flock or grain reserves. These records weren't found in the outlying villages where the flocks were raised. They were found in the palace. They are records of what the government received.
In the earliest proto-governments, there's probably not much distinction between 'taxation' and 'protection money'.  The ones that succeeded and grew into more sophisticated forms of government were those where the protection was real, where the local warlord/chieftain/whatever actually did send his warriors out to protect against raiders, invaders and large predators, and the citizens saw that there actually was a benefit to pooling resources.  Even if it started as coercive, it could have thereby evolved into something more coöperative.

The ones who took the money and sat on it would have failed in the long run -- at a minimum by allowing the people they brigandized to be further predated by invaders, raiders and wild animals.  You can't extort money or crops out of a peasant who's dead, enslaved by some more organized warlord, or eaten by a lion, no matter how many thugs you have.

As far as the token/envelope system goes, I'm expect it was first used for accounting for the flocks of large individual holders -- the rulers and the 'one percenters' of that era -- and later proved useful for the tax assayers and collectors.  You first have to have a concept of numbers and a way to track and manipulate them before you can meaningfully say "you owe me x percent of your sheep/grain/money".  If you don't have a concept of ten, you can't demand a tenth of it in tribute, and are left with arbitrary taking -- which I suspect ultimately leads to the second scenario above, except that the over-predation of the peasants comes from the local rulers instead of from outside.

Out in the sticks, as it were, one could more easily do one-to-one matching that didn't require actual counting -- 'I have as many sheep as I have fingers on both hands' doesn't actually require a concept of 'ten' in order to work, nor does it require writing to communicate.

Literacy and numeracy are really products of needing to handle more data than can be reliably remembered, and of the need to transmit data without meaningful degradation (cf. the telephone game).
"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning." -- Calvin and Hobbes
"I thought I committed regicide today, but I committed deicide!" -- Sadie Doyle, Beyond Belief