Culture - Nature Relations and Ecological Crisis from 2200 BC to AD 900

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= excerpted from the book Recurring Dark Ages from Sing Chew.


Sing Chew:

"Following the Neolithic Revolution, the Urban Revolution as a world historical process framed the course of human history. One of the earliest signs of urbanization appeared in the riverine valleys of southern Mesopotamia, Egypt, and northwestern India over five thousand years ago, and continued the transformation of the landscape by human communities that started with the advent of agriculture. The process of urbanization encompassed trade linkages and accumulation, cultural exchanges, and a specialized and differentiated division of labor. This social architecture heightened the hierarchical distribution of rewards within and between regions. Coupled with population increases, the process of urbanization framed the level of resources required. Viewed from the perspective of the human community, underlying this world historical process was the expansion of production, trade, cultural transformation and the growth of cities. Innovations in metallurgy, and in the fabrication of commodities, increased the exploitation of natural resources. In the Mesopotamian valleys, ziggurats, canals, and the granaries that depicted economic growth were erected. There was extensive trading across the Arabian and Red Seas through to Egypt in the west and the Harappan Civilization in the East. In these latter two centers, the levels of urbanization and human specialization (division of labor) were of the same scale.

Out of this transformation came the further development of a set of urbanized enclaves that specialized in resource extraction, trade exchanges, and commodity production in a systemic context extending initially from West Asia and the eastern Mediterranean to Northwestern India. Further expansion from the second millennium onwards brought Europe, Central Asia, and China into this network. Viewed from the perspective of Nature, such world historical processes conduced a continuous and degradative transformation of the landscape. Trees were removed for agriculture, and to meet the energy, military and material needs. The valleys were excavated for canals to provide irrigation and transportation. Such wide-scale human activities led to soil erosion. Rivers were dammed. Socioeconomic activities were transforming the landscape.

A systemic crisis or Dark Age began around 2200 BC, impacting initially northwestern India, the Gulf, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and West Asia. Following this, new power centers emerged in the Near East, northern Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean. This systemic crisis continued till 700 BC, depending on the region, and impacted the main areas of West Asia, Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean and central Europe (from 800 BC onwards). These periods of crisis not only were characterized by socioeconomic distress, regime transitions, and center/hinterland conflicts but were also riddled with population losses, deurbanization, resource depletion, environmental degradation and climatological changes. Negative ecological trends (such as deforestation) were observed from 2200 BC onwards. Temperature increases and aridity pulsated from 2205 BC with warm periods and dryness alternating with cool conditions and moistness. Such ecological and climatological circumstances impacted on some parts of the system, and reverberated throughout the system as the Bronze Age proceeded. Recovery returned around 700BC with social systems expanding and growing in complexity. Expansion came first in the form of colonization by the Greeks.

Between 775 and 675 BC such expansion was for agricultural purposes, where the lands of Greece, which were degraded after centuries of intensive cultivation, could no longer meet the needs of the population. Poor peasants became tenant farmers (hectemores), and then swelled the cities. With the degraded environment in Greece, expansion of the system came with migration to other arenas such as Italy, Sicily, southern France, and West Asia. Growth in this case came from a colonization process that was extensive in nature, as a consequence of the ecological crisis of the Dark Age that has just ended. Following the success of the agricultural colonization strategies, a second round of outward expansion from 675 to 600 BC focused on commercial activities. With this phase, trade routes were fixed and strengthened. Other growth poles of the system were Egypt, Persia and Phoenicia. No single polity ever gained control of the Mediterranean.

The rise of Rome and the demise of Greece did not interrupt the degradation of the environment. Forests were removed in northern Africa and almost everywhere Roman rule was established. Mines were dug in Spain, with cities, roads, and production facilities established throughout the Empire. Crisis emerged again 700 years later, around AD 300/400 with patterns reminiscent of the Bronze Age decline. It was another systemic crisis, the first for the Iron Age. From what we have delineated above there are structural trends and tendencies that are ecological, socioeconomic and political that distinguish Dark Age periods from other phases. We find indicators of climate changes and ecological crises such as deforestation, soil erosion, and endangered species, correlating with distressed socioeconomic and political conditions such as declining population, trade and economic disruptions, de-urbanization, and changes of political regimes."