What was the first Civilization?

Jan 2010
Atlanta, Georgia USA
So did I, although in the case of the Incas, the didn't have writing, but they did have quipu knots that filled the same role as writing.
Bart--I believe the quipu are almost entirely book-keeping devices that represented numbers, like the earliest cuneiform from Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, I'd argue that the Andean cultures, of which the Inca were the last, were collectively a civilization.
Oct 2011
the middle ground
Full-blown "civilizations" always emerge from the amalgamation of smaller communities, so I'm not sure it is accurate to speak of a "huge gap" between cultures and civilizations. The Ubaid cultures precede the Sumerian city-states, for example, so there were thousands of years of 'urbanizing' developments in the area before we get to the king lists of Uruk or Nippur, etc.. Same process for Egypt or India or China, with ups and downs according to climate, soil, and anything else that helped or hindered the reinforcement of the resources-food-people cycle. Writing is the icing on the cake, so to speak, when the size of the population demands sustained record-keeping and the drafting and dissemination of unifying ideologies.
So the "first" civilizations probably all began to emerge in favorable locations within striking distance of the Fertile Crescent (where agriculture first began to replace hunting and gathering c. 10000 BCE) - Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Egypt, SE Europe in space and 8000-4000 BCE in time.

Origin of Civilized Societies Rushton Coulborn (Princeton NJ, 1959)
Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Free Press, 1999)
Nov 2015
Cucuteni–Trypillia culture or Trypillia agricultural culture. 5200 to 3500 BC.

In terms of overall size, some of Cucuteni–Trypillia sites, such as Talianki(with a population of 15,000 and covering an area of 335 hectares) in the province of Uman Raion, Ukraine, are as large as (or perhaps even larger than) the city-states of Sumer in the Fertile Crescent, and these Eastern European settlements predate the Sumerian cities by more than half of a millennium.

- Francesco Menotti (2007), "The Tripolye house, a sacred and profane coexistence!", W 6th World Archaeological Congress (WAC6), Dublin

- Wheel !

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Likes: Todd Feinman
Mar 2018
I wish that, in threads like these, there was a ban on posters saying that something from their home region was the first/greatest/more important of whatever is under discussion.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
A major question is whether the civilization is primary (arose on its own) or secondary (at least partly derived from another).

My list would be (for primary civilizations):
Nile river (unless it was secondary to Mesopotamia)
Indus river
Yellow river
Andes mountains

Originally Posted by Lucius

"I had always understood "civilization" to mean a culture with writing.

Then they can speak for themselves across the millennia."

That's an interesting exception. Writing allows for written law which is important for maintaining order in a city. Writing also allows for records of who owns what. If the Inca were like other Native American peoples, they may have owned property communally so written records were less necessary. A society can get along with oral law for a little while before the law gets so complex that it needs to be written down.

If the Incas were illiterate, (and there's some debate about whether or not they had a proto record keeping system or not) I consider them an excepton rather than the rule.
As far as I know communal ownership of land among aboriginal Americans is largely a myth brought on by the modern-day reservation system. As a general rule traditionally clans owned the land. In some places where there was particularly valuable farmland, there was a system of personal ownership and buying/selling.
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