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Water and the Origins of Civilization

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The beginnings of early human civilization was marked with a need for the control and distribution of water. Irrigation, essential for farming in arid climates, as well as aqueducts and reservoirs, for transporting and storing clean water in cities, were instrumental bringing our ancestors together on a scale which had not previously been seen. As life then would have rested on, as it does today, the availability of food and clean drinking water, laws and positions of power were created to control abuse and neglect, as well as to grant access or give permission.

Necessary for agriculture in a region where rainfall is infrequent, the advancement of irrigation made reliable food production possible.pg2 This requisite technology in ancient Mesopotamia may have been what led to the rise of cities, due to the labor intensive nature of building and maintaining these systems, as well as the management and coordination such an endeavour would have required.pg2 That irrigation was so essential to survival in ancient Mesopotamia is evident in laws produced during that time relating to the care of dikes and canals. Some of these laws carried severe punishments; the penalty for a man who has neglected his dike and allowed it to flood other farmers' land, for instance, is being sold, along with his belongings, if he is not able to replace the grain that was lost.pg11 Such severity seems to reflect a society in which survival might have hinged on proper care of the irrigation systems.

In addition to agriculture, a need for clean drinking water also shaped the organizational focus of ancient humans by motivating them to construct aqueducts, which transferred water from lakes into the city and deposited it into reservoirs.pg3,4 The amount of labor needed to create these systems could number in the tens of thousands and span decades, and as such, were under strict control by the government.pg13,14

Bureaucracy flourished, if not as a result of, then alongside the need to ensure the safety and functioning of these systems, as the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands would have been dependant on them. Governments would become more centralized as a result, and taxes would have become greater, owing to the pooling of resources necessary for redistribution amongst all those involved with the building, maintaining, and regulating the water supply.

The basic requirements for a civilization cannot be met until people first have a reason to come together in such great numbers that those developments would be necessary. Water was an essential element in bringing together the populations of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The need for a greater control of water encouraged people to work together to create something for the benefit of many, and resulted in a pattern of behavior that would see the development of government and ultimately large and powerful civilizations.



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