Four Earliest Civilisations of the World
About 5000 years ago human civilisation came off age when, in four separate
areas of intense agricultural activity, a number of dispersed farming villages
evolved first into towns, and then into cities. From these centres eventually
arose the first civilisations of the world, all of them located in broad river
valleys the Tigris and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the
Indus in India and the Hwang Ho (Yellow river) in China.
    Around 3500 BC the first cities developed in Mesopotamia, followed
shortly afterwards by similar developments in Egypt and India, and a little
later in China. Each of these urban literate civilisations was centred on a
major river valley which had the agricultural potential needed to support a
dense population.
    The special environment of the river flood-plains enabled these ancient
Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese to construct societies rich
enough to free a few persons from the task of producing their own food.
These ‘free’ individuals gradually became specialists and developed a
substantial range of new skills such as writing, bronze-making, seal-making,
large-scale building, and the like.
    These civilisations undoubtedly developed independently of one another;
and yet the similarities between them are both numerous and striking,
marking all of them off from the farming communities out of which they
sprang. One of their most obvious common features was the large cities.
They were far larger than anything that had gone before and larger than many
that came after. Thus, the ‘Urban Revolution’ of the fourth millennium BC
marks the beginning of a new phase of human existence.