Chosen Valleys

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright May 2017


One of the interesting questions swirling around dawn of history humanity is why the first cradles of civilization appeared where they did. Earth is a big place with lots of diverse climates and geographies. The humans that pioneered the transition to Agricultural Age technologies and social structures did so in just a handful of places on this big, diverse world. Why were those "cradles of civilization" the places chosen?

Doing fine... Doing fine... Thank You

This transition to the Agricultural Age was not as easy or inevitable as it appears to be when looking back from today's Information Age perspective.

Since the end of the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago mankind had been doing just fine with Stone Age (Neolithic Age) tools and social structures. These Neolithic Age living styles were working quite well and with them mankind had spread across six of the seven continents and become a boom species (my term) wherever he thrived.

In sum, mankind was doing just fine with the Neolithic lifestyles. They had served him well for 20,000 years before these strange new "cradles of civilization" started emerging.

Supporting the right tools and societies

Those areas that became cradles did so because they were the best at supporting the earliest tools, technologies and social structures that would become Agricultural Age cultures.

These early tools and techniques were touchy. They worked well only in ideal circumstances -- ideal meaning that they give their users more benefit than the competing Neolithic lifestyles did.

The center of the Agricultural Age benefit was farming -- growing and breeding plants and animals in a sedentary lifestyle. This meant using the same fields year after year.

But that doesn't work well in average terrain for many reasons. Getting the right amount of water and not losing soil fertility are two of the big ones.

The Cradle Solution

The terrain of the cradles of civilization solved these two problems. They were river valleys flowing through deserts. They provided a year-round source of water, and when they flooded in the spring the silty water would lay down new, fertile, sediments on the surrounding fields. Net result: the farmers could farm the same fields year after year and continue to get bountiful crops.

Another benefit of running through a desert was that few competing tribes would be living nearby. This meant less problems with raiding neighbors looking for easy sources of crops, cattle and women.

In these conditions the sedentary lifestyle became feasible.

Then it gets robust

Once the sedentary lifestyle became established in these cradle valleys, human ingenuity allowed it to steadily get more productive and more robust. These improving features, in particular the robustness, allowed it to spread more widely. And the improving productivity allowed surprises to be developed as well. Two of the spectacular surprises were developing cities as well as farms, and developing writing in those city cultures -- recorded history began.

These improving Agricultural Age technologies steadily spread and steadily displaced Neolithic Age lifestyles across the earth. The Neolithic Age lifestyles remained viable in niche environments that remained unsuitable for even robust Agricultural Age technology mixes. An example that still exists today is highland New Guinea.


The cradle of civilization valleys played an important role in allowing Agricultural Age lifestyles to develop. They allowed the early, delicate forms to thrive. As these thrived the ingenious humans that were developing them kept up with their inventing, and what they invented were more productive and more robust forms of Agricultural Age technologies and lifestyles. It was these more robust forms that subsequently spread around the world and displaced the Neolithic lifestyles that had been practiced in many areas since the ending of the Ice Age.

These robust Agricultural Age technologies also produced lots of interesting surprises such as cities and writing. This became a huge revolution in mankind's living styles.



--The End--