WORLD HISTORY TO 1500 CE
The Rise and Fall of Early Civilizations
As archaeology developed into a recognized discipline over the last century, its practi-
tioners joined the ranks of historians and philosophers in the search for answers to the
question, why and how do civilizations develop and then collapse?
Recently, as anthropological archaeology has become explicitly interested in the
formulation and testing of hypotheses concerning the 'whys' of culture change, concern
with the nature of the development of civilization through time has intensified. However,
basic problems, which have bothered archaeologists and other scholars throughout the
years, relating to this interest still remain. One of the principal problems is definitional:
what constitutes a civilization? Are there consistent criteria for distinguishing civilizations
from other levels of cultural development? Are certain factors necessary for the evolution
of civilization? Is the term 'civilization' synonymous with the state, and are the civiliza-
tional process and the urbanism process one and the same?
Archaeologists have experimented with several methodologies (or ways to formulate
and solve a problem) in order to answer these questions. One of the earlier approaches
which satisfied many scholars for decades was proposed by the British archaeologist V.
Gordon Childe. In trying to answer the question, how do we define 'civilization,' Childe
identified discrete elements of civilization. In his classic paper, "The Urban Revolution"
(article 1), he listed ten criteria which he felt were necessary attributes for the rise of
Unfortunately, several of Childe's criteria do not appear to be related functionally, and others have proved not entirely satisfactory. For example, whereas Childe proposed
that civilization and urbanism are synonymous, the ancient Maya and Egyptians apparently did not have true cities...