TOPIC - Rivers were important to the emergence and development of civilisations

Key concept

"Complex social structures can lead to innovation and technological change"
" Innovation and technological change creates the conditions for the emergence of complex social structures."

"This unit focuses on the location of major rivers and the different landforms that are created by fluvial systems. How humans have manipulated rivers to become settled societies. The growth of different civilisations that have development along major rivers."

Context/AoI - Human Ingenuity

Guiding Question(s):

"How did rivers help shape the first civilisations?" "How did civilisations without rivers emerge? "

Related concepts

  • Surplus food can allow specialisation of labour to increase
  • Surplus food and increased specialisation of labour can sometimes allow population growth
  • Complex societies occur when population density increases in large settlements
  • Rivers transport weathered rock and deposit it as silt in floods
  • Silt adds nutrients to the soil
  • Well nourished soil has less limiting factors for successful agricultural production
  • Rivers provide water for agriculture
  • Farming leads to village life but is not sufficient for cities to develop (see Catal Huyuk for a "city" without farming, or northern Mesopotamia for farming with no cities)
  • Site factors lead to a growth of settlement (e.g. dry points in the marshes of what became Sumer)
  • Complex social structures in cities led to more organised religion and education (writing), architecture, trade and craft (pottery, jewellry etc)
  • Rivers provide transport routes for trade
  • Trade is accompanied with cultural diffusion (spread of ideas - e.g. the wheel)
  • Writing also leads to cultural diffusion

The River of Life

The River of Life | 7 Channel Video installation by Danae Stratou| 2004

A river generates life in the land it travels through...

Looking at satellite images of the Earth's rivers, one has the impression of looking at the planet's veins, the living veins of the Earth. Travelling on a riverboat for a few days, you would slowly start to feel that you were tapping into the rhythm of its flow; a flow that is natural as breath and traverses via the river the Earth entire. You would have the notion of travelling through this current that unites the world, and that you too are connected to this universal rhythm. Seven major terrestrial rivers: the Danube, the Nile, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Niger, the Yangtze and the Ganges. A fluctuating inventory of the world. A glance, through which the entire world unfolds and wherein the image transforms: from place to place, from summer to winter, from culture to culture, from East to West, from night to day, from jungle to city, to desert... A boundless moment, a moment which carries a timeless, eternal rhythm; the rhythm of the river, the rhythm which unifies the whole world and which bears along in its flow, all of humanity. It is the rhythm of life -- and its sound is the sound of the planet's breathing. I travelled for ten months following the flow of these seven major rivers of the world and dedicated about two years to the completion of The River of Life. It was an experience that enriched and deepened my awareness of the world that surrounds me and of my own position within it.