Olmec architecture

Olmec architecture

As indicated in the course description in the syllabus, this course examines the evolution and development of civilizations at various stages of complexity—from early hunter-gatherer and farming societies to the ancient state-level civilizations in both the Old and New Worlds, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, China, Mesoamerica, South America, and Europe. The origins and reasons for the development of these complex societies are examined within the context of archaeological and anthropological concepts.

British archaeologist V. Gordon Childe (b. 1892 – d. 1957) developed a list of ten characteristics that helped explain the reasons why civilizations developed. More recently, archaeologist Charles Redman at Arizona State University refined Childe’s list and divided it into primary and secondary characteristics.

Primary Characteristics

As discussed in the textbook by Price and Feinman (2010:Chap. 10, p. 501), the primary characteristics consist of the following:

1) Cities, with dense, nucleated demographic concentrations (that is, dense populations in cities)
2) Full-time labor specialization
3) State organization, based on territorial residence rather than kin connections
4) Class stratification, with the presence of a privileged ruling stratum
5) Concentration of surplus

Secondary Characteristics

Childe’s secondary characteristics of civilization provide the means for the existence of the primary characteristics as discussed by Redman. The secondary characteristics include:

1) Monumental public works (such as public architecture, irrigation systems, extensive roads)
2) Long distance exchange or trade
3) Writing
4) Arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy
5) Standardized artwork

In the textbook, Price and Feinman (2010:Chap. 10, pp. 501-504) discuss the primary and secondary characteristics of civilization with regard to the theories proposed for the development of the state-level civilizations, which you should read before you write your paper.

For the research paper, select one prehistoric civilization in one of the seven areas of the world where major civilizations developed (that is, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, China, Mesoamerica, South America, and Europe), and then chose one of the ten characteristics (either a primary or secondary characteristic) involved in the development of civilization. For example, if you are interested in the Olmec who are often considered to be the “first civilization” of Mesoamerica, you might want to research their monumental architecture or the role of long distance trade in the development of this prehistoric culture.