Southwest Asia Activity 3x - Civilization Teachers Guide

Teacher’s Notes – Conditions for Early Civilizations
Big idea: Early civilizations developed in a number of places that are scattered across the globe, but most
of them developed in places that have remarkably similar conditions. At a global scale, most early
civilizations developed between 20 and 40 degrees of latitude, far enough from the equator to have a
distinct cold or dry season (good to help disrupt cycles of disease), but not so far from the equator that
winters are exceptionally cold. At a local scale, the most important condition seems to be the presence of
floods that soften the ground and bring fertile new soil. The positive value of floods for agriculture seems
to have outweighed the negative consequences of disease and damage to buildings at a this early time in
human history
Subordinate objectives:
- to learn the locations of Mesopotamia, Peru, and the valleys of the Niger, Nile, Indus, Mekong, and
Huang rivers
- to practice some skills of gathering and tabulating data
Possible setup information: Imagine you were living a long time ago, before telephones, electricity, cars,
or even houses. What kind of environment would you like to live in? We are going to try to “peer into
their brains” by looking at maps of places where people chose to live.
Possible additional or alternative setup: Ask (or simply announce) how old your community is. Note
that the oldest city in the United States is not even 400 years old. Then mention that some cities in the
world are ten times that old. Encourage them to do the math; it is like comparing the experience of a
third-grade child with that of a person who just celebrated his or her 90th birthday.
Vocabulary: conditions defense disease floodplain latitude spatial thinking vista
Procedure: The worksheet is the core of the activity. Like other activities in the book*, this can be done
as an individual worksheet, small-group activity, whole-class discussion (with or without a computer
projector), or take home project. This semi-independent activity covers ground often presented via lecture
or demonstration.
Answers – accept any reasonable conclusion, but focus on whether they can back it up with a map, text
reference, or internet citation. In general, they should discover that:
- No early civilization started in a cold climate, far from the equator.
- Almost all were on floodplains, though some were in forest regions, others in deserts.
- Safety from hurricanes does not seem to have been a major consideration.
- Metalworking was invented AFTER civilizations developed, not before.
- Most early civilizations are near large rivers, not small ones.
- Mountaintop locations seemed to be important only to the Incas, in the highlands of Peru.
Extensions, supplements, and GIS applications: The CD* has a folder of ideas, including some GISbased maps of terrain, vegetation “greenup” and the locations of early civilizations.
One possible extension is to do a similar analysis of cities in a smaller part of the world at a later date,
trying to identify conditions that those cities have in common. For example, in the early 1800s, many
cities developed near rapids or waterfalls, where they could harness water power to run mills. This leads
to a very different geographic pattern than the hilltop defense-oriented cities of an earlier era.
Complication: The focus of this lesson is on broad-brush environmental conditions. It is easy, however,
for students to confuse scales, to cite very local conditions like a hilltop location for protection from
enemies or a shoreline location that is vulnerable to hurricanes. Those advantages or problems can be
solved by moving a few hundred feet, whereas the global conditions that favored the development of
civilizations are visible even on a world map – large rivers, moderately warm climate, and location on flat
floodplains rather than rugged hills.
* Teaching Geography, 3rd edition, New York: Guilford Press, 2014, Phil Gersmehl