V. TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATIONS THROUGH 600 C.E.
Farming tools, metallurgy, and the ability to manipulate the environment cause humans to transition from nomadic hunters and gatherers to builders of civilizations and empires in this 10,000 year period. In order to farm successfully, people need tools, a way to transport what they’ve grown, and finally a place to store their surplus. Thus, the most important technologies developed by the early civilizations included farming tools: ploughs, hoes, rakes, the wheel (and therefore the cart), and finally, pottery in which to store surplus for the off-season. While effective tools can be made out of bone and stone, they last longer and work more efficiently if they’re made of metal. Copper was the first metal used, and other metallurgical techniques developed from there.
Once a society had enough goods, it needed a way to defend itself, and the knowledge that had helped make farming technology was used to create weapons and defense systems. It is not surprising that the first empires developed at the same time as iron technology and wheeled chariots around 1500 B.C.E.! A major development in warfare, the stirrup, developed among the nomadic societies of the Eurasian steppe and spread to Chinese as early as the third century B.C.E. The stirrup arrived late in Europe because the mountainous geography of the Mediterranean world limited the use of chariots and horses there. Additionally, the horses were initially too small to carry heavily armored soldiers. Because of this, the armies of Rome and Greece were mostly made up of foot-soldiers armed with spears and bows and arrows.
Ultimately, new technologies develop because they benefit society in some way. The earliest public works projects focused on irrigation—often simple dikes and canals to capture floods water and precious fertile silt. As cities grew, populations needed steady water supplies and a fairly reliable plumbing and sewage system. The large cities of the Indus River Valley (around 2500 B.C.E), had elaborate public and private sewers, and similar systems were built much later in the Roman Empire. The most visible technological achievements are massive architectural monuments built by all civilizations—pyramids, ziggurats, walls, temples, aqueducts, coliseums, theaters, and stadiums, and roads. These structures were used to assert the authority of leaders, facilitate the functioning of the state, and to keep the populace healthy, employed, and entertained.
A stable supply of food allowed people to develop specialized skills and crafts beyond the basic needs of their neighbors. Although a lot the trade in early societies tended to be smaller luxury items—silk, cotton and wool, worked semi-precious gems, and jewelry; heavier goods including olive oil and spices were also traded.
To accomplish and keep track of all of the above, early societies developed means of communication and record keeping. Relatively accurate calendars were developed in all civilizations, but only the Maya had a 365-day solar calendar. Both the Maya and the Gupta separately invented the concept of zero. This was an especially inventive time for the Chinese; in addition to the building of Great Wall and the massive terra cotta army of the Qin, the Daoist scholars of the Han Dynasty developed windmills and wheelbarrows, worked on some early forms of gunpowder, figured out how to distill alcohol, and produced paper from a variety of accessible materials including tree bark.