The term civilization is a very broad one that encompasses many different aspects of human society. It has been used to describe advanced political, economic and religious systems as well as art and technology. It can also refer to a group of people who live in a certain city or town and share similar lifestyles and values. Regardless of its broad definition, civilizations are usually considered to be more advanced than less-civilized groups. However, there are also some historians who disagree with this view.
The earliest forms of civilizations arose from hunter-gatherer groups that moved to a more permanent way of life and began producing surplus food. With the ability to grow enough food to feed more than just a few family members, the division of labor became possible. As a result, craftsmen could produce artifacts that would be used for trade with other communities. These trades, in turn, led to a need for written documents and standards of measurement. The development of cities, surrounded by walls and housing a variety of craftsmen and other people, was another important milestone.
As civilizations grew, they required the production of food in greater quantities and larger geographic areas than could be provided by their original cradles. This created the need for long-distance trade and a need for writing to record business agreements. With the need for trade came a need for money, which lead to the creation of banks. This, in turn, created a class of wealthy individuals known as kings.
This process, referred to as the “civilization of corn” by archaeologists, lasted for approximately 3,500 years. It is believed that this period marks the beginning of civilization as we know it today.
Historian V. Gordon Childe wrote in 1936 that there were several elements that must be present for a civilization to exist: the plow and wheeled cart, the smelting of copper and bronze, a calendar, a system of writing, a central government and a priestly or religious class. His list of essentials is similar to that of Clyde Kluckhohn who, in 1955, included towns containing more than 5,000 inhabitants, the existence of a writing system and monumental ceremonial centers as necessary ingredients for civilization. While these developments are indeed essential to a civilization, they do not necessarily make it more civilized than any other group of people.
Most social scientists now believe at least to some extent in cultural relativism, the idea that complex societies are not by their nature superior or more humane than non-civilized groups. A small minority, however, hold the view that racial differences in the development of civilizations can be explained by genetic variations in the biological constitution of human beings. These views, which are based on eugenics and pseudoscience, have been rejected by most scholars. They have also been discredited by their use in support of imperialism and exploitation of indigenous peoples.