A civilization is an advanced stage of human society, marked by complex institutions and a high standard of living. It has a wide definition, and people around the world have their own ideas about what civilization is, but it generally means that people live with order and comfort, and can think about other things, like art. Civilization is usually contrasted with barbarism and primitiveness.
One important feature of civilization is division of labor, with different people specializing in a particular activity or group of activities. This allows a single person or family to provide food, clothing and shelter for itself, but also lets it produce goods that are valued by other people in the community. People can then exchange these goods, which allows them to grow richer and have more variety in their lives.
As civilization develops, it often leads to the creation of cities. The growth of cities allows the city to expand its control over more of its territory, and it creates a large population that needs a system for keeping order. The development of civilization also helps lead to a wide range of cultural traits, such as organized religion, and advancements in the arts and sciences.
The development of civilization typically begins near water sources, which allow communities to sustain themselves over longer periods of time. River valleys in particular are good places to start, since the silt deposited by floods makes them extraordinarily fertile. As the climate warmed and dried over many areas of the world, these water sources became more precious, and prehistoric hunter-gatherers moved toward them. It is probably for this reason that most of the first civilizations developed in river valleys.
Once a civilization reaches a point where it has enough people to need rules and order, political leaders emerge. These people can make decisions that impact all of the community, such as whether to go to war. Religious leaders may also be powerful, and they can communicate with the gods for the people of a culture.
Eventually, these leaders can create the structures that mark a civilization as a distinct entity. These include a written language, which allows for the recording of contracts and legal cases, standardized measurement, trading systems, metallurgy, mathematics, science, architecture, art and organized religion.
Some cultures, such as the Pueblo of southwestern North America, never fully developed an agriculture, but still have a social hierarchy, complex artwork and material wealth. This is why people sometimes disagree about whether a culture should be considered a civilization. A large new study shows that civilizations tend to evolve in highly predictable ways, and that societies from different times and places follow similar patterns of becoming more sophisticated. The researchers analyzed data on 414 different societies over the last 10,000 years. They found that civilizations usually grow in tandem with the emergence of complex government workers, such as soldiers, judges and bureaucrats, and the development of writing systems. Civilizations are also usually marked by the emergence of complex divisions of labor, and by long-distance trade.