समाज शास्‍त्र / Sociology

Cultural Hearths – Major cultural hearths of the world

Cultural Hearths – Major cultural hearths of the world

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  • The center or place of origin of a culture group associated with a particular cultural landscape is called ‘cultural hearth’.
  • The term was used specifically by Carl Saver.
  • Cultural hearths are the ‘breeding grounds’ of culture groups from which systems associated with them may later diffuse.
  • According to F. Ratzel, cultural hearths are ‘forcing beds’.
  • Nobody knows the place of origin of human species, but there is evidence that it may have South-Central Africa or possibly Central or S. Asia. Here climatic conditions were such as to favour human evolution of a variety of human types from primate ancestors. About 3500 B.C a few of them enjoyed special advantages of location and climate, slowly began to develop superior civilizations. These civilizations, which attained knowledge of writings and considerable advancement in the arts and sciences and in socio organization, began in some places or regions of the world, which are known as cultural hearth.


  • In such areas environmental conditions are favourable.
  • In such areas environment has supported the life system.
  • Due to favourable climatic condition soil, water supply, development for settlement.
  • Every cultural hearth has supported different types of cultures.

Major cultural hearths of the world are as follows:

  1. Cultural Hearths of Old World
  • Mesopotamian cultural hearth
  • Egyptian cultural hearth
  • Indian cultural hearth
  • Chinese cultural hearth
  • Aegean-Greek cultural hearth
  • African-Sudan cultural hearth
  1. Cultural Hearth of New World
  • Central American cultural hearth
  • Peru- Andean cultural hearth


  1. Mesopotamian Cultural Hearth-

  • Mesopotamian civilization is contented one of the most ancient civilization, which began in the Tigris-Euphrates valley at least as early as 3500 B.C.
  • This civilization was founded by Sumerians and developed by Babylonians and Assyrians.
  • It seems better to use the geographical term ‘Mesopotamia’ to cover the whole civilization. The literary meaning of Mesopotamia is the land situated between two rivers or Daab-Doab.
  • The pioneers in the development of Mesopotamian civilization were the people known as Sumerians.
  • It seems likely that they came from the plateau of Central Asia.
  • Their culture bore a certain resemblance to the earliest civilization of the Indus valley of India.
  • The system of writing was of Sumerian origin, likewise the religion, the laws and a great deal of science, economic and commercial practice.
  • Agriculture was the main economic pursuit of most of the citizens, and the Sumerians were excellent farmers. The most distinctive achievement of the Sumerians was their system of law.
  • The army commanders were at once the richest and the most powerful class in the country.
  • Sculpture was the art most highly developed. Architecture ranked second to sculpture from the stand point of artistic excellence.
  • The Mesopotamian civilization entered its final stage with the overthrow of Assyria and the establishment of Chaldean supremacy. This stage is also known as Neo-Babylonian. They did manage to revive certain of the old institutions and ideals.
  1. Egyptians Cultural Hearth

  • The Egyptian civilization was developed in the Northern Nile valley date from about 3500 B.C.
  • The Hall mark of Egyptian civilization was the sense of stability offered by Nile valley.
  • The fact that the Nile flooded regularly year after year gave Egyptian a feeling that the nature was predictable and benign. Moreover, the fertility in the soil of valley provided for great agricultural wealth, and the fact that the valley was surrounded by the deserts and the sea meant that the Egypt was comparatively free from threats of foreign invasion.
  • The Greek historian Herodotus was undoubtedly correct when he referred to Egypt as ‘the gift of the Nile’.
  • Ancient Egyptian people had begun earliest attempt at irrigation and drainage and they had learned to use copper tools in place of stone ones thereby benefitting from the advantages that copper was more durable than stone and could easily be sharpened or recast when blunted.
  • Religion played a dominant role in the life of ancient Egyptians. The art was an expression of religious symbolism, and the literature and thought were refused with religious teachings.
  • Some branches of science particularly astronomy, mathematics and medicine most absorbed the attention of ancient Egyptians. All these were developed for practical uses.
  • Mathematics was highly developed in ancient Egypt. The Egyptian laid the foundation for the arithmetic and geometry. They devised the arithmetical operations of addition, subtraction, and division.
  • They also invented the decimal system, but had no symbol for zero.
  • They also did some remarkable work in medicine. Egyptian physicians were frequently specialists of various diseases. They recognized the importance of the heart and has same appreciation of the significance of the pulse. They acquired a degree of skill in the treatment of fractures and performed simple operations.
  • The population of ancient Egypt was divided into five classes: the royal family, the priests, the nobles, the middle class of scribes, merchants, artisans and wealthy farmers and the peasants who comprised for the bulk of population.
  • The wealthy nobles lived in splendid villas and their food included all the richness and variety of sundry kinds of meat, cakes, fruits, wine and sweets whereas the labourers in the towns lived in congested quarters composed of mud-brick hovels.
  • The peasants on the great estate enjoyed a less crowded but no more abundant life.
  1. Indian Cultural Hearth (Indus valley civilization)

  • The Indo-Gangetic Plain of Northern India is treated as the cultural hearth of India.
  • The first highly advanced civilization began its history as early as 3000 B.C. and its history as early as 3000 B.C. and reached its peak between 2500 and 2000 B.C. It is well known as Indus Valley Civilization.
  • It occupied a large area extending about 1600 km through the Indus Valley and along the coast of the Arabian sea both to the east and west of the mouth of the Indus.
  • It was essentially an urban civilization which had cosmopolitan society and extensive trade with outside area of the world.
  • Among about 70 large urban centres thus far uncovered, the two main sites are Mohenjo-Daro and  Harappa  in Indus valley.
  • Both cities were constructed of brick and laid out in accordance with ambitious and intelligent planning.
  • Solidly built houses, some with three storeys, were equipped with bathrooms, which drained into sewer pipes running underneath the principal streets and discharging into the river.
  • Evidences of intellectual achievement are scanty, although proofs are available that standards of weight and measurement and a system of writing had been developed. The writer which was not yet been deciphered, is the form of pictographic sign on the delicately carved stone seals.
  • Several arts of Indus valley civilization was concentrated upon the worship of fertility deities, remarkably a mother goddess.
  • Animal sacrifice was the principal rite of this early culture.
  • The Indus valley civilization was one which was definitely comparable in level of achievement to those of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt.
  • The Indus valley civilization decayed and disappeared from the scene of history about 1600 B.C. perhaps it was the result of the series of floods and earthquakes, which altered the course of Indus River and inundated well inhabited cities.
  1. Chinese Cultural Hearth-

  • The beginning of high civilization of China took from much later than that of Mesopotamia, Egypt or the Indus Valley (India).
  • It is one of the oldest in existence and its foundation rest upon a population that has retained its identity to a remarkable degree.
  • When once established the Chinese culture continued not without changes and interruption but with its essential features intact into the 21st century of our own era. The Chinese have reminded basically the same people since Neolithic times.

 The Formative Stage:

  • The Neolithic age in China started from the 6th millennium B.C. There were atleast 3 Neolithic cultures developed in:
  1. The great high land plain that surrounds the Hwang Ho (yellow) river valley.
  2. The valley of the lower Yangtze and Huair rivers.
  3. The southeast coastal area, including the island of Taiwan.
  • All these cultures were developed by communities of farmers producing millets, rice, roots and tubers etc. in different parts of eastern China.
  • Probably the Chinese began as dry-land farmers and may have lacked irrigation facilities until the sixth century B.C.
  • The semi-dry northern plain is drain by yellow (Hwang Ho) river and is covered with a type of fertile soil called loess.
  • The principal crops of northern China in the Neolithic Age were millets, hemp, and the mulberry, rice etc.
  • The bronze age began somewhere in China around 2000 B.C. The Shang dynasty, according to tradition was the second of Chinese’s ruling houses.
  • Millets, wheat, and barley were their main crops and in addition hunting and herding contributed to the supply. Their domesticated animals include dog, pig, sheep, goat, horse, chicken, etc.
  • Shang metal work was remarkable, especially the bronze castings of intricate design. Bronze articles included weapons and chariot and harness fillings, but most impressive were the objects intended for religious and ceremonial functions.
  • This early civilization possessed a system of writing. The writing brush and an ink made of soot had been invented. Thus, Shang symbols may be treated as the earliest known examples of writing in the Far East. They were not primitive but much developed.

The Classical Age of China:

  • In the Hwang Ho valley of China, the Shang Dynasty was succeeded by the Chou in around 11000 B.C.
  • This period is regarded as Classical age of Chinese civilization.
  • Handicraft techniques improved under the Chou rule and the smelting of iron was introduced.
  • The Caravan trade routes were developed across Central Asia for the transportation of grain, salt, silk, and other commodities. Coined Copper money came into use in 5th century B.C.
  • The first stages of the famous Great Wall of China were constructed both South and North of the Hwang Ho River for protection against the nomads of Mangolia.
  • Chinese society was never stratified by a caste system like that of India.
  1. Aegean-Greek Cultural Hearth-

  • Today historians are certain that Greek history, and thus European history began over one thousand years before the Golden Age of Athens. It is known as Aegean culture which includes the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations.
  • These civilization originated on the island of Crete. Crete had a benign and equable climate and fertile soil but limited area.
  • They developed articles for export which included wine, olive oil, pottery, gems and seals, knives, daggers and commodities of skilled craftsmanship. As a result, trade and prosperity increased and extensive contacts were made with the surrounding civilized world.
  • It was the Greek or Hellonic culture, which most clearly exemplied the spirit of western society. The Greek culture advanced to the highest stage.
  • In Greek history the period from1100 to 800 B.C. is known as Dark Age. In this period most written records disappeared except where accidentally preserved and culture reverted to simpler forms that had been known for centuries.
  • Two Homeric Epics namely the ‘Illind’ and the ‘Odyssey’ provide us with a rich stone in information about various customs and institutions of the Dark Ages.
  • The achievement of the Greeks was rather the development of philosophy in a more inclusive manner than it had ever possessed before.
  • Pythagoras and his followers developed our elaborate theory of numbers, classifying them into various categories such as odd, even, prime, composite and perfect. They have also discovered the theory of proposition and proved for the first time that the sum of three angles of any triangle is equal to the two right angles. Pythagoras himself proved that the square of the hypotenuse of any right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.
  • The languages of the new cultured classes were predominantly Greek.
  • The most brilliant age in the history of science prior to the 17th century A.D. was the period of the Hellenistic civilization. The major Hellenistic sciences were astronomy, mathematics, geography, medicine and physics.
  • The Hellenistic Age was a period of prosperity but it seems to have been limited mainly to rulers, the upper classes and the merchants.
  1. African- Sudan Cultural Hearth-

  • The growth of civilization in sub-Saharan Africa was relatively slow. Africa’s lack of early development may be explained in partly by its geographical isolation.
  • This part of Africa possessed a few natural abstractions.
  • Leaching of soil’s nutrients contributed to general scarcity of fertile agricultural land and the vast Sahara desert inhibited meaningful cultural and profitable commercial activities.
  • The transportation in the desert was dangerous and unreliable with horses and oxen.
  • Before 200 B.C. nearly all African people living in the south of Sahara functioned on a romadic hunting and gathering level.
  • Their religion was deeply rooted in superstition and remained basically animistic.
  • Social organization was partially based on kinship and authority was exercised by priests or family elders.
  • Density of population was exceedingly low everywhere and there was an abundance of unoccupied land.
  • From very early times, some African developed exceptionally advanced skills in metallurgy.
  • At least 1500 years ago Africans on the western shore of lake Victoria in East Africa produced medium carbon steel in forced- draft furnace.
  • Iron metallurgy together with improved agriculture greatly accelerated the transition from food gathering to a food producing economy.
  • Food producing agricultural economy led to the emergence of the village life.
  • Trade became a necessary handmaiden to agriculture as metallurgists bartered their manufactured tools for iron ore, copper, salt and other essential commodities.
  • Thus, however, iron technology, the domestication of plants and animals, and new food crops highly accelerated population growth and movement in sub-Saharan Africa.
  1. Central American Cultural Hearth-

  • Little is known about earliest human habitations of the Americans because historical records for America before the European conquests of the 16th century are meager and fragmentary.
  • About 15,000 to 20,000 years ago groups of people migrated from Eastern Asia across the Bering Strait to N. America.
  • These early people were of Mongolian Stock and later known as Red Indians or American Indians, although they have no connection with the inhabitants of India.
  • In this period, artisans erected huge stone pyramids, which were larger than the pyramids of Egypt but formed of smaller stones. These structures were temples whereas the pyramids of Egypt were tombs.
  • The central American civilization called Maya Civilization reached the highest intellectual development.
  • Maya Civilization rested on agriculture and Mayas employed primitive method of cultivation.
  • They had no draft animals and no domestic animals except only dogs and fowls. Most inhabitants lived in homes of mud with thatched roofs. But for rulers and religious functions, buildings built on stones, exhibiting a high level of architectural skills were commonly used.
  • Mayan genius was more evident in intellectual and artistic fields than in technology.
  • Their artistry is shown in wall frescoes, stone sculptures and wood carvings and polychromic pottery.
  • Mayan people had also done excellent work in mathematics and astronomy.
  • Maya calendar was actually remarkable invention. The Toltecs used a solar calendar with a 365 days year and provision of an extra day every fourth year. Thus, the Mayan calendar was more accurate than any used in Europe before the reform of the Julian calendar.
  • The Mayan script was pictographic in origin. They produced illuminated books with characters written on deer skin and paper made from the fibre of the magney plant. Fragments of these manuscripts were destroyed after the Spanish conquest.
  • Mayan people were not concentrated in cities but around the temple- crowded pyramids, where sacred rites were perfomed.
  • Their chief duties were spirits of the forest and sky (planet Venus) and the rain god.
  • Human sacrifices were sometimes offered to the rain god.
  1. Peru- Andean Cultural Hearth-

  • Of the ancient American civilization, the greatest in territorial extent and one with the most lightly knit society was developed by the Incas of S. America.
  • It embraced the ranges and plateaus of the Andes, the mountainous heart of the continent and at its height included most of the present countries of Peru, Equator, Bolivia and the northern portions of Argentina and Chile.
  • Like Mayas of Mexico and Central America, the Incas were beneficiaries of a cultural heritage from a number of native peoples.
  • Agriculture was the main source of livelihood of Incas. Cutting and leveling steep inclines to terrace the sides of mountains, they bought under cultivation an area larger than is cultivated today.
  • Their crops were corn, potato, an indigenous plant, and various others.
  • The Alpaca and the Ilama were their domestic animals which provide meat, wool, hide, etc.
  • Incas were the outstanding architects and engineers among Indian peoples.
  • Cuzco in Peru was capital of Incas, which was surrounded by mammoth stone forts. They raised high walls of stone slabs fitted together so perfectly that they stood firmly without any mortar.
  • They built roadways over the mountains, constructed bridges, tunnels and aqueducts.
  • Incas were the most advanced of their contemporaries in medicine and surgery.
  • Inca society was once the most rigidly structured ever to be found among human communities.

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Kumud Singh

M.A., B.Ed.

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