Jacob Bronowski:
The Ascent of Man: 2, 1973

Chapter 2: The Harvest of the Seasons

Chapter 1: Lower than the Angels

The pace of cultural evolution Nomads: the Bakhtiari 1st agriculture: wheat Jericho - Earthquake Land
VillageTechnology: The wheel Domesticated Animals: the horse War games: Buz Kashi Settled civilisation

Page 58-59
[Illustration 20]

The pace of cultural evolution
The history of man is divided very unequally.
First there is his biological evolution: all the steps that separate us from our ape ancestors.
Those occupied some millions of years.
And then there is his cultural history: the long swell of civilisation that separates us from the few surviving hunting tribes of Africa, or from the food-gatherers of Australia.
And all that second, cultural gap is in fact crowded into a few thousand years.
It goes back only about twelve thousand years - something over ten thousand years, but much less than twenty thousand.
From now on I shall only be talking about those last twelve thousand years which contain almost the whole ascent of man as we think of him now.
Yet the difference between the two numbers, that is, between the biological time-scale and the cultural, is so great that I cannot leave it without a backward glance.

It took at least two million years for man to change from the little dark creature with the stone in his hand, Australopithecus in Central Africa, to the modern form, Homo sapiens.
That is the pace of biological evolution - even though the biological evolution of man has been faster than that of any other animal.
But it has taken much less than twenty thousand years for Homo sapiens to become the creatures that you and I aspire to be: artists and scientists, city builders and planners for the future, readers and travellers, eager explorers of natural fact and human emotion, immensely richer in experience and bolder in imagination than any of our ancestors.
That is the pace of cultural evolution; once it takes off, it goes as the ratio of those two numbers goes, at least a hundred times faster than biological evolution.

Once it takes off: that is the crucial phrase.
Why did the cultural changes that have made man master of the earth begin so recently?
Twenty thousand years ago man in all parts of the world that he had reached was a forager and a hunter, whose most advanced technique was to attach himself to a moving herd as the Lapps still do.
By ten thousand years ago that had changed, and he had begun in some places to domesticate some animals and to cultivate some plants; and that is the change
[Page 60] from which civilisation took off.
It is extraordinary to think that only in the last twelve thousand years has civilisation, as we understand it, taken off.
There must have been an extraordinary explosion about 10,000 BC - and there was.
But it was a quiet explosion.
It was the end of the last Ice Age.
We can catch the look and, as it were, the smell of the change in some glacial landscape.
Spring in Iceland replays itself every year, but it once played itself over Europe and Asia when the ice retreated.
And man, who had come through incredible hardships, had wandered up from Africa over the last million years, had battled through the Ice Ages, suddenly found the ground flowering and the animals surrounding him, and moved into a different kind of life.

It is usually called the agricultural revolution.
But I think of it as something much wider, the biological revolution.
There was intertwined in it the cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals in a kind of leap-frog.
And under this ran the crucial realisation that man dominates his environment in its most important aspect, not physically but at the level of living things -plants and animals.
With that there comes an equally powerful social revolution.
Because now it became possible - more than that, it became necessary - for man to settle.
And this creature that had roamed and marched for a million years had to make the crucial decision: whether he would cease to be a nomad and become a villager.
We have an anthropological record of the struggle of conscience of a people who make this decision: the record is the Bible, the Old Testament.
I believe that civilisation rests on that decision.
As for people who never made it, there are few survivors.
There are some nomad tribes who still go through these vast transhumance journeys from one grazing ground to another: the Bakhtiari in Persia, for example.
And you have actually to travel with them and live with them to understand that civilisation can never grow up on the move.

Nomad cultures: the Bakhtiari
Everything in nomad life is immemorial.

The Bakhtiari have always travelled alone, quite unseen.
Like other nomads, they think of themselves as a family, the sons of a single founding father.
(In the same way the Jews used to call themselves the
[Page 61] children of lsrael or Jacob.)
The Bakhtiari take their name from a legendary herdsman of Mongol limes, Bakhtyar.
The legend of their own origin thai they tell of him begins.

And the father of our people, the hill-man, Bakhtyar, came out of the fastness of the southern mountains in ancient times.
His seed were as numerous as the rocks on the mountains, and his people prospered.
The biblical echo sounds again and again as the story goes on.
The patriarch Jacob had two wives, and had worked as a herdsman for seven years for each of them.
Compare the patriarch of the Bakhtiari:
The first wife of Bakhtyar had seven sons, fathers of the seven brother lines of our people.
His second wife had four sons.
And our sons shall take for wives the daughters from their father's brothers' tents, lest the flocks and tents be dispersed.
As with the children of lsrael, the flocks were all-important; they are not out of the mind of the storyteller (or the marriage counsellor) for a moment.

Before 10,000 BC nomad peoples used to follow the natural migration of wild herds.
But sheep and goats have no natural migrations.
They were first domesticated about ten thousand years ago - only the dog is an older camp follower than that.
And when man domesticated them, he took on the responsibility of nature; the nomad must lead the helpless herd.

20. The long swell of civilisation is crowded into a few thousand years.
Bakhtiari Spring Migration, Zagros Mountains, Persia. [Page 58]

21. Nomad tribes will go through these vast transhumance journeys from one grazing ground to another.
Flocks of sheep and goats set off on the spring migration, and old Bakhtiari woman spinning wool. [Pages 62-63]

The role of women in nomad tribes is narrowly defined.
Above all, the function of women is to produce men-children; too many she-children are an immediate misfortune, because in the long run they threaten disaster.
Apart from that, their duties lie in preparing food and clothes.
For example, the Women among the Bakhtiari bake bread — in the biblical manner, in unleavened cakes on hot stones.
But the girls and the women wait to eat until the men have eaten.
Like the men, the lives of the women centre on the flock.
They milk the herd, and they make a clotted yoghourt from the milk by churning it in a goatskin bag on a primitive wooden frame.
They have only the simple technology that can be carried on daily journeys from place to place.
The simplicity is not romantic; il is a matter of survival.
Everything must he light enough to be carried, to he set up evrry evening and to he packed away again evei y morning.
When the
[Page 62] women spin wool with their simple, ancient devices, it is for immediate use, to make the repairs that are essential on the journey, no more.

It is not possible in the nomad life to make things that will not be needed for several weeks.
They could not be carried.
And in fact the Bakhtiari do not know how to make them.
If they need metal pots, they barter them from settled peoples or from a caste of gipsy workers who specialise in metals.
A nail, a stirrup, a toy, a child's bell is something that is traded from outside the tribe.
The Bakhtiari life is too narrow to have time or skill for specialisation.
There is no room for innovation, because there is not tmie, on the move, between evening and morning, coming and going all their lives, to develop a new device or a new tlx >ughl not even a new tune.
The only habits that survive are the old habits.
The only ambition of the son is to be like the lather.
It is a life without features.
Every night is the end of a day like the last, and every morning will be the beginning of a journey like the day before.
When the day breaks, there is one question in everyone's mind: Can the flock be got over the next high pass?
One day on the journey, the highest pass of all must be crossed.
This Is the pass Zadeku, twelve thousand feet high on the Zagros, which the flock must somehow struggle through or skirt in its upper reaches.
For the tribe must move on, the herdsman must find new pastures every day, because at these heights grazing is exhausted in a singleday.

Every year the Bakhtiari cross six ranges of mountains on the outward journey (and cross them again to come back).
They march through snow and the spring flood water.
And in only one respect has their life advanced beyond that of ten thousand years ago.
The nomads of that time had to travel on foot and carry iheir own packs.
The Bakhtiari have pack-animals -horses, donkeys, mules - which have only been domesticated since that time.
No thing else in their lives is new.
And nothing is memorable.
Nomads have no memorials, even to the dead.
(Where is Bakhtyar, where was Jacob buried?)
The only mounds that they build are to mark the way at such places as the Pass of the Women, treacherous but easier for the animals than the high pass.

[Page 63, Illustration 21]

Page 64

The spring migration of the Bakhtiari is a heroic adventure; and yet the Bakhtiari are not so much heroic as stoic.
They are resigned because the adventure leads nowhere.
The summer pas­tures themselves will only be a stopping place - unlike the children of Israel, for them there is no promised land. The head of the family has worked seven years, as Jacob did, to build a flock of fifty sheep and goats.
He expects to lose ten of them in the migration if things go well.
If they go badly, he may lose twenty out of that fifty.
Those are the odds of the nomad life, year in and year out.
And beyond that, at the end of the journey, there will still be nothing except an immense, traditional resignation.

Who knows, in any one year, whether the old when they have crossed the passes will be able to face the final test: the crossing of the Bazuft River ?
Three months of melt-water have swollen the river.
The tribesmen, the women, the pack animals and the flocks are all exhausted.
It will take a day to manhandle the flocks across the river.
But this, here, now is the testing day.
Today is the day on which the young become men, because the survival of the herd and the family depends on their strength. Crossing the Bazuft River is like crossing the Jordan; it is the baptism to man­hood.
For the young man, life for a moment comes alive now.
And for the old - for the old, it dies.

What happens to the old when they cannot cross the last river ?
They stay behind to die.
Only the dog is puzzled to see a man abandoned.
The man accepts the nomad custom; he has come to the end of his journey, and there is no place at the end.

The largest single step in the ascent of man is the change from nomad to village agriculture.
What made that possible ?
An act of will by men, surely; but with that, a strange and secret act of nature.
In the burst of new vegetation at the end of the Ice Age, a hybrid wheat appeared in the Middle East.
It happened in many places: a typical one is the ancient oasis of Jericho.

Jericho is older than agriculture.
The first people who came here and settled by the spring in this otherwise desolate ground were people who harvested wheat, hut did not yet know how to [Page 72] plant it.

We know this because they made tools for the wild harvest, and that is an extrodinary piece of foresight.
They made sickles out of flint which have survived; John Garstang found them when he was digging here in the 1930s.
The ancient sickle edge would have been set in a piece of gazelle horn, or bone.

22. The first people who came to Jericho harvested wheat,
but did not yet know how to plant it.
They made tools for the wild harvest.

[Curved sickle, 4th millenium BC, Israel.]
Neolithic Sickel.
The flint sickle blades were set into a horn handle.

[Page 65]

There no longer survives, up on the hill or tel and its slopes, the kind of wild wheat that the earliest inhabitants harvested.
But the grasses that are still here must look very like the wheat that they found, that they gathered for the first time by the fistful, and cut with that sawing motion of the sickle that reapers have used for all the ten thousand years since then.
That was the Natufian pre-agricultural civilisation.
And, of course, it could not last.
It was on the brink of becoming agriculture.
And that was the next thing that happened on the Jericho tel.

Beginnings of agriculture : wheat
The turning-point to the spread of agriculture in the Old World was al most certainly the occurrence of two forms of wheat with a large, full head of seeds.
Before 8000 bc wheat was not the luxuriant plant it is today; it was merely one of many wild grasses that spread throughout the Middle East.
By some genetic accident, the wild wheat crossed with a natural goat grass and formed a fertile hybrid.
That accident must have happened many times in the springing vegetation that came up after the last Ice Age.
In terms of the genetic machinery that directs growth, it combined the fourteen chromosomes of wild wheat with the fourteen chromosomes of goat grass, and produced Emmer with twenty-eight chromosomes.
That is what makes Emmer so much plumper.
The hybrid was able to spread naturally, because its seeds are attached to the husk in such a way that they scatter in the wind.

For such a hybrid to be fertile is rare but not unique among plants.
But now the story of the rich plant  life that followed the Ice Ages becomes more surprising.
There was a second genetic accident, which may have come about because Emmer
was [Page 68] already cultivated.
Emmer crossed with another natural goat grass and produced a still larger hybrid with forty-two chromo­somes, which is bread wheat.
That was improbable enough in itself, and we know now that bread wheat would not have been fertile but for a specific genetic mutation on one chromosome.

24. Before 8000 BC
wheat was merely one
of many wild grasses.
Wild wheat,
Triticum monococcum.

Yet there is something even stranger.
Now we have a beautiful ear of wheat, but one which will never spread in the wind because the ear is too tight to break up.
And if I do break it up, why, then the chaff flies off and every grain falls exactly where it grew.
Let me remind you, that is quite different from the wild wheats or from the first, primitive hybrid, Emmer.
In those primitive forms the ear is much more open, and if the ear breaks up then you get quite a different effect - you get grains which will fly in the wind.
The bread wheats have lost that ability.
Suddenly, man and the plant have come together.
Man has a wheat that he lives by, but the wheat also thinks that man was made for him because only so can it be propagated.
For the bread wheats can only multiply with help; man must harvest the ears and scatter their seeds; and the life of each, man and the plant, depends on the other.
It is a true fairy tale of genetics, as if the coming of civilisation had been blessed in advance by the spirit of the abbot Gregor Mendel.

23.The turning-point to the spread of agriculture in the
Old World was almost certainly the occurrence of
two hybrid forms of wheat.

Husked emmer wheat and naked bread wheat grains; ripe
head of wheat; and the husk being removed from the grain.

A happy conjunction of natural and human events created agriculture.
In the Old World that happened about ten thousand years ago, and it happened in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.
But it surely happened more than once.
Almost certainly agriculture was invented again and independently in the New World - or so we believe on the evidence we now have that maize needed man like wheat.
As for the Middle East, agricul­ture was spread here and there over its hilly slopes, of which the climb from the Dead Sea to Judea, the hinterland of Jericho, is at best a characteristic piece and no more.
In a literal sense, agriculture is likely to have had several beginnings in the Fertile Crescent, some of them before Jericho.

Yet Jericho has several features which make it historically unique and give it a symbolic status of its own.
Unlike the for­gotten villages elsewhere, it is monumental, older than the Bible, layer upon layer of history, a city.
The ancient sweet-water
[Page 69] city of Jericho was an oasis on the edge of the desert whose spring has been running from prehistoric times right into the modern city today.
Here wheat and water came together and, in that sense, here man began civilisation.
Here, too, the bedouin came with their dark muffled faces out of the desert, looking jealously at the new way of life.
That is why Joshua brought the tribes of Israel here on their way to the Promised Land - because wheat and water, they make civilisation: they make the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.
Wheat and water turned that barren hillside into the oldest city of the world.

All at once at that time Jericho is transformed.
People come and soon become the envy of their neighbours, so that they have to fortify Jericho, turn it into a walled city, and build a Stupendous tower, nine thousand years ago.
The tower is thirty feet across at the base and, to correspond, almost thirty feet in depth.
And climbing up beside it the excavation reveals layer upon layer of past civilisation: the early pre-pottery men, the next pre-pottery men, the coming of pottery seven thousand years ago; early copper, early bronze, middle bronze.
Each of these civilisations came, conquered Jericho, buried it, and built itself up; so that the tower lies not so much under forty-five feet of soil as under forty-five feet of past civilisations.

Jericho - Earthquake country
Jericho is a microcosm of history.
There will be other sites found in coming years (there are some important new ones already) which will change our picture of the beginnings of civilisation.
Yet the power of standing in this place, the vision hack ward along the ascent of modern man, is profound in thought and in emotion equally.
When I was a young man, we all thought that mastery came from man's domination of his physical environment.
Now we have learned that real mastery comes from understanding and moulding the living environ­ment.
That is how man began in the Fertile Crescent when he put his hand on plant and animal and, in learning to live with them, changed the world to his needs.
When Kathleen Kcnyon rediscovered the ancient tower in the 1950s, she found that it was hollow; and to me, this staircase is a sort of a taproot, a peep hole to the rock base of civilisation.
And the rock base of civilisation is the living heing, not the physical world

Page 70

By 6000 bc Jericho was a large agricultural settlement.
Kathleen Kenyon estimates that it contained three thousand people, and covered eight or ten acres within the walls.
The women ground the wheat with the heavy stone implements that characterise a settled community.
The men shaped, patted and moulded the clay for building-bricks, some of the earliest known.
The marks of the brick-makers' thumbprints are still there.
Man, like the bread wheat, is now fixed in his place.
A settled community also has a different relation to the dead.
The inhabitants of Jericho preserved some skulls and covered them with elaborate decoration.
No one knows why, unless it was a reverential action.

No one who was brought up on the Old Testament, as I was, can leave Jericho without asking two questions: Did Joshua finally destroy this city ?
And did the walls really come tumbling down ?
Those are the questions that bring people to this site and turn it into a living legend.
To the first question, there is an easy answer: Yes. The tribes of Israel were fighting to get into the Fertile Crescent which runs up the Mediterranean coast, along the mountains of Anatolia, and down towards the Tigris and Euphrates.
And here at Jericho was the key that locked their way up the mountains of Judea and out into the Mediterranean fertile land. This they had to conquer, and they did about 1400 BC - about three thousand three hundred to three thousand four hundred years ago.
The Bible story was not written down until perhaps 700 BC; that is, the account is about two thousand six hundred years old as a written record.

25. Jericho is monumental, older than the Bible, layer upon layer of history, a city.
From the Jericho site:  a. Mud-dried brick

b. Carving of lovers in quarlzite

c. Plaster-decorated skull inset with cowrie shells.
d. The tower at Jericho tel.
Its masonry is flint-worked and pre-7000 BC.

The modern grid covers the hollow shaft inside the tower.

Page 72

But did the walls come tumbling down?
We do not know.
There is no archaeological evidence on this site that suggests that a set of walls one fine day really fell flat.
But many sets of walls did fall, at different times.
There is a Bronze Age period here where a set of walls was rebuilt at least sixteen times.
Because this is earthquake country.
There are tremors here still every day; there are four major quakes in a century.
It is only in the last years that we have come to understand why earthquakes run along this valley.
The Red Sea and the Dead Sea lie along a continuation of the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. Here two of the plates that carry the continents as they float on the denser mantle of the earth ride side by side.
As they thrust past one another along this rift, the surface of the earth echoes to the shocks that well up from below.
As a result, earthquakes have always erupted along the axis on which the Dead Sea lies.
And in my view that is why the Bible is full of memories of natural miracles: some ancient flood, some running dry of the Red Sea, the Jordan running dry, and the walls of Jericho falling down,

The Bible is a curious history, part folklore and part record.

26. A cornucopia of small and subtle artifices as important
in the ascent of man as any apparatus of nuclear physics.
 Below, left to right:
a. Carpenter working a piece of turned wood with a saw.
Greek, 6th century BC.
c. Baker's oven with bread cooking.
Clay model. Greek islands, 7th century BC.
d. Greek toy of monkey pressing olives in a mortar.
e. Terracotta model, Roman period.
[Pages 72-73]

b. Clay treaty nail, Sumerian, 2400 BC.

Page 73

History is, of course, written by the victors, and the Israelis, when they burst through here, became the carriers of history.
The Bible is their story: the history of a people who had to stop being nomad and pastoral and had to become an agricultural tribe.

Farming and husbandry seem simple pursuits, but the Natufian sickle is a signal to show us that they do not stand still.
Every stage in the domestication of plant and animal life requires inventions, which begin as technical devices and from which flow scientific principles.
The basic devices of the nimble-fingered mind lie about, unregarded, in any village anywhere in the world.
Their cornucopia of small and subtle artifices is as ingenious, and in a deep sense as important in the ascent of man, as any apparatus of nuclear physics: the needle, the awl, the pot, the brazier, the spade, the nail and the screw, the bellows, the string, the knot, the loom, the harness, the hook, the button, the shoe one could name a hundred and not stop for breath.
The richness comes from the interplay ol inventions; a culture is a [Page 74]
multiplier of ideas, in which each new device quickens and enlarges the power of the rest.

Settled agriculture creates a technology from which all physics, all science takes off.
We can see it in the change from the early sickle to the late.
At first glance they look very much alike: the sickle of ten thousand years ago of the gatherer, and the sickle of nine thousand years ago when wheat was cultivated.
But look more closely.
The cultivated wheat is sawed with a serrated edge: because if you hit the wheat, then the grains will fall to the ground; but if you gently saw it, the grains will be held in the ear of corn.
And sickles have been made like this ever since then - into my boyhood in the First World War, when the curved sickle with the serrated edge was still what you cut wheat with.
A technology like that, physical knowledge like that, comes to us out of every part of the agricultural life so spontaneously that we feel as if the ideas discover man, rather than the other way about.

The most powerful invention in all agriculture is, of course, the plough.
We think of the plough as a wedge dividing the soil.
And the wedge is an important early mechanical invention.
But the plough is also something much more fundamental: it is a lever which lifts the soil, and it is among the first applications of the principle of the lever.
When, long afterwards, Archimedes explained the theory of the lever to the Greeks, he said that with a fulcrum for the lever he could move the earth.
But thousands of years before that the ploughmen of the Middle East had been saying 'Give me a lever and I will feed the earth'.

Give me a lever and I will feed the earth.
 Ploughing with harnessed oxen, Egypt.

[Pages 74-75]

I have remarked that agriculture was invented at least once again, much later, in America.
But the plough and the wheel were not, because they depend on the draught animal.
The step beyond simple agriculture in the Middle East was the domestication of draught animals.
The failure to make that biological move kept the New World back at the level of the digging stick and the pack; it did not even hit on the potter's wheel.

Technology in the village - The wheel
The wheel is found for the first time before 3000 BC in what is now southern Russia.
These early finds are solid wooden wheels attached to an older raft or sledge for drawing loads, which there-
[Page 77] by is converted into a cart.
From then on the wheel and axle becomes the double root from which invention grows.
For example, it is turned into an instrument for grinding wheat - and using the forces of nature to do that: the animal forces first, and later the forces of wind and water.
The wheel becomes a model for all motions of rotation, a norm of explanation and a heavenly symbol of more than human power in science and in art alike.
The sun is a wheeled chariot, and the sky itself is a wheel, from the time that the Babylonians and the Greeks mapped the turning of the starry heavens.
In modern science natural motion (that is, undisturbed motion) goes in a straight line; but for Greek science, the form of motion that seemed natural (that is, inherent in nature) and in fact perfect was motion in a circle.

28. The wheel and the axle are the double-root from
which invention grows.

a. Copper model of a war chariot, Mesopotamia, c. 2800BC.

b. Roman mosaic of a solid wheeled cart.

[Page 76]

About the time that Joshua stormed Jericho, say 1400 BC, the mechanical engineers of Sumer and Assyria turned the wheel into a pulley to draw water.
At the same time they designed large-scale irrigation systems.
The vertical maintenance shafts still survive like punctuation marks across the Persian landscape.
They go down three hundred feet to the qanats or underground canals that make up the system, at a level where the natural water is safe from evaporation.
Three thousand years after they were made, the village women of Khuzistan still draw their water ration from the qanats to carry on the everyday chores of ancient communities.

The qanats are a late construction of a city civilisation, and they imply the existence by then of laws to govern water rights and land tenure and other social relations.
In an agricultural community (the large-scale peasant farming of Sumer, for instance) the rule of law has a different character from the nomad law that governs the theft of a goat or a sheep.
Now the social structure is bound up with the regulation of matters that affect the community as a whole: access to land, the upkeep and control of water rights, the right to use, turn and turn about, the precious constructions on which the harvest of the seasons depends.

By now the village artisan has become an inventor in his own right.
He combines the basic mechanical principles in sophisticated tools which are, in effect, early machines.
They are [Page 78] traditional in the Middle East: the bow-lathe, for example, which is one of the classical schemes for turning linear into rotary motion.
Here the scheme depends, ingeniously, on winding a string round a drum and fastening the ends of the string to the two ends of a sort of violin bow.
The piece of wood to be worked is fixed to the drum; it is turned by moving the bow to and fro, so that the string rotates the drum that holds the piece of wood, which is scored by a chisel.
The combination is several thousand years old, but I saw it used by gipsies making chair-legs in a wood in England in 1945.

29. The bow-lathe is one of classical schemes
for turning linear into rotary motion.
Mid 19th century carpenters at bow-lathe,

Central India.
[Page 78]


A mid-nineteenth 'hakak' polishing
hardstones on a bow lathe.

A machine is a device for tapping the power in nature.
That is true from the simplest spindle that the Bakhtiari women carry, all the way to the historic first nuclear reactor and all its busy progeny.
Yet as the machine has tapped larger sources of power, it has come more and more to outdistance its natural use.
How is it that the machine in its modern form now seems to us a threat?

The question as it strikes us hinges on the scale of power that [Page 79] the machine can develop.
We can put it in the form of alternatives : Is the power within the scale of the work for which the machine was devised, or is it so disproportionate that it can dominate the user and distort the use?
The question therefore reaches far back; it begins when man first harnessed a power greater than his own, the power of animals. Every machine is a kind of draught animal - even the nuclear reactor.
It increases the surplus that man has won from nature since the beginning of agriculture.
And therefore every machine re-enacts the original dilemma: does it deliver energy in response to the demand of its specific use, or is it a maverick source of energy beyond the limits of constructive use?
The conflict in the scale of power goes back all the way to that formative time in human history.

Domestication of animals: the horse
Agriculture is one part of the biological revolution; the domestication and harnessing of village animals is the other.
The sequence of domestication is orderly.
First comes the dog, perhaps even before 10,000 BC.
Then come food animals, beginning with goats and sheep.
And then come draught animals such as the onager, a kind of wild ass.
The animals add a surplus much larger than they consume.
But that is true only so long as the animals remain modestly in their proper station, as servants of agriculture.

It is unexpected that the domestic animal should turn out exactly to contain within itself, from then on, the threat to the surplus of grain by which the settled community lives and survives.
Most unexpected, because after all it is the ox, the ass, as a draught animal that has helped to create this surplus.
(The Old Testament carefully urges that they be treated well; for instance, it forbids the farmer to yoke an ox and an ass to the plough together, since they work in different ways.)
But round about five thousand years ago, a new draught animal appears - the horse.
And that is out of all proportion faster, stronger, more dominant than any previous animal.
And from now on that becomes the threat to the village surplus.

The horse had begun by drawing wheeled carts, like the ox -but rather grander, drawing chariots in the processions of kings. And then, somewhere around 2000 BC, men discovered how to [Page 80] ride it.
The idea must have been as startling in its day as the invention of the flying machine.
For one thing, it required a bigger, stronger horse — the horse was originally quite a small animal and, like the llama of South America, could not carry a man for long.
Riding as a serious use for the horse therefore begins in the nomad tribes that bred horses.
They were men out of Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan and beyond; in the west they , were simply called Scythians, as a collective name for a new and frightening creature, a phenomenon of nature.

a. Mongol cavalry

b. Troops fording a river during the Mongol invasion of India.
30. The mobile hordes transformed the organisation of battle.
Right: from the Jami' al-Tawarikh,
'The History of the World Conqueror', completed in AD 1306
by Rashid al-Din, vizier and chronicler to Oljeitu Khan.
[Page 81]
c. Mongol cavalry.

 For the rider visibly is more than a man: he is head-high above others, and he moves with bewildering power so that he bestrides the living world.
When the plants and the animals of the village had been tamed for human use, mounting the horse was a more than human gesture, the symbolic act of dominance over the total creation.
We know that this is so from the awe and fear that the horse created again in historical times, when the mounted Spaniards overwhelmed the armies of Peru (who had never seen a horse) in 1532.
So, long before, the Scythians were a terror that swept over the countries that did not know the technique of riding.
The Greeks when they saw the Scythian riders believed the horse and the rider to be one; that is how they invented the legend of the centaur.

31. Greek vase painting, c.6o BC. Centaurs and a warrior arming. [Page 83]

Indeed, that other half-human hybrid of the Greek imagination, the satyr, was originally not part goat but part horse; so deep was the unease that the rushing creature from the east evoked.
We cannot hope to recapture today the terror that the mounted horse struck into the Middle East and Eastern Europe when it first appeared.
That is because there is a difference of scale which I can only compare with the arrival of tanks in Poland in 1939, sweeping all before them.
I believe that the importance of the horse in European history has always been underrated.
In a sense, warfare was created by the horse, as a nomad activity.
That is what the Huns brought, that is what the Phrygians brought, that is what finally the Mongols brought, and brought to a climax under Genghis Khan much later.
In particular, the mobile hordes transformed the organisation of battle.
They conceived a different strategy of war - a strategy thai is like a war game; how the warmakers to play games !

Page 82

The strategy of the mobile horde depends on manoeuvre, on rapid communication, and on practised tactical moves which can be strung together into different sequences of surprise.
The remnants of that remain in the war games that are still played and that come from Asia, such as chess and polo.
War strategy is always regarded by those who win as a kind of game.
And there is played to this day in Afghanistan a game called Buz Kashi which comes from the kind of competitive riding that was carried on by the Mongols.

War games: Buz Kashi
The men who play the game of Buz Kashi are professionals -that is to say, they are retainers, and they and the horses are trained and kept simply for the glory of winning.
On a great occasion three hundred men from different tribes would come to compete, though that had not happened now for twenty or thirty years, until we organised it.

The players in the game of Buz Kashi do not form teams.
The object of the game is not to prove one group better than another, but to find a champion.
There are famous champions from the past, and they are remembered.
The President who supervised this game was a champion who no longer played.
The President gives his orders through a herald, who may also be a pensioner of the game, though less distinguished.
Where we should expect to see a ball, there is instead a headless calf.
(And that macabre plaything says something about the game, as if the riders were making sport of the farmers' livelihood.)
The carcass weighs about fifty pounds and the object is to snatch it up, defending it against all challengers, and carry it off through two stages.
The first stage of the game is riding off with the carcass to the fixed boundary flag and rounding the flag.
After that the crucial stage is the return; as he sweeps round the flag, constantly challenged, the rider heads for home and the goal, which is a marked circle in the centre of the melee.

The game is going to be won by a single goal, so no quarter is given.
This is not a sporting event; there is nothing in the rules about fair play.
The tactics are pure Mongol, a discipline of shock.
The astonishing thing in the game is what routed the armies that faced the Mongols: that what seems a wild scrimmage is in fact full of manoeuvre, and dissolves suddenly with
[Page 86] the winner riding clear to score.

32. There is played to this day in Afghanistan a game called
Buz Kashi which comes from the kind of competitive riding
 that was carried on by the Mongols. [Pages 84-85]

a. Game of buzkashi in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, Dec. 18, 2001.

One has the sense that the crowd is much more excited, and more involved emotionally, than the players.
The players, by contrast, seem committed but cold; they ride with a brilliant and brutal intensity, but they are not absorbed in playing, they are absorbed in winning.
Only after the game is the winner himself carried away by the excitement.
He should have asked the President to sanction the goal and, by missing that point of etiquette in this uproar, he has jeopardised the goal.
It is nice to know that the goal was allowed.

The Buz Kashi is a war game.
What makes it electric is the cowboy ethic: riding as an act of war.
It expresses the monomaniac culture of conquest; the predator posing as a hero because he rides the whirlwind.
But the whirlwind is empty.
Horse or tank, Genghis Khan or Hitler or Stalin, it can only feed on the labours of other men.
The nomad in his last historic role as warmaker is still an anachronism, and worse, in a world that has discovered, in the last twelve thousand years, that civilisation is made by settled people.

Settled civilisation.
All through this essay there runs the conflict between the nomad and the settled way of life.
So it is fitting by way of epitaph to go to that high, windy, inhospitable plateau at Sultaniyeh in Persia where ended the last attempt by the Mongol dynasty of Genghis Khan to make the nomad way of life supreme.
The point is that the invention of agriculture twelve thousand years ago did not of itself establish or confirm the settled way of life.
On the contrary, the domestication of animals that came with agriculture gave new vigour to nomad economies: the domestication of the sheep and the goat, for example, and then, above all, the domestication of the horse.
It was the horse that gave the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan the power and the organisation to conquer China and the Muslim states and to reach the gales of central Europe.

Genghis Khan was a nomad and the inventor of a powerful war machine and that conjunction says something important about the origins of war in human history.
Of course, it is tempting to close one's eyes to history, and instead to speculate about the [Page 88] roots of war in some possible animal instinct: as if, like the tiger, we still had to kill to live, or, like the robin redbreast, to defend nesting territory.
But war, organised war, is not a human instinct.
It is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft.
And that form of theft began ten thousand years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide.
The evidence for that we saw in the walled city of Jericho and its prehistoric tower.
That is the beginning of war. .
Genghis Khan and his Mongol dynasty brought that thieving way of life into our own millennium.
From AD 1200 to 1300 they made almost the last attempt to establish the supremacy of the robber who produces nothing and who, in his feckless way, comes to take from the peasant (who has nowhere to flee) the surplus that agriculture accumulates.

Yet that attempt failed.
And it failed because in the end their was nothing for the Mongols to do except themselves to adopt the way of life of the people that they had conquered.
When they conquered the Muslims, they became Muslims.
They became settlers because theft, war, is not a permanent state that can far sustained.
Of course, Genghis Khan still had his bones carried about as a memorial by his armies in the field.
But his grandson Kublai Khan was already a builder and settled monarch m China; you remember Coleridge's poem,

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree.

The fifth of the heirs in succession to Genghis Khan was the sultan Oljeitu, who came to this forbidding plateau in Persia to build a great new capital city, Sultaniyeh.
What remains is his own mausoleum which later was a model for much Mushm architecture.
Oljeitu was a liberal monarch, who brought here men from all parts of the world.
He himself was a Christian, at another time a Buddhist, and finally a Muslim, and he did - at this court - attempt really to establish a world court.
It was the one thing that the nomad could contribute to civilisation: he gathered from the four corners of the world the cultures, mixed them together, and sent them out again to fertilise the earth.

33. The high, windy, inhospitable plateau at Sultaniyeh in Persia where
ended the last attempt to make the nomad way of life supreme.

a. The illuminated page (is the dedication to Oljeitu) in a
manuscript of the Koran dated 1310.
[Page 86]

b. The tomb of Oljeitu Khan, fifth in the line from
Genghis Khan, ruler from 1304 to 1316 of the
Persian lands of the Mongol empire. [Page 87]

Page 89

It is the irony of the end of the bid for power by the Mongol nomads here that when Oljeitu died, he was known as Oljeitu the Builder.
The fact is that agriculture and the settled way of life were established steps now in the ascent of'man, and had set a new level for a form of human harmony which was to bear fruit into the far future: the organisation of the city.

Chapter 1: Lower than the Angels               
Chapter 3: The Grain in the Stone










Bakhtiari Spring Migration (Anthony Howarth for Daily Telegraph Colour Library) p58.
Bakhtiari Spring Migration (Anthony Howarth for Daily Telegraph Colour Library) p62-p63
Curved sickle, Ashmolean Museum p65.
Neolithic Sickel [Neolithische Sichel] (Museum Quintana, Wolfgang Sauber) (wikipedia)

Old and new strains of wheat (Tony Evans, Marcel Sire) p66, p67.
Wild wheat, from Jaubert and Spach, Oriental Plants (British Museum, Natural History) p68-p69.
Objects from the Jericho site:
a. Mud-dried brick, British Museum;
b. Quartzite lovers, Ashmolean Museum;
[British Museum]
c. Plaster-decorated skull, Ashmolean Museum p70-p71.
d. The tower at Jericho tel (Dave Brinicombe) p71.

The tower at Jericho tel (wikipedia, Reinhard Dietrich)
a. Carpenter, National Museum, Copenhagen;
Denmark, Copenhagen, Nationalmuseet (National Museum, Art Museum), Greek Civilization, Classical Age (450-323 B.C.)
b. Clay treaty nail, British Museum, London, p72.
Clay Nails - Louvre - AO22934 & AO12480.jpg (wikipedia commons)
- the oldest diplomatic document known, found in Telloh, ancient Girsu, ca. 2400 BC.
c. Baker's oven,
British Museum, London, p72,
d. Greek toy,
British Museum, London, p73.
e. Old man with a wine press, British Museum, London, p73.
Satyr working at a wine press of wicker-work mats, 1st century AD relief. (wikipedia)
Ploughing with harnessed oxen, Museo Civico, Bologna (C. M. Dixon) p74-p75.

The relief with a scene of work in the fields, Archaeological Museum of Bologna.
a. Copper model of a war chariot, Baghdad Museum (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) p76
Copper model of a quadriga from Shara Temple at Tell Agrab, Iraq, c. 2600 BC. Oriental Institute of Chicago.
b. Roman mosaic of a solid wheeled cart, Royal villa, Casale (C. M. Dixon) p76.
a. Carpenters at work with a bow-lathe (India Office Library) p78.
b. A mid-nineteenth 'hakak' polishing hardstones on a bow lathe.
a. Mongol cavalry, and [b] troops fording a river, from the Jami' al-Tawarikh (Edinburgh University Library) p81.
c. Mongol cavalry (?)
Greek vase painting, British Museum, London (Roynon Raikes) p83.
Buz Kashi, Afghanistan (David Stock) p84-p85.
Game of buzkashi in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, Dec. 18, 2001. (wikipedia)
a. Dedication to Oljeitu in a MS of the Koran, British Museum, London p86.
a. Juz’ (section) from a Qur’an. Written for the Il-Khanid sultan Öljeitü, Mosul, 1310. (The British Library Board)
b. The tomb of Oljeitu Khan (Dave Brinicombe) p87.

FOOTNOTES                                                                      Chapter 2, Online Edition, 2016.

Chapter 1: Lower than the Angels               
Chapter 3: The Grain in the Stone

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2016) : Jacob Bronowski : The Ascent of Man, Chapter 2, 1973.