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Deltas and HumansA Long Relationship now Threatened by Global Change$
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Thomas S. Bianchi

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199764174

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199764174.001.0001

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Early Human Civilizations and River Deltas

Early Human Civilizations and River Deltas

(p.1) 1 Early Human Civilizations and River Deltas
Deltas and Humans

Thomas S. Bianchi

Oxford University Press

For millennia, humans have been dependent upon rivers and their resources for food, transport, and irrigation, and by mid-Holocene times (about 5,000 years ago), humans harnessed hydraulic power that in part contributed to the rise of civilization. It is generally accepted that the earliest civilizations to develop such linkages with irrigation and cultivation of crops arose in the Old World, in Mesopotamia and the Levant, the Indus Valley, and the Central Kingdom, associated with, respectively, the Tigris, Jordan, Euphrates, and Nile; the Indus; and the Huang He (Yellow) and Changjiang (Yangtze) rivers—and, of course, their associated deltas. In this chapter, I examine the role of selected coastal deltas that were important in the development of these early Old World civiliza­tions, and how those people began to alter the shape and character of the highly productive and constantly changing deltaic environments. Before we begin, how­ever, I need to provide some basic definitions. First, I use the definition of civilization provided by Hassan, “a phenome­non of large societies with highly differentiated sectors of activities interrelated in a complex network of exchanges and obligations.” Second, I use the defini­tion of delta presented by Overeem, Syvitski, and Hutton, “a discrete shoreline protuberance formed where a river enters an ocean or lake, … a broadly lobate shape in plain view narrowing in the direction of the feeding river, and a sig­nificant proportion of the deposit … derived from the river”. Although I will at times discuss linkages between development of human settlements and river reaches upstream from the coastal delta, my primary focus in this chapter is on coastal deltaic regions, in particular those of the Nile, Indus, Yellow, and Yangtze rivers, which provide the best examples for link­ages between relatively recent early human populations and coastal deltas. I will address other deltas later in the book. My rationale for beginning this book with a discussion of the relationship between Old World civilizations and deltas is that this long- term interaction has been so dramatically altered over the past few millennia— essentially, it is a good relationship “gone bad.”

Keywords:   Animal domestication, Babylonian Empire, Cereal cultivation, Droughts, Euphrates River, Herding, Ice Age, Karun River, Mesopotamia, Norte Chico

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