Civilization and its contents: how the world’s earliest cities manifest Neolithic carnal excesses

Being primarily a note on V Gordon Childe ( (1892 – 1957) and the definition of civilization.

“Libraries”, Foucault said, “are the habitat of Man.”  I was in a university library when I read this.  It was the Arts library at UCD in Belfield, south of Dublin city center, and I sat there, circa 1985, cloistered from a damp Dublin evening, digesting the dinner of an impecunious scholar – chips and sausage and a tin of mackerel.  The city, the university, the library, the book in my hand, calories from domesticated foodstuff, and even the lifestyle of writer and reader are part of a cluster of innovations that are all relatively recent in the making.  It was all so very civilized.  In fact, city, university, reader and writer, are some of the principles ingredients of civilization.

Robert Bierstedt, a sociologist, reflected on those items that might serve as indices of civilization; his list is edifying and frustrating.   “Trousers and Bibles”, he said, “-these surely are unmistakable indices of civilization!”  His list  then proceeds by including traditional and less traditional indicators, for instance: “language, literacy, law, soap, paper, the wheel, money, government, religion, science, agriculture, the city, commerce, print, the domestication of animals, the breeding of cattle, the use of milk, the digging stick, the use of the fork, plumbing, dental caries, and even the dry martini.”[i]

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About dublinsoil

Professor of Environmental Science
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