Exploring Civilization Beyond the Walls

Great Wall of China

Before we’d even become Homo sapiens sapiens, humans lived everywhere from South Africa up to Britain and over to China.

There were mountain people, coastal people, people who hunted woolly mammoths, and people who’d never seen a woolly mammoth in their lives.

Just like we see with distinct groups of other animals, these differences of experience, adaptation, and expectation would have made for real cultural and even physical differences between populations.

A few hundred thousand years later, as groups began to settle down and build cities they often enclosed them within massive walls.

The ways different cultures interact across those walls could be seen as the central story of civilization.

Top archaeologists from around the world have been exploring that story for the past week in public presentations and conversations at the 2015 Dialogue of Civilizations in Beijing.

A Fortress Deep and Mighty

Because of known battle stories and the sheer scale involved, a lot of people look at city walls and think of them as being built to physically hold back the onslaught of aggressors from outside. The evidence shows though that this was not always—and not even primarily—the case.

At the site of Harappa in the Indus Valley where he has excavated for 30-some years, Mark Kenoyer has clear layers in the earth showing the ups and downs of the city over 700 years, and in all that time, the people maintained extensive city walls.

The unexpected part is that throughout all that history, there is “not one example” of anyone attacking said walls.

Kenoyer is an experimental archaeologist. He chips out stone tools, drills holes in stone beads, and recreates ancient kilns, all to see firsthand how things were made and what it looks like as they are used. If those walls had ever seen action for physical defense, he’d notice the clues.

So while the city’s —> Read More