Cultural Hearths of the World

Concept of Cultural Hearth is associated with Carl O Sauer. Cultural hearths are geographic areas from where the major cultures of the world have originated. In other words, these are also the centers of scientific, economic and political innovation. Later, these innovations diffused from these regions to the rest of the world through trade, invasions, migration and literature.

Conditions for Development of Cultural Hearths

  1. Geographical integrity: The geographical integrity is essential for development of cultural hearth because an integrated area provides security and environmental homogeneity to people. Above all, the cultural response of the people to the homogeneous environment is similar. This man-environment relationship leads to origin of a unique culture.
  2. Ecological Sustainability: The cultural hearth should have plenty of resources to sustain the growth of population of people with a unique culture. Otherwise, the culture becomes limited to a local tribe.
  3. Economic Surplus: A region should generate economic surplus to support the activities which are beyond the survival of the people of a certain culture. So that the surplus can be used to support activities like invasions, missionary activities, exploration of new regions etc. Such activities help the spread of culture.
  4. Trade: A region should be well connected to trade networks. Trade enables not only the exchange of goods and services but also cultures and ideas. Through trade, the culture spreads.
  5. Public order: The public order is a symbol of political stability. Lack of public order leads to continuous conflicts among people of a region. Therefore, no room is left for the development of culture.
  6. Writing Capability: The people of a region should have writing capability for the spread and survival of their culture because the writing ensures that the originality of culture is maintained through time and space. Without writing, the culture tends to change quickly depending upon the will of the people.

Major Cultural Hearths

There are six major cultural hearths in the world.

Fig. 1: Major Cultural Hearths

1. Mesopotamia

  • It began in 3200 B.C. and consisted of both rural and urban settlements.
  • This archeological evidence from this region shows that the merchants ruled this civilization.
  • They knew the art of writing on seals and stone.
  • Use of Bronze and Copper was common. Therefore, agriculture could develop with the help of metal tools.
  • Mesopotamian civilization flourished on the fertile lands of Tigris and Euphrates in West Asia. Therefore, it had well developed agriculture.
  • Later, the influence of this civilization spread to southern Europe, Central Asia and the West Coast of India.

2. Egypt/ Nile Delta

  • This civilization dates back to 3100 B.C. It is located around Nile Delta
  • The Egyptians had highly skilled architecture.
  • Their art of writing was well developed and has been deciphered.
  • They were primarily Polytheists
  • They used forced labour to build huge pyramids.
  • Later, this culture spread to the Mediterranean coast and Arabia to Iran/Iraq.

3. Indus Valley

  • This civilization dates back to 2500 B.C.
  • It was a magnificent urban civilization having planned settlements.
  • Its writings are pictorial. However, their script has not been deciphered yet.
  • They practiced animism.
  • Animal husbandry, cultivation and trade were their major economic activities. Wheat, cotton, barley etc. were their main crops.
  • They used Bronze and Copper.
  • Its influence spread to Ganges plains of India.

4. Hwang Ho

  • It dates back to 5000 B.C. It is located in the plains of Hwang Ho River.
  • Centralized hereditary monarchies ruled this civilization.
  • Trade and agriculture were their major economic activities. Rice was their major crop.
  • Rulers of this civilization constructed the Great Wall of China. So that they can protect their empire from foreign invaders.
  • Later, its influence spread to East and South East Asia.

5. West Africa

  • It dates back to 3000-1000 B.C. It is located in West Africa.
  • The Bantu tribe were the main inhabitants of this region.
  • They used Iron tools and generated agricultural surplus.
  • It shows the signs of Sudanic agricultural influences.
  • However, its influence remained limited to central and west African countries due to thick forest cover.

6. Maya/Aztec/Inca

  • It is one of the oldest civilization which dates back to 13000 B.C.
  • It flourished in North Latin America and Central America.
  • They cultivated maize as their major crop.
  • Human and animal sacrifice was common because these people practiced animism and elaborate religious rituals.
  • Certainly, It was a rural civilization with small village having huts made of mud and straws.
  • The people of this civilization constructed huge stone temples.
  • Further, they undertook drainage and art projects in and around their settlements.
  • This culture could not spread to other regions because of the smallpox epidemics. It is so because the Europeans brought many other diseases to this region. Most importantly, the situation became worse because the people of this civilization were not immune to those diseases. Consequently, all of civilization vanished due to epidemics.

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Apart from these major cultural hearths, there are two minor cultural hearths i.e. Ganges Delta and Southeast Asia. To sum up, one can say that the people of these cultural hearths were pioneers of domestication of animals, cultivation of domestic crops, use of important metals and architectural marvels.