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1 .<-NARRATOR:->Listen to part of a lecture in an anthropology class.
1 .<-FEMALE PROFESSOR:->One of the big questions when we look at prehistory is: Why did the earliest states form?
2 .Well, to begin we'd better define exactly what we mean when we talk about states.
1 .Uh, the human groups that are the smallest and have the least social and political complexity we call "bands."
2 .The groups that are the largest and most socially and politically complex we call "states."
3 .So the level of complexity here refers to the organization of people into large, diverse groups and densely populated communities... and there are four levels in total: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states.
1 .But-but back to my original question. Why did early states form? Why not just continue to live in small groups? Why become more complex?
1 .One theory, called the "environmental approach", hypothesizes that the main force behind state formation was population growth.
2 .It assumes that centralized management was critical to dealing with issues caused by sudden population surges, like a strain on limited food supplies.
1 .At the least-complex end of the spectrum, the few families living in bands are able to meet their own basic needs.
2 .They usually hunt, gather, and forage whatever foods are available to them, instead of domesticating animals and planting crops.
3 .In order to efficiently take advantage of the wild foods available, bands are often nomadic, and move around following herds of animals.
4 .This strategy is feasible when you have a small population.
1 .But when you have a large population, well, the whole population can't just get up and move to follow a wild herd of animals.
2 .So you need sophisticated technologies to produce enough food for everyone.
3 .And there is an increased need to resolve social problems that arise as people begin to compete for resources.
1 .To manage intensified food production- to collect, store, and distribute food- you need centralized decision making... centralized decision makers.
2 .It's the same thing when it comes to maintaining social order.
3 .You need to create and efficiently enforce a formal legal code. It makes sense to have a centralized authority in charge of that, right? So a hierarchy forms.
4 .By definition, states have at least three social levels: usually an upper class of rulers, a middle class comprised of managers and merchants, and a lower class of craft producers and agricultural laborers.
1 .The environmental approach hypothesizes that states appear in certain environmental settings- settings which have a severe population problem or a shortage of agricultural land.
2 .But not everyone agrees with the theory. It definitely has some weaknesses.
3 .For example, states have developed in places like the Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica, and in Egypt's Nile River valley.
4 .Both places had vast areas of fertile farmland- no shortage of agricultural land.
5 .And what about population increase?
6 .Well, there were some early states that formed where there wasn't any sudden population increase.
7 .So it seems that these are valid criticisms of the environmental approach.