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Sapiens 8 The Direction of history

Page history last edited by Ian Kimber 6 years, 3 months ago


Lecture 8  The Direction of History  9 - 1 - Lesson #8_ The Direction of History - Segment 1.mp4


Early isolated human societies were very different from each other in every respect.  We now look at how these expanding societies interacted.  This involved wars immigration and trade etc.   This is very complex in detail but they have a common element.  That is there is a trend towards global unity.  There are a series of combinations and breakups.  Empires form and then splinter,  Religions form and splinter.  Languages form and splinter.  This suggests that this has no particular direction but if you take a larger view the general direction of history emerges.  Nowadays we look at the world as a total entity but in the past this was not the case.  In the past areas and continents were separated by the problems of physical communication.

10000 BC the planet had many thousand local groupings

  2000 BC there were hundreds

  1500 AD Afro Asia was now largely united by trade. 90% of humanity was connected.

  The Americas, Australia and Oceania were still isolated  

  2000 AD with the exception of a few small localised enclaves the world is united as nation states

These states interact with each other through economics and communications

National cuisine traditions are used as an example of how globalisation has worked.  This flow has occurred in all directions.  All “traditional” cultures have been affected in the same way.  This has been recently seen as a result of imperialism and capitalism. However these effects have been continuing through all this period.  

Humans have a strong  concept  of “us” versus “them”  that is we tend to think that what we have is the best  However we may think that another group is better and wish to join this creates an underlying uniting process.  In the first millennium BC three new unifying processes emerged:  firstly money,  secondly imperialism,  thirdly Religion.


  8 segment 2  How money developed    9 - 2 - Lesson #8_ The Direction of History - Segment 2.mp4 


This is the most fundamental unifying process. Ancient societies worked on the basis of favours and obligations.  Very few items had to be obtained by trade using barter.  The agricultural revolution did not change this much at first.  The rise of cities and kingdoms causes people to specialise create shops or services and they needed to be rewarded by the community.  Villages would specialise on products that worked best in their localities.  This required the creation of some means of exchange because barter does not always work that is both parties because you must both want the product both of you have to offer.  This means that some sort of “market” must develop and the vast number of exchange rates will be required.  Money developed independently in many areas as societies became complex.  The value of money depends on some accepted value.  This could involve almost any sort of item.   Cowrie shells were significant for almost 4000 years in the far east.  Nowadays most money in the world is in the form of computer records not coinage or gold.  Everyone wants and needs money as a universal medium of exchange.  But it is just a concept and not a physical thing.  Money can convert almost anything into anything else not just commodities.


8 Segment 3 How does money work?  9 - 3 - Lesson #8_ The Direction of History - Segment 3.mp4


People have to trust in other people’s belief in money, it is a system of mutual trust.  How is this trust created?  it is just a gradual process that everyone believes in. it is frequently written or symbolised on to the notes and coins.  The earliest currency we know was ancient Sumerian barley money.  This could also of course be used for food.  This had problems of storage and transport.  The first real currency was the Shekel  about 8 grams of silver it was not in coins but as a weight of pure metal.  The first coins dated from 640 BC in Lidia (western Turkey).  The coins stated the weight and had an authority symbol stamped on them.   Coins added a bit more security from the possibility that a lump of metal might be impure.  Counterfeiting money has always been a very great crime.  This trust in currency also varies from country to country and over time. Gold was one of the first agreed standards for currency across the world.  Money asks us to believe in something that other people believe in. There is nothing more universal and tolerated than money.


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