Author: Xusheng source: Xusheng (official account ID: lxlong20) has been reprinted with permission
The main part of the history of human civilization took place in Eurasia. Until the first half of the 19th century, the main stories in the history of world civilization took place in Eurasia. The strong rise of the United States rapidly promoted the status of America in the history of civilization. North America, in particular, is now one of the most developed regions in the world and one of the world’s wealth gathering places.
Then the question comes. The resources and climate of America are not bad. Why did civilization evolve so slowly?
Large scale civilization deduction
This problem seems very grand and needs to be explained on a historical scale.
Compared with the development process of Eurasia, there are roughly three ancient civilizations, which can be summarized as “two large and one small”.
First, the large river basins in Eurasia have given birth to brilliant agricultural civilization, such as the ancient Chinese civilization in the Yellow River Basin, the ancient Indian civilization in the Henghe River Basin, and the ancient Babylonian civilization in the two river basins. There are also large rivers in the Americas, such as the Amazon and La Plata rivers in South America. Their drainage area is larger than that of the rivers in Asia, but they failed to breed ancient civilizations; For example, the Mississippi River in North America failed to breed an ancient civilization. Why is this?
Second, nomadic civilization has always been active in the grasslands and deserts of Eurasia, such as the horseback nomadic civilization inherited by the Huns, Turks, Mongolians and Jurchens on the Mongolian grassland, and the camel back nomadic civilization inherited by the Arabs in the Middle East. Both South America and North America have prairies, but no prairie civilization can be produced. And why?
First, among the ancient civilizations in Eurasia, there is also a commercial civilization with marine genes, such as the ancient Greek civilization in the Balkans. In the absence of agricultural civilization and nomadic civilization in the American continent, we can not expect to see a commercial civilization with marine genes.
In the history of America, there were three major civilizations:
Among them, Mayan civilization and Aztec civilization are mainly distributed around the Gulf of Mexico, mainly eating corn, which can also be called “corn civilization”. If the United States annexed Mexico, the United States would have become an ancient civilization.
Inca civilization is located in South America, centered on Peru and Chile, and distributed along the narrow strip along the Pacific coast. It mainly eats potatoes, which can also be called “potato civilization”.
Corn and potatoes are very important in the human food supply chain. They spread all over the world, which is one of the reasons why the earth can support so many people today. Because corn, potato and sweet potato are very suitable for dry land cultivation, they were introduced to China in the late Ming Dynasty and popularized in large scale during the Kangxi and Qianlong periods, which was the main reason for the first explosion of Chinese population. If they had been introduced to China decades earlier and could be planted on a large scale at the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty might not have perished. If the Ming Dynasty did not perish, the sprouts of capitalism in the South would continue to grow, and the historical trend would be different.
However, corn and potatoes suitable for dry land cultivation have been planted in America for thousands of years, but they have been confined to the coast of the ocean and have never been popularized in the vast American continent. Why? It is because there are big rivers in America and there is no river civilization.
The Amazon in the north of South America is the largest river in the world with the largest flow, basin and tributaries. Its flow is several times larger than that of the Nile River in Africa, the Yangtze River in China and the Mississippi River in the United States; The drainage area accounts for 40% of the total area of the whole South American continent, which is unique. The ancient Inca civilization in South America was separated from the Amazon plain by the Andes.
It is because of its large flow that a tropical rain forest climate is formed in the upper reaches, which is not suitable for human survival and reproduction. Although its downstream flows through the Brazilian plain, the lush tropical plants are still not suitable for early human farming. Before the invention of iron, agricultural civilization would never extend its tentacles into the dense rainforest; If ordinary farmers do not have metal tools, cutting trees is a laborious task, and it is more difficult to remove the roots. The metal in the bronze age was too expensive, and it was generally used for weapons or ritual utensils. Stone tools were still used in daily production, so it was impossible to reclaim the rainforest, not to mention the most troublesome dense rainforest. At the same time, the widely distributed large carnivores and poisonous snakes (humans have a natural fear of poisonous snakes) directly threatened the survival of early humans. Therefore, although the Amazon basin is vast, it did not breed a river civilization.
Before industrial civilization, iron smelting technology represented scientific and technological productivity. Planting potatoes or corn does not require high-tech tools such as iron to turn the soil. In contrast, the cultivation of wheat and rice in Eurasia relies more on iron tools. Therefore, there is no river civilization in the American tropical rainforest, and it is stuck in the link of science and technology.
In South America, in addition to the Amazon River, there is also the La Plata River, with a total length of 4100 kilometers (the 13th longest river in the world and the second largest river in South America). Its drainage area is about 3 million square kilometers, which is larger than all the rivers in Eurasia that gave birth to ancient civilizations. The South American Continental plain is divided by the Amazon and the La Plata river. Unlike the Amazon River, which flows from west to East, the La Plata river flows from north to south through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, moistening the economic center of South America. Of course, it can also be regarded as the river of football, which covers half of the world’s football.
In contrast, the North China Plain, which gave birth to the Chinese civilization, is only more than 300000 square kilometers.
The La Plata plain has abundant sunshine and land resources, with annual precipitation of 500-1300 mm. These conditions seem to be very suitable for breeding “River civilization”. However, the Inca civilization in South America has little to do with it. The La Plata River Basin has the conditions to breed a river civilization, but it failed to breed a river civilization in the end. The reason is that there are no draught animals in the Americas and no cattle and horses to help develop agriculture and build a country.
For similar reasons, the Mississippi River in North America failed to breed a river civilization, only some primitive Indian tribes.
Why is there no nomadic civilization
With reference to the civilization development on the Eurasian continent, it basically advances in the game between agricultural civilization and nomadic civilization. For example, the migration of the Aryans destroyed the ancient Indian civilization, the ancient Egyptian civilization, and the ancient Babylonian civilization. In East Asia, within the Chinese civilization circle, the agricultural civilization relying on the North China Plain and the nomadic civilization north of the great wall can be said to be a millennium game.
However, in America, not only did it not breed a river civilization, but even a nomadic civilization.
As far as the United States in North America is concerned, it is located in the same latitude and area as China. It is irrigated by the Mississippi River, and there is also the prairie in Central China. Why did not nomadic civilization emerge?
The terrain of China is high in the West and low in the East. The Cordillera mountains are in the west of the United States, and the Appalachian Mountains are in the East. It is like two giant dragons lying in the East and West, both of which are in the north-south direction (the Chinese mountains are mainly in the east-west direction). From the Great Lakes in the north to the Mississippi River (flowing into the Gulf of Mexico) in the south, the central part of the United States is a super large central plain.
Therefore, although the United States is sandwiched between the two continents, it has a temperate continental climate. This climate is very unfavorable to the growth of crops in the early stage of civilization, and is another reason why the Mississippi River Basin failed to breed a river civilization.
The reason why there is no nomadic civilization is the lack of domesticated livestock in America. The horses, cattle, sheep and pigs in ancient China were not found in ancient North America. In particular, before the invention of the automobile, horses were the common means of transportation for human beings, but not in America.
Agricultural civilization needs horses to open up the frontier and expand the soil.
Nomadic civilization needs horses to gallop.
Cavalry is the most powerful and mobile arm in ancient times.
America lacks not only horses, but also the docile camels of the Arab world and the elephants of the ancient Indians. That is to say, Americans lack transportation. The American bison is large and difficult to domesticate.
Horses are not the only obstacle to the slow evolution of American civilization. The development of any civilization needs to make wheels. But the wheel needs the geometric foundation first, must be round, also needs the exquisite structure; At the same time, the wheels need to have hardness and wear resistance.
Therefore, the wheels must be made of hardwood.
Processing hardwood requires metal tools. The ancient American civilization was in the bronze age, and the metal was too expensive to be popularized as agricultural tools. This can be proved by the cultivation of potatoes and corn by the three major civilizations in the Americas. This goes back to the cause and effect of the failure to produce the river civilization mentioned earlier – the lack of iron smelting.
Iron smelting technology can not only make agricultural tools, but also promote the development of agricultural civilization; At the same time, stirrups can be made to improve the combat effectiveness of nomadic civilization. Just like the Chinese civilization, after the appearance of the stirrup, the combat effectiveness of the nomadic cavalry was greatly improved. In order to blockade the northern nomads with science and technology, the Tang Empire promoted the prosperity of maritime trade.
In fact, agricultural civilization and nomadic civilization depend on each other and develop in a game. However, the vast American continent could not breed a river farming civilization, so it was difficult to breed a nomadic civilization. Because most of the science and technology and materials needed by nomadic civilization came from the agricultural civilization.
Before the colonists arrived on the American continent, the Vikings among the Vikings might have arrived in America, but they could not adapt to the bad weather and could not survive. In the era of great geographical discovery, the colonists who first arrived in North America could go north to Florida, and it was difficult to survive further north. Of course, with the development of the industrial revolution, all environmental problems are no longer problems. The harsh living environment of the American continent has become a rich treasure house of resources—— This is the power of science and technology.