Early Societies: Britain and the Ancient World


This module has taken us from the first creatures to have recognisably human characteristics to the dawn of the modern age. Almost all the cultures on which we have focused owe their existence to the surplus created by successful agriculture: the greater the surplus, the greater the resources available for the development of specialised trades and political systems. Of course, there has been a price to pay for all this progress. Division of the land brought inequality and the systematised conflict we call war. Yet the same developments endowed a fortunate elite with the leisure to think and to speculate, to conceive a universe beyond the visible and immediate, a universe whose nature and origin could supply an answer to the ultimate question 'why?'

Until the discoveries of Galileo that universe was centered on ourselves, now we know that we are just tiny specks in a vast cosmos, the accidental by-product of an environment particularly favourable to the development of complex molecules.. However this should not lead us to underestimate what humanity has achieved, especially in the last five millennia of recorded history. In that time we have invented a means of transmitting ideas so that there has been a cultural and mental evolution of equal significance to the biological one. We don't know whether its product - the unique phenomenon of consciousness - exists elsewhere in the universe. Nor we do we know how far it yet has to develop. It faces many perils before it can be sure it has survived its biological evolution, yet the story of how it has come about is the only story which gives life a meaning and it should be celebrated along with the works of art and imagination which have been its principal and lasting expression.