Explain how humans evolved from small, nomadic groups into early civilizations (c. 200,000–1000 BCE), including a discussion of the roles of agriculture and cities. 

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For the majority of human history, hunting and gathering was sufficient for feeding and providing for groups of semi-nomadic peoples. With small populations, and with everybody focused on the task of providing food from the environment around them, humans were able to support themselves in these small groups.

Once early agricultural efforts took hold about 12,000 years ago, human populations began to settle permanently in place where they could provide a more reliable food source through farming and animal husbandry. Agriculture involves a division of labor. Therefore societies that had formerly been more egalitarian gave way to ones defined by social hierarchies.

There is no single factor that led to agricultural development. However, conditions of a changing climate, seed and animal domestication, and growing pressures put upon natural food sources led more and more people to gradually shift to a less hectic, agriculturally-based lifestyle.

As farming techniques improved, more and more surplus food was made. Eventually, it was possible for some farmers to create enough food so that not everyone was needed to participate in agriculture. This allowed urban populations to develop. Within these cities, people could engage in all sorts of occupations that would have been unavailable during the hunter-gatherer days, such as trade, manufacturing, civil administration, artistic pursuits, and religious roles. This led to further stratification in society. With food supplied from the nearby countryside and also from far-away places through trade, it became possible for cities to thrive as never before.

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The development of society from early nomadic, hunter-gatherer cultures is an interesting one. It is hypothesized that, as gatherers brought grains together for their families, they may have accidentally stumbled upon the creation of either bread or beer, and this encouraged them to begin agriculture. They would begin coming together in larger family groups and small societies to set up fields where they have planted primarily these grains, and slowly transitioned away from hunting and gathering. Eventually, domestication of animals contributed to their diet and protection, and they were able to support diverse careers because everyone soon had food available to them from their agriculture and the beginnings of livestock. Specializing of fields and growth in the size of small plantations and villages eventually led to cities and large societies, growing into the nations we’ve seen in history.

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As the evolution of human groups from small bands of hunter-gatherers to urban civilizations generally took place before the invention of writing, we must rely primarily on archaeological evidence.

The so-called "neolithic transition" consisted of several inter-related phenomena. Perhaps the most important was the development of agriculture as it simultaneously increased food production and created a strong motive for settling in a fixed locale. The food surplus provided by agriculture allowed for specialization of labor; communities could afford to support people who were not themselves focused on food production. This meant a quantum leap in technology, including improvements in pottery and metallurgy which in turn increased the efficiency of food production and preparation. 

Both Egypt and Mesopotamia developed vast urban civilizations in this period. They were effectively theocracies in which centralized governments and religion worked together to create a social order. In both areas, the necessity of building complex irrigation systems for agriculture increased social cohesion. The surplus production also allowed for trade, first between agricultural areas and urban centers and later developing into vast trade networks. As trade flourished, systems of writing became important for communication over long distances. 

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