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Nature In Antiquity

Antiquity is defined here as a zone of cultural transition at the boundary between the Old and the New Stone Age, the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. Climate change is increasingly accepted as the environmental driver that ended the era of the great hunt. Whereas utility vanished at the margin of portability for paleo-people, the Neolithic brought profound changes to material culture and thus to notions of nature. Sedentarism, the cultivation of cereal grasses, and the domestication of animals transformed human relations to nature. Forests were cleared for fields and building materials. Crops were planted and tended. Rivers were diverted into canals to support irrigated agriculture. Permanent habitation was constructed. Wild creatures, such as bears and wolves, formerly totems with which humans empathically identified, became predators.

Materials for the conceptual reconstruction of ancient ideas of nature can be found in texts marking the passage from orality into alphabetic literacy, such as the Sumerian-epoch Gilgamesh and the Old Testament, the latter a primary source for prevailing if conflicting Western notions of nature. The Old Testament manifests two antagonistic ideas of nature. One reflects agriculture, where humankind increasingly asserts its dominion over the earth while paying the price of great toil. The other is that of a world of milk and honey where humans wandered the earth freely, living in an Edenic condition. On either account a creator god is posited as the agency of creation. A cosmos is constructed and populated, culminating on the sixth day with the arrival of Adam and Eve. Life is good, until the original pair fall into temptation and sin. The consequence was expulsion from the Garden, arguably a remembrance of a deep past free of the woes of agricultural existence.

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