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History of Science

In this book, McClellan and Dorn explore the history of science and technology.  The first three chapters span the period from the Neolithic Era to the Egyptian Kingdom and assorted civilizations in between.  Technology in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras was of great cultural and sociological importance to early humans.  Science, on the other hand, according to McClellan and Dorn, was essentially nonexistent until after the Neolithic Era.

According to McClellan and Dorn, about 4 million years ago australopithecines (our early ancestors) arose in Africa.  From collected fossils, scientists believe evolution then took place as indicated by the progression of brain size.  Bipedal walking also represented an indicator of evolution.  As brain size increased, McClellan and Dorn believe early humans began to use tools; they state humans are the only creatures who fashion tools in order to craft other tools.  Furthermore, McClellan and Dorn believe humankind owes its evolutionary success to the mastery of making tools – human evolution is grounded in the history of technology.

Homo erectus was able to control fire and could spread across the Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa).  Whereas Homo sapiens created a great multitude of tools, McClellan and Dorn believe Neanderthals only had a few generalized multipurpose tools.  McClellan and Dorn believe early Homo sapiens were still foragers and nomads despite the great assortment of tools.

The Paleolithic Era lasted from 12 million years ago to 12,000 years ago.  Citizens of this era, according to McClellan and Dorn, were hunter and gatherers with no real set caste system or classes.  McClellan and Dorn believe early human males hunted and scavenged while the females gleaned plants, seeds, and eggs.  According to McClellan and Dorn, 30,000 years ago marked the time when spear throwers and bow and arrow hunters emerged, as well as the domestication of the dog.

Intentionally burying the dead is a distinctly human activity.  McClellan and Dorn believe this practice began in the middle Paleolithic Era, approximately 100,000-50,000 years ago.  Burying the dead represents a self-consciousness and the beginning of symbolic thought.  This symbolic thought, according to McClellan and Dorn was the basis for religious beliefs and practices that knitted the community together and strengthened their effectiveness.

The Paleolithic Era, according to McClellan and Dorn remained unchanged for 30,000 years because of a low population and stable culture.  They believe the low population was a result of late weaning of infants (I am doubtful of how McClellan and Dorn were able to discern how long mothers breastfed their babies 30,000 years ago), low body fat, and a mobile lifestyle.

McClellan and Dorn believe Stone Age citizens practiced a crude form of science and astronomy.  They believe early humans had practical knowledge of nature (fire, water, etc…) as opposed to theoretical or scientific knowledge.  Early humans knew how to make fire, but they could not say why there was fire.

As the Paleolithic citizens began to reach the environments’ carrying capacity, a new way of life had to be adopted.  According to McClellan and Dorn, about 12,000 years ago, after the end of the last Ice Age, Paleolithic humans abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and adopted a mode of food-producing.  This marked the beginning of the Neolithic Era.

McClellan and Dorn believe Neolithic communities arose independently after 10,000 B.C. in the Near East, India, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.  The Early Neolithic lifestyle, according to McClellan and Dorn, was a settled community of limited territory involved in complex foraging, intensified plant collection, and exploitation of a broad band of secondary and tertiary food sources.  McClellan and Dorn believe two types of societies arose from the Paleolithic Era.  Arid and desert civilizations retained the nomadic way of life, while fertile river valley civilizations settled in farming villages.

Humans domesticated both animals and plants to suit their needs.  Animals provide food and other resources valuable to early humans.  McClellan and Dorn believe this Neolithic Revolution represented a change of historical direction initiated by humans in response to the changing environment.

McClellan and Dorn believe early humans practiced weaving and basketry as well as pottery.  The pyrotechnology of pottery set the stage for metal working.  Compared to the smaller bands of humans in the Paleolithic Era, McClellan and Dorn believe Neolithic groups lived in unified tribes with villages consisting of a dozen to two dozen houses.

The Neolithic population boomed and the world population increased dramatically.  According to McClellan and Dorn this population growth was due to early weaning of infants (again, I am doubtful as to how McClellan and Dorn know how long Neolithic mothers breastfed their babies), better diets, and a sedentary lifestyle.  As population increased, low-level hierarchal societies began to take shape as well as specialized trades.  Food surpluses allowed citizens to become fulltime potters, weavers, masons, and toolmakers.

Regarding Neolithic science, McClellan and Dorn believe Neolithic people systematically observed the stars and created astronomically aligned monuments that served as seasonal calendars.  Such examples of Neolithic astronomy and technology are Stonehenge and the Giant Statues of Easter Island.  According to McClellan and Dorn, these people practiced the first forms of science with a grand display of technology.

However, Neolithic societies never reached the complexities of cities or kingdoms.  According to McClellan and Dorn, 6,000 years ago, the urban Revolution took place.  The Urban Revolution marked the start of cities with high population densities, political and economic authorities, monumental architecture, and the beginnings of writing and higher learning.  This transition was sparked by the increasing need to grow more crops to feed an ever larger population.

This intensified agriculture included large-scale farming and irrigation that was never seen in the Neolithic Era.  McClellan and Dorn believed in the hydraulic hypothesis – the rise of large civilization is directly linked to the technology of large scale water management.  Furthermore, they believe the interacting effects of the geography of a civilization reinforced trends toward an authoritarian state; settlements needed a leader to direct all the construction.

According to McClellan and Dorn, warfare became chronic.  It extended beyond looting and included conquest.  Because by the end of the Neolithic Era, the human population had become so widespread, defeated communities could not just pick-up and start their civilization elsewhere.  Thus, this was the birth of slave labor and Neolithic communities became increasingly armed resulting in a dominating class commanding and protecting the lower agricultural class.

Examples of such civilizations presented by McClellan and Dorn are: Early Mesopotamia (4,000 B.C.), Egypt (3,200) B.C., Indus River Valley (2,300 B.C.), and Yellow River Valley (1500 B.C.).  These civilizations had the common late Neolithic theme of grand architecture, large scale water management, political and religious leaders, and walled cities.

McClellan and Dorn believe humans entered the Americas and migrated down to Chile by 12,500 years ago.  New World civilizations in Oaxaca Valley, Teotihuacan Valley, Mayan, Andes Mountain all share much of the Old World characteristics.  They all have ceremonial centers, large cities with high population density, and small scale irrigation.

McClellan and Dorn believe the Bronze Age allowed early humans to improve their farming and make better weapons.  Also, the Bronze Age caused significant control of minerals and amassing wealth was becoming a reality.  Furthermore, in the Bronze Age, humans began to exploit other methods of energy such as the muscle power of the cow, the speed of the horse, and the durability of the camel.  According to McClellan and Dorn, boats also became popular in the river valleys.

The Egyptians, according to McClellan and Dorn, built pyramids for more reasons than just burying the dead.  Huge blocks of stone were moved to construct these monuments.  McClellan and Dorn postulate that pyramid building was a method employed by the pharaohs to keep citizens busy.  The building of the pyramids suggests early Egyptians had a profound knowledge in geometry and mathematics.

As civilization evolved and wealth amassed, peopled needed a way to record how much revenue they possessed.  Thus, began the birth of writing.  Sumerians had their cuneiform and Egyptians had their hieroglyphics.

Along with writing, mathematics also developed.  The Babylonians had a sexigesimal system with base sixty giving us the 60 second minute and the 360 degree circle.

Science was also profound during the Bronze Age.  McClellan and Dorn believe all agricultural civilizations developed calendars based on astronomical observations.  Some of these calendars were based on the moon and were accurate enough to predict future full moons, equinoxes, etc.

Medicine and Alchemy also developed during these times.  Medicine, according to McClellan and Dorn, was practical and rational without theistic intervention.  Alchemy, like astrology, was not distinguished as a pseudoscience but rather accepted as rational in its day.  Ultimately, McClellan and Dorn conclude during the Bronze Age, necessity spurred the development of science, medicine, and technology.




Neolithic – New Stone Age


Paleolithic – Old Stone Age


Domestication –            Human intervention in nature to use wild plants and



Cadre –            Apparently one of McClellan and Dorn’s favorite words which they use to the point of overkill.


Hydraulic Hypothesis –             The rise of large civilization is directly linked to

the technology of large scale water management

Near East –      Modern day middle east

Far East – Asia

New World – North and South America

Old World – Africa, Europe, and Asia

Bronze Age – The shift from stone to copper and bronze for tools.


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