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Environmental Influences on Human Settlements & Activities

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  • 0:02 Why Do Humans Live…
  • 1:45 Resources & Water
  • 2:42 Climate & Natural Disasters
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain the environmental reasons why humans settled where they did, both historically and more recently. A short quiz will follow.

Why Do Humans Live Where They Live?

Over 12,000 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers. We lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place over the seasons and years. Considering humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, the way we live now - settling down in one place for long stretches of time - is a pretty new lifestyle. But if you're going to settle down, you have a lot of places to choose from. So, why did we choose to live where we did? And what decides where we live today?

When humans first started to settle down, it was because we started to switch to an agrarian society. An agrarian society is a society where cultivating the land is the primary source of wealth, and the focus is on agriculture and farming. So naturally, the places we chose to live were the places that were best for this new life as farmers.

What do farmers need? They need good quality, fertile soil and a strong water supply. Both of these things can be found on the flood plains of rivers. So, it's not surprising that many of the first human settlements were along these rivers. This even influences us today - many of the oldest cities are along rivers, either because of those same farming reasons or because it allowed for boats to sail down the river, carrying goods to be traded. Trade was a big part of how humans advanced, building more and more impressive architecture and things to make our lives easier. This was only possible because of the extra time and funds, gained through trade.

So that's the long-term historical perspective. But now let's talk about what attracts humans to certain locations today. Let's talk about settlements built over the last few hundred years.

Natural Resources & Water

Natural resources and water remain vitally important to this day. Humans can't live without fresh water and still can't farm without it, so it's a necessity. Though less important with the invention of indoor plumbing, it's still a major consideration. But in the last few hundred years, water and soil were replaced with many other natural resources of importance.

The presence of wood (trees), stone and metal ores allowed us to manufacture and build products like tools and weapons. And since these natural resources could be sold, a settlement located near these natural resources would prosper. And then there were the rarer, expensive natural resources, like gold, silver and oil. The gold rush was a rapid movement of people because of the discovery of gold, especially to California and other parts of the Western United States in the 19th century. When we discovered gold, people saw their opportunity to get rich and rushed to find their own piece of the prize.

Climate & Natural Disasters

But it's not just natural resources and money that attracts people to an area, because they have to actually live there. A warm, temperate and pleasant climate can be attractive to people. There was never the same number of people migrating to Northern Canada as there were to the United States, and climate is a big reason for that.

And it's important to feel safe where you live; so natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes tend to make a place less attractive. All these factors and more are rather random - they're based on the environment and outside human control, but they have a big influence on where the towns and cities in which we live are located.

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