Locations of the Early River Civilizations

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  • 0:08 Early River Civilizations
  • 1:53 Indus River
  • 2:40 Nile River
  • 3:29 Tigris & Euphrates Rivers
  • 4:06 Yellow River
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Expert Contributor
Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what the early river civilizations were, give some examples, and locate them on a map. A short quiz will follow.

What Were the Early River Civilizations?

Once upon a time, humans were hunter-gatherers. They moved around as nomads season by season, year by year, hunting animals and gathering fruit and nuts from plants. About 12,000 years ago, humans changed their ways. They started to settle in single locations. People debate the reason for that. Perhaps they realized they could produce a food surplus. Perhaps it started with mere experimentation. But whatever caused it, it was a huge change in the way humans lived.

Whatever the reason, humans had to answer an important question: where should they settle? To answer that question, we have to think about what they were settling down to do. Twelve thousand years ago, humans started to form what's called an agrarian society. An agrarian society is a society where cultivating the land is the primary source of wealth, where the focus is on agriculture and farming.

Agriculture and farming needs water and lots of it. They also need fertile soil. So humans invariably settled along the flood plains of rivers. This shouldn't be at all surprising because through the regular flooding that happens there, these soils were full of nutrients and there was water aplenty.

Examples of early river-valley civilizations include the Indus Valley Civilization, Ancient Egypt (the Nile), Mesopotamia (along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), and Chinese civilization along the Yellow River. In today's lesson, we're going to talk about a few of these early river valley civilizations and place them on the world map.

Locations: Indus River

The Indus River was the home to an extremely successful civilization. It would flood the land with nutrients twice per year, super reliably. Because of this regular flooding, the Indus Valley contained the most available calories per acre of any river of its time. Things grew easily, and the civilization flourished around 3000 BCE. They were a peaceful people with many architectural achievements.

But where was the Indus Valley civilization? Where is the Indus River? The Indus River's source is in the Himalayan mountain range on the Tibetan Plateau near Lake Mansarovar. It runs through modern-day Pakistan, Western Tibet, and Kashmir. It reaches the sea in Pakistan.

Nile River

Ancient Egypt is probably the most famous river valley civilization in human history, thanks to all the pyramids. It lasted from around 3000 BCE to 300 BCE, which makes it the longest-existing out of all the river civilizations. The Nile River flooded in a regular pattern, and life in Egypt was predictable and easy. Farming was much easier than in most places.

The Nile is the longest river in the world, running from North Egypt down to Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It flows through 11 modern-day countries, from north to south: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo-Kinshasa, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Locations: Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers formed the location for the Mesopotamian civilization. Their rivers flooded in extremely unpredictable patterns, which made irrigation complex and difficult. To make it more manageable, Mesopotamia used slaves and gave offerings to appease the gods.

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Additional Activities

Mapping and Comparing Rivers in Early Civilizations

Although the first major civilizations were unique, they were similar in that they had access to freshwater rivers that provided for the needs of their community. After doing this lesson, the extension activity will help students locate the civilizations and think about ways water was used.

Begin by giving students a blank world map. This could also just be a map that includes the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. Have students label the following rivers: Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Indus, Yellow. Depending on their readiness, the rivers could already be drawn onto the map or they could put them in themselves. Next, they should identify where the early civilizations existed and the name of each.

If doing this early in the year, this activity could easily become a review of important map skills. Have students add a title, compass and key to their map.

Once the map is complete, students should list the ways that water and rivers were important to early civilizations (agriculture, power, drinking water, etc.).

Finally, they should think about and record their answer to the following question: ''Agree or disagree: The location of early civilizations on rivers is a coincidence. We do not have enough evidence to say that rivers were essential to their success.''

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