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4.1: Overview

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    From the time of the first civilizations, people continued to adapt and explore their environments. Innovations lead to inventions making life more comfortable and aiding in the emergence of new cultures. Simultaneously, throughout the world, ancient civilizations were constructing large structures without the aid of modern building equipment. As the ruling class grew in power and wealth, their requirements for magnificent temples, palaces, and monumental structures increased. Food production sustained more than the local populations, and new specialized occupations were formed. Farmers, soldiers, and merchants supported the communities. At the same time, increasingly new artistic skills were required to create the magnificent buildings demanded by the leaders — requirements for specialty raw materials for artistic projects generated trade routes and military incursions into neighboring territories.

    The civilizations in this period constructed colossal structures. With the sophisticated technology of the modern world, we cannot understand how the ancient civilizations moved, lifted, and raised the large structures still existing 3,000 years later. How did they manage to quarry and cut stone without explosives or mostly powered saws designed to cut granite or marble? To move a 2-ton rock today, a worker uses a tractor with a forklift, powerful enough to elevate and move stone; however, lacking mechanical equipment for the heavy lifting, how did they excavate and move 2-ton stone a mile or more and then lift it to soaring heights? Ancient civilizations have always been innovative with structural designs, whether refining the rock outcrop where they would live, gathering wood and reeds to erect a home or constructing massive stone buildings, all based on the stability of the engineering from natural materials. Even with over three thousand years of weathering, earthquakes, vandalism, war, and rampage, many structures or their basic outlines are still there for us to enjoy today.

    The types of construction varied based on the natural materials, and during this period, the significant configurations of any building comprised of wall systems and open roofing — the walls in any building needed to be strong enough to support themselves and the roof. If the roof span were too large, the roof would push the walls out, causing them to collapse. Therefore, the load-bearing walls could only support small windows or doorways, or they would collapse.

    Wood, brick, stone, or mud bricks were stacked and piled, reaching the desired height and adding a lightweight roof made from wood. This type of construction was common, and many of the buildings made of stone or brick are still standing today, minus the roof structure. Wood did not last as long as a stone, and the wood rotted away under the weather conditions or fires over thousands of years. Another type of construction used for large structures was the post and lintel system comprised of two pillars of stone and a third stone laid across the first two. At the Palace of Karnak, they carved columns out of stone and laid a large piece of stone across the top. This system was robust, but only for short distances and would collapse if the span were too high.

    This chapter, Learning to Build and the Evolutions of Tools and Symbolic Statues (1900 BCE – 400 BCE), describes the materials and methods for the buildings the civilizations constructed and the art principles the architects might have employed.



    Time Frame

    Starting Location

    New/ Middle/Late Kingdom

    Egyptian Dynasties

    1366 BCE – 332 BCE

    Nile River, Egypt


    1700 BCE – 1450 BCE


    Mesopotamian: Assyrian

    2500 BCE – 1400 BCE

    Tigris River, Iraq

    Mesopotamian: Babylonian

    1654 BCE - 911 BCE


    Mesopotamian: Persians

    518 BCE – 330 BCE

    Kur River, Persia


    1200 BCE – 539 BCE



    900 BCE – 600 BCE


    Shang and Zhou Dynasties

    1766 BCE – 256 BCE


    Late Jomon

    1500 BCE – 300 BCE



    900 BCE – 200 BCE



    1500 BCE – 400 BCE


    Early/Middle Pre-Classic Mayan

    2000 BCE – 400 BCE


    This page titled 4.1: Overview is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .