I’m sure you learned in some history class that Mesopotamia is the ‘cradle of civilization.’ But if you’ve ever spent some time studying archaeology, specifically the agricultural revolution, you would know that statement is a bit misinformed. What we deem ‘civilization’, is kinda up in the air. I was taught that civilization is a restructuring of nomadic lifestyle into sedentary living, and it coincides with technological advancements in agriculture and the domestication of animals and plants. Now that’s totally subjective, i.e. I’ve been in contact with nomadic people who had just as complex civilizations as I do, living in urban America… but that’s the pop culture definition.

Andrew Lawler’s report in tomorrow’s issue of Science (UPDATE: It is out.), will clarify this misinformation with evidence that many civilized urban areas existed at the same time as Mesopotamia (about 5,000 years ago),

“in an arc that extended from Mesopotamia east for thousands of kilometers across to the areas of modern India and Pakistan.

Evidence of shared trade, iconography and other culture from digs in remote areas across this arc were presented last month at a meeting in Ravenna, Italy of the International Association for the Study of Early Civilizations in the Middle Asian Intercultural Space. The meeting was the first time that many archaeologists from more than a dozen countries gathered to discuss the fresh finds that point to this new view of civilization’s start. Science’s Lawler was the only journalist present.

Archaeologists shared findings from dozens of urban centers of approximately the same age that existed between Mesopotamia and the Indus River valley in modern day India and Pakistan. The researchers are just starting to sketch out this new landscape, but it’s becoming clear that these centers traded goods and could have shared technology and architecture. Recovered artifacts such as beads, shells, vessels, seals and game boards show that a network linked these civilizations.

Researchers have also found hints, such as similar ceremonial platforms, that these cultures interacted and even learned from one another. A new excavation near Jiroft in southeastern Iran, for example, has unearthed tablets with an unknown writing system. This controversial find highlights the complexity of the cultures in an area long considered a backwater, Lawler explained.

These urban centers are away from the river valleys that archaeologists have traditionally focused on, according to Lawler. Archaeologists now have access to more remote locations and are expanding their studies.”