Many civilizations developed within fertile river valleys, for example the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates Indus, and Yellow River, due to these areas ability to provide the necessary materials to sustain life. In these regions with sufficient natural resources and moderate climate the people of the culture were not required to spend much of their waking hours procuring food.
Instead some people within a given population, and therefore culture, were able to engage in activities of their choice. Also, within the population there were individuals who were able to oversee the society’s collective activities, and become rulers or warriors. These individuals who “oversaw” would also promote the creation of diverse religious and political elites, who claimed the faculty to speak for the gods and to be able to offer divine protection and guidance. Another by product of a stable food supply, due to an abundance of a particular natural resource, is trade between regions and therefore various cultures.
In modern times, the idea of what is a natural resource is can be different than what it was during ancient times. In the following, we will discuss the earliest usage and trade of basic natural resources and then discover the similarities and differences of their usage and trade today. (Note: natural resources can be referred to as commodities, goods sold or exchanged to one individual in order to acquire the goods needed by another individual.)
In our modern society, we rarely consider the amount of communication and trade capacity between cultures living hundreds or even thousands of years ago. However, ancient peoples lack of communication and trade is not the case. In fact, some of the earliest writing about natural resource usage and trade are found in Mesopotamia pictograms dating to around 3100BCE, denoting trade and business transitions, see figures 1 and 2. “The development of trade was one of several important factors in Mesopotamia that created a need for writing. The development of complex societies, with social hierarchies, private property, economies that supported tax-funded authorities, and trade, all combined to create a need for written records.” (EDSITEment)
Fig. 1. Example of Mesopotamia pictogram about barley sales, the feather-like images denote barley and the dots the number of sales, trade or offering to the temple. (The British Museum)
Fig. 2. Example of Mesopotamia cuneiform, first writing system in the world, the horizontal feather-like images indicate barley sales, trade or offering to the temple. (The British Museum)
Many items were mined and traded throughout the Mesopotamian region, such as gold, copper, lapis lazuli (a deep blue stone with golden inclusions of pyrite), and alabaster. See map below for mining sites and trade routes of early Mesopotamia.
Map 1. Map of mining sites and trade routes in early Mesopotamia. (Penn Museum)
Of course, Mesopotamia is not the only ancient civilization who actively traded their goods. There were many routes throughout the lands around the world. As you will see, in map 2, by the 1st century CE, there were a number of natural resources being traded, indicated on the map, from the western coasts of Europe to the eastern shores of China.
Map 2. Trade Routes of 1st Century CE Map, showing regions where the natural resources originate. (Awesome Stories, 2013)
In modern times, we refer to natural resources as the gross domestic product or GPD of a countries national wealth. Today we know that larger and more terrestrial diverse countries will have more natural resources to trade with other countries. However, compared to ancient times we see some of the same types of traded goods still being mined and traded from the same regions they were almost 2000 years ago. For example, when modern people think about certain traded items, such as silk, wine, and olive oil, they may think of China, Italy, and Greece, respectively. This is because these items were at one time synonymous with these countries.
However, in today’s modern societies we have become more concerned with the over usage of the Earth’s natural resources due to an unprecedented population growth in the last 200 years. During ancient times, ancient people did not fully know how to exploit their natural resources as we do today. One such exploitation was with the invention of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928, which revolutionize not only medicine but also the way we viewed natural resources.
It was during the mid-1900’s that science started to actively reach out to various cultural groups around the world because most cultures rooted in ancient doctrine relied on holistic means of healing. These holistic means of healing are derived from natural resources either from local plants, herbs, and spices or from the cultural groups they engaged in traded. The production of a number of medicines to treat a host of bacteria, fungal, viral infections and pain, fever, and inflammation reducers would be invented, see table 1 below.
Table 1. List of well-established drugs that were discovered as a result of analyzing chemical properties of plants used by traditional healers. (Wright, 2008, p. 249)
A natural resource is basically a commodity produced, mined or manufactured from a particular region on Earth and is used to support life. Many different types of commodities are traded to other regions around the global to make daily activities easier.
A number of natural resources are found on Earth, such as oil, coal, natural gas, metals, animals, and plants. All of these types of natural resources can be used to create various items for human consumption and usage. Also, natural resources, in the form of raw material, can be used to make everyday household items, such as shoes, clothes, vehicles, computers and even medical products.
Awesome Stories. (2013). trade routes of 1st century map. Retrieved from http://www.awesomestories.com/assets/trade-routes-of-1st-century-map.
EDSITEment. (n.d.). The cuneiform writing system in ancient mesopotamia: Emergence and evolution. Retrieved from http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/cuneiform-writing-system-ancient-mesopotamia-emergence-and-evolution.
Penn Museum. (n.d.). Trade. Retrieved from http://www.penn.museum/sites/iraq/?page_id=52.
The British Museum. (n.d.). Writing. Retrieved from http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/writing/story/sto_set.html.
Wright, RT. (2008). Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future, 10th ed.. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.