They say old habits die hard. I guess new ones are born harder, if that makes any sense. And that is the only excuse I have for missing last week’s column (it should have been ready by Saturday, and it wasn’t).
I could shameslessly quote my last entry and remind you that the week is completely arbitrary, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just apologize for being late and create a better reminder for this week!
So here I am again, writing about time. Today I’d like to defend a thesis (not my own) that Astronomy could have been one of the most powerful pushes in the creation of modern civilization.
Archeologists define a city (or an urban area) as a place where there are no crops. Ultimately, a city is a place where people live, but do not grow the food they consume. Rural areas, or farms, are the places where food is grown. Urban areas, or cities, are not.
The logic is simple: if you can live in a place where no food is being grown, that means that somewhere, someone is growing the food you are going to eat. And, obviously, this someone must have the ability to grow more food than he and his family need, in order to take the surplus into the city and sell it to you, urban citizen.
There are a lot of tools and techniques that can make someone grow more food than they need, especially nowadays. But one of the first, and most important, was the understanding of the seasonal cycles.
When farmers finally understood that they could “read” the seasons in the stars, and predict the comings and goings of Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, they leaped into an age of optimized crops, allowing people to move away and form the first urban gatherings, or cities.
It is definitely not a coincidence that the first cities were founded in where Iraq stands today; it also happens to be the place of birth of Astronomy as we know it. ■