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Ancient Worlds

Ancient Worlds Gallery Drawn from Auckland Museum's own collections, Ancient Worlds illustrates the depth and variety of ancient civilisations and cultures throughout the world.

Most of what we know of our ancestors for almost all of human existence is told by their arts and artefacts left to us. These date back to simple stone tools 2,500,000 years old found in Africa. In the long Palaeolithic era that followed (Palaeo = old; lithic = stone) simple tools were fashioned from chipped stone to provide an effective cutting edge, food was hunted and gathered from wild animals and plants.

The first domestication of plants and animals took place ca 11-10,000 BC in south-west Asia, probably triggered by the end of the Ice Age not long before. The Agricultural or Neolithic Revolution was based on maintaining and harvesting plants and animals for future food supplies. Genetic improvement took place by conscious or unconscious human selection.  Increased food production led to population growth. Important plants were wheat, barley and millet.

Sheep and goats were the first animals to be domesticated followed by and cattle and pigs. In other parts of the world the process was similar but could be based on different plants and animals.

Five or six thousand years ago in a few places where conditions allowed, Neolithic farmers first gave way to more complex societies. It was the development of irrigation especially that allowed for intensive farming and thus further population growth, leading to new social and political structures.  Egypt is the greatest example. Common feature of these societies was the city and literacy, and a complex division of labour which included artists who created many of the items shown here for privileged political, religious and merchant classes.

‘Ancient Worlds’ shows how much all of the world’'s people have in common. Tools needed to butcher game, harvest crops, catch fish and work fibres and timber must meet the same requirements everywhere. But the artistic creativity of different societies could take them in very different directions.