Task - Ancient civilisations timeline



57,000 BC

60,000 years before present -- Earliest probable evidence of fire used deliberately to clear forests in the Kalambo Falls site in Tanzania. (Grove, 1995)

Destruction of rainforest

7000 BC

Emergence of Catal Huyuk, Jarmo and Alosh cultures in the Middle East.
The destruction of lush forests may have given rise to myths about the Garden of Eden. (O'Brien, 1985) Also see K.J.W. Oosthoek, The role of wood in world history.

Deforestation - Israel/Jordan

6000 BC

Deforestation leads to collapse of communities in southern Israel / Jordan. (Grove, 1995).

Deforestation leading to soil erosion and salinity - Sumeria

2700 BC

Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh describes vast tracts of cedar forests in what is now southern Iraq. Gilgamesh defies the gods and cuts down the forest, and in return the gods say they will curse Sumeria with fire (or possibly drought). By 2100 BC, soil erosion and salt buildup have devastated agriculture. One Sumerian wrote that the "earth turned white." Civilization moved north to Babylonia and Assyria. Again, deforestation becomes a factor in the rise and subsequent fall of these civilizations. (Perlin, 1991).

Forest protection laws in Ur

2700 BC

Some of the first laws protecting the remaining forests decreed in Ur. (Grove, 1995).

Commercial timbering for export purposes

2600 BC

Large scale commercial timbering of cedars in Phoenicia (Lebanon) for export to Egypt and Sumeria. Similar commercial timbering in South India.

Public health/ City sanitation

2500 BC

2500 BC -- Mohenjo Darro civilization of Indus River valley achieves high level of public health and citywide sanitation.

Soil erosion due to growth of city states

1500 BC

Soil erosion is both a consequence of growth and a cause of collapse of Central American city -states. (Grove, 1995).

Deforestation /land degradation

1450 BC

1450 BC -- Minoan civilization in the Mediterranean declines, but scholars are divided on the cause. Possibly a volcanic eruption was the source of the catastrophe. On the other hand, gradual deforestation may have led to materials shortages in manufacturing and shipping. Loss of timber and subsequent deterioration of its land was probably a factor in the decline of Minoan power in the late Bronze Age, according to John Perlin in A Forest Journey.

Animal care and rights

1300 B.C.

1300 B.C. -- Hebrew law as proclaimed by Moses includes provisions for humane slaughter and care of work animals. (M. Clifton, 2007)

Deforestation and soil erosion

1200 BC

1200 BC -- Troy dominates trade between the Aegean and Black seas due to its position on the north coast of what is now Turkey. Deforestation and soil erosion moves the coastline north over the millenia. The ancient city is rediscovered in 1870 when Heinrich Schliemann accounts for the accretion of the coast over the centuries.

Animal rights/ care and vegetarianism

740 B.C.

740 B.C. -- Rise of Isaiah, the most prominent of the Hebrew vegetarian prophets, and the prophet who most emphasized opposition to animal sacrifice.(M. Clifton, 2007)


600 B.C. - 500 B.C.

600-500 B.C. --Buddhism and Jainism rise in India. Buddha and Mahavir (a Jainist teacher) emphasize vegetarianism and compassion for all beings. Said Mahavir, "It is not enough to live and let live. You must help others live." This is the idea embodied in the Jain word "ahimsa." Both Jainism and Buddhism may have evolved from the beliefs and practices of the Bishnoi, Sindhi, and Thari people. The renowned Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar, described the Bishnoi in his 1997 book Land of the Tiger as "the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent. Link forward to 1778. (adapted from M. Clifton, 2007)

Vegetarianism/equality of women/reincarnation

580 B.C.

580 B.C. -- Birth of Pythagoras, Greek scientist and philosopher, who taught vegetarianism and the equality of women as part of a theory of reincarnation.


525 BC - 456 BC

Greek playwright Aeschylus 525-456 BC refers to barbarians in Promethius Bound: “Though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail; they had ears, but understood not. But like shapes in dreams, throughout their time, without purpose they wrought all things in confusion. They lacked knowledge of houses turned to face the sun, dwelling beneath the ground like swarming ants in sunless caves.” (Butti, 1979)

Public health/sewerage/water

500 BC

500 BC -- Cloaca Maxima (big sewer) is built in Rome by Etruscan dynasty of Tarquins. As Rome grows, a networks of cloacae (sewers) and aquaducts are built.

Deforestation/soil erosion

500 BC

500 BC - forward -- Greek coastal cities become landlocked after deforestation, which causes soil erosion. The siltation fills in the bays and mouths of rivers.

climate change/disease/environment

460 BC - 377 BC

Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 BC), considered the father of medicine, notes the effect of food, of occupation, and especially of climate in causing disease. One of his books, De aëre, aquis et locis (Air, Waters and Places), is the earliest work on human ecology.

Land degradation/soil erosion

427 BC - 347 BC

Greek philosopher Plato (427 – 347 BC) compared hills and mountains of Greece to the bones of a wasted body: "All the richer and softer parts have fallen away and the mere skelton of the land remains."
•• One river located in Southwestern Greece, the Maender, becomes so silted that its twists and turns come to represent a river wandering – or meandering

Land clearing/Deforestation

400 BC

400 BC – Greek general Thucydides, one of the first historians, writes the history of Peleponesian War largely because his own mission to protect valuable timber lands in northern Greece failed.

Animal rights/Protection

256 BC

256 BC -- India -- Seven Pillars -- King Ashoka (Piyadasi) of India issues Seven Pillar edicts, one of which states: "Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected -- parrots, mainas, ruddy geese, wild ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible... "

Asoka practiced a form of Buddhism which like Hinduism and Jainism holds that animals should not be eaten, and that an aged or disabled cow or work animal should be retired and well-treated. Asoka sent missionaries to Thailand and Sri Lanka to teach Buddhism, including his son Arahat Mahinda. Interupting a hunt upon arrival in Sri Lanka in 247 B.C., "Arahat Mahinda stopped King Devanampiyatissa from killing the deer and told the king that every living creature has an equal right to live," according to Sri Lankan elephant conservationist Jawantha Jayewardene. Persuaded, the king became a Buddhist and "decreed that no one should kill or harm any living being," Jayewardene continues. "He set apart a large area around his palace as a sanctuary that gave protection to all fauna and flora. This was called Mahamevuna Uyana, and is believed to be the first sanctuary in the world." Arahat Mahinda and the other Asokan emissaries also introduced animal sheltering as a central function of monasteries wherever they went. Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka to this day often double as animal shelters, though at some the custom was long ago distorted into keeping just a lone chained temple elephant. (M. Clifton, 2007)

According to Buddhist scholar Ven. S. Dhammika, Ashoka is significant today. "...With widespread disillusionment in prevailing ideologies and the search for a political philosophy that goes beyond greed (capitalism), hatred (communism) and delusion (dictatorships led by "infallible" leaders), Asoka's edicts may make a meaningful contribution to the development of a more spiritually based political system."

Chemicals/Environmental health

200 BC

200 BC – Greek physician Galen observes copper miners and notes the danger of acid mists. Galen, Hippocrites and other physicians take individual medicine to new levels of understanding. Around the same time, poet and physician Nicander condemns "deadly white lead" used as a paint and cosmetic.

Pollution/Public health

65 BC - 8 BC

Pollution is typically found in pre-industrial cities where people burn wood and work at crafts and industry. "The smoke, the wealth, the noise of Rome..." held no charms for the Roman poet Horace and many of his contemporaries. As residents of what had become the largest city in the world, ancient Romans were well aware of the problem of air pollution. They called it gravioris caeli (heavy heaven) or infamis aer (infamous air). Odors and runoff from garbage, sewage and industries such as smelting or tanning also fouled the air and water.

As dirty as Rome must have been, the Romans are also remembered for setting a new standard for public health. Public physicians are appointed to attend the poor, and hospitals are built throughout the empire. The city of Rome has aquaducts bringing clean water to gymnasiums and public baths. Many areas of the city have sewage or use reservoirs for sending freshets of waters to sweep streets clean. A similar level of public health would not return to Europe until the mid 18th century or later.

Animal rights/vegetarianism

34 B.C.

34 B.C. -- Approximate date of the birth of Jesus of Nazereth. In accurate historical context, Jesus appears to have been the most militant leader of his time of Jewish opposition to animal sacrifice, which was then still practiced--in very high volume--at the Jerusalem temple. Jesus built directly upon the teachings of the vegetarian prophet Isaiah, and his direct predecessor in advocacy, the vegetarian John the Baptist. The Jerusalem Christian church, founded by Jesus' brother James, taught and practiced vegetarianism, and historian Keith Akers argues in The Lost Religion of Jesus (2001) that after about 200 years of recorded existence, the congregation became the forebears of the Sufi sect within Islam. "The Sufis express an extraordinary interest in Jesus and have sayings of Jesus and stories about Jesus found nowhere in Christianity," according to Akers. "Especially
interesting and significant is the treatment of Jesus by al-Ghazali, an 11th century Islamic mystic who is widely credited with making Sufism respectable within Islam." The Jesus described by al-Ghazali "lives in extreme poverty, disdains violence, loves animals, and is vegetarian," Akers summarizes. "It is clear that al-Ghazali is drawing on a tradition rather than creating a tradition because some of the same stories that al-Ghazali relates are related by others both before and after him, and also because al-Ghazali himself is not a vegetarian and clearly has no axe to grind. Thus, these stories came from a pre-existing tradition that describes Jesus as a vegetarian." (M. Clifton, 2007)

environmental health / OH&S/chemicals

23 AD - 79 AD

23-79 AD • Pliny the Elder – Historian notes use of bladders as respirators by workers in zinc smelters.


46 AD - 120 AD

46-120 AD -- Life of Plutarch, Roman biographer and historian whose works were part of a standard classical education for 1,700 years before his lesser-known essays "On the Eating of Animal Flesh" and about animal intelligence found a fully receptive audience. Plutarch especially influenced the 19th century vegetarianism (and attempted vegetarianism) of American Transcendentalist and Abolitionist leaders including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott (and his daughter Louisa May Alcott), and Henry David Thoreau. Following the example of Plutarch, who founded a successful vegetarian community at Chaeronea, the Alcotts founded a vegetarian commune called Fruitlands in 1843, which ran afoul of an ill-timed dalliance by Bronson Alcott with a female member who was not his wife. Plutarch also persuaded the conversion to vegetarianism in 1811-1812 of the British Romantic poet Percy Shelley and of his second wife Mary, whose 1818 novel Frankenstein was the first prominent literary expression of anxiety about human scientific meddling in the life process. Other prominent vegetarians who attributed their beliefs in part to Plutarch included French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and Russian novelist and advocate of vegetarianism Leo Tolstoy. (M. Clifton, 2007)


Ancient civilisation - sustainability

OH&S/Public health/Chemicals

100 AD - 400 AD

100 AD - 400 AD – Decline of Roman Empire may have been partly due to lead poisoning, according to modern historian and toxicologist Jerome Nriagu. Romans used lead acetate ("sugar of lead") to sweeten old wine and turn grape pulp into a sweet condiment. Usually the acidic wine or pulp was simply left in a vat with sheets of lead. An aristocrat with a sweet tooth might have eaten as much as a gram of lead a day. Widespread use of this sweetener would have caused gout, sterility, insanity and many of the symptoms which were, in fact, present among the aristocrats. High levels of lead have been found in the bones of aristocratic Romans. Far more than simply using lead pipes or lead utensils, the direct consumption of lead-sweetened wine and foods created serious and widespread lead poisoning among upper-class Romans.

OH&S/chemicals/public health

100 AD

100 AD -- Occupational disease is well known in ancient Rome. Workers in lead and mercury mines and smelters are known to suffer from the metals, according to Rome’s famous engineer Vitruvius. While slaves are often used in the lead and mercury mines, Plutarch recommends that only criminal slaves be used. It was not just, he said, to expose non-criminals to these conditions.

Solar power

100 AD

100 AD – Hero of Alexandria experiments with solar powered pumps.

Medical/Veterinarian/Animal health

341 AD

341 AD -- Sri Lankan King Buddhad-stra found a higher calling as a veterinarian.

Vegetarian/martial arts

497 AD

497 -- Formation of the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, by Ba Tuo, a vegetarian Buddhist evangelist from India. Although Shaolin from 527 on was also influential in spreading the non-vegetarian branch of Buddhism throughout China, strict followers of Ba Tuo have remained vegetarian despite centuries of oppression from foes including dog-eater sects, Genghis Khan, tyrannical Chinese warlords and emperors, and the Communists under Mao tse Tung. Rather than bear arms against other living beings, the monks of Shaolin gradually invented, developed, and popularized the practices of judo, ju-jitsu, and karate.

Environmental health/environment

535 AD

535 AD -- Legal code (Institutes) of Roman emperor Justinian issued. In the section on the Law of Things, the first entry is:

"By the law of nature these things are common to mankind---the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea."

Animal health

570 AD - 622 AD

622-570 -- Muhammed built Islam on existing regional religious beliefs, apparently including the teachings of the remnants of the Jerusalem branch of Christianity, which may have become the Sufi branch of Islam. These included pro-animal teachings. According to Islamic scholar Jasmi Bin Abdul, "The care and love of wild animals has been emphasized both in the Qur'an as well as in Sunna, the traditions of the Prophet. In verse 54:28, there is a reference to Allah insisting that the people of Tamud share the water with their camels. In the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad, we see many instances to show that He advocated kindness toward animals. According to one tradition, Allah punished a woman because she imprisoned a cat until the cat died of hunger. The Prophet also tells us that a prostitute's sins were forgiven because she gave water to a thirsty dog," a story which if better known would suggest that women subject to the Islamic fundamentalist law of Sharia should be spared stoning for alleged adultery if they have been kind to the street dogs who are much feared and despised in many Islamic nations. [ANIMAL PEOPLE has verified the authenticity of the story by finding three other scholarly references to it.]

Water storage/sewerage


80 AD The Roman Senate passes a law to protect water stored during dry periods so it can be released for street and sewer cleaning.