Monday, November 17, 2014

Non-fiction: Smart Green Civilizations - green lessons from the past

Smart Green Civilizations - green lessons from the past
Text by Benita Sen
Published by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) press.
Ages 8-12 years

These are a set of 7 books - Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient China, Indus Valley, and Ancient America. There could have been one more - Ancient Australia - which was populated for centuries by the Aborigine people, who have their own distinctive culture.

In each book, Teri, a little girl, gets transported across to one of the ancient civilizations, and is given a guided tour by an iconic person/god associated with that civilization. The reader, along with Teri, gets a peak into how the people then lived, the gods they worshipped, the beliefs they had, the houses they lived in, the food they ate, and the great ideas each civilization has given to the world.

In Ancient Mesopotamia, we learn about the invention of farming, the wheel, the first sailboats, and writing which developed for purposes of business and record-keeping, and the fact that their sexagesimal system (to the base of 60) is still followed today in calculating time.

In Ancient Egypt, we learn how they knew how to harness the life-giving Nile waters for irrigation, the agriculture leading them to riches enough to build a great civilization. We learn about their phenomenal ship-building skills, their proficiency in mathematics that they used so well in building the pyramids, their knowledge of the human body and medicines that was useful in the mummifying techniques, and their pictorial writing - the hieroglyphs.

In Ancient Greece, we learn about the various gods, the Olympics that were dedicated to these gods, the Greek mathematicians, scientists, physicians, astronomers, etc., who still make sense to us, art and architecture - south facing homes that were built to trap the heat in winter, and avoid it in summer. We learn about the large ships they built that were driven by hundreds of slaves, thus giving them control over where they went, and the battles they fought, especially that of Troy.

In Ancient Rome, we learn about the civilization that set the tone for all later civilizations in the western world, about their social structure, their politics (democracy, the senate, the idea of a citizen), their elaborate meals, the grand architecture, the fine arts that borrowed a lot from the Greeks, and the knowledge of medicine and surgery (surgeons used painkillers made from the poppy plant).

In Indus Valley, we learn about the well planned towns and cities with their granaries, wells, baths and drainage systems, their trade relations with Mesopotamia, usage of domesticated animals for travel and for farming, and their as yet undeciphered script.

In Ancient America, we learn about one of the greatest ancient civilizations unknown to the rest of the world until almost 6 centuries ago - the Mayans and Incas. We learn about the various foods that originated there, that were staples - now very familiar to the rest of the world. Corn, chocolate, chillies, tomatoes - we cannot imagine modern food without all of these! We learn about their art, and their architecture, that they created without the use of the wheel - the wheel was found to exist there in recent findings, but was used only in children's toys, and not harnessed for travel or work as in the rest of the world.

In Ancient China, we learn about their social structure that was very strict in its hierarchy, the innovative farming and cuisine, that made excellent use of whatever was locally available, the art of silk making that originated here, and was kept a closely guarded secret for centuries. We learn about the Great Wall and the terracotta army that was buried with an emperor in his tomb, the ancient wisdom and sciences - medicine, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and much more. The Chinese script is like calligraphy, and unlike any other script - each character stands for something, and thousands of characters have to be learned to be able to read and write.

There are many more things we learn about each civilization. But above all, we learn, in the footnotes on each page and on the last page of each book, made from re-cycled paper, how these peoples used natural resources and lived in harmony with nature, using environmentally friendly methods.

An excellent set to introduce a child reader to each of these ancient civilizations, and impart a message on environmentally friendly living.

Images courtesy goodreads.

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