The assertion that our present-day world is a product of the past

Events of the past have had great impact on the world, affecting both the inhabitants and the physical components. It is possible to learn from the mistakes and successes that predecessors experienced by understanding their reasoning and methods and it is through this learning process that the world has developed to become as it is now.

This essay will explore changes to the physical environment; human creations in the progression of civilisation including technology, culture and the built environment; and attempt to provide suggestions as to which aspects of the world change more frequently and on a larger scale and why these differences occur. Changes in the physical environment occur due to the effect of human activity and of natural phenomena. It is human activity that seems to cause more frequent changes yet the natural phenomena that trigger the most severe adaptations to the physical environment.

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A human factor such as mining has an obvious influence on the natural surroundings. Gold has always been highly sought after but the ancient Egyptian peoples had a particular interest in this valuable metal. To them it was a symbol of eternity, it did not tarnish easily and was the colour of the sun (Davies and Friedman 1998). There were plentiful supplies of Gold in Egypt, namely Nubia and the deserts east of the Nile valley and there is evidence of both surface and underground mining.

Mining was also an important factor for Roman civilisations, especially that of coal for underfloor heating systems, “hypocausts”, in bath houses and lead for items such as pipes and ingots (Wilkinson 2000). Limestone was quarried for building use and indeed, much of Hadrian’s wall that stretches from Newcastle to Carlisle in the north of England, consists of this material. It is estimated that this wall originally contained 3. 7 million tonnes of stone and this would clearly have had a significant impact on the landscape (Wilkinson 2000).

Mineral Extraction is known to be a major cause of land subsidence as in Johannesberg, South Africa where de-watering to allow deeper mining formed eight sinkholes larger than 50 metres in diameter (Simmons 1989). The constant exploitation of mineral resources by past peoples has led to the near exhaustion of some in addition to alterations to the landscape from land subsidence or the complete removal of material due to quarrying. The maintenance and renewal of structures dramatically changed the form of the land as new developments were constructed in place of old ones.

In London the waterfronts were first constructed on the reclaimed land of the river. The river of today is situated over 90 metres south of where it was originally due to the repair and replacement of these waterfront structures (Clout 1991). The first known inhabitants of London were the Romans, who designated it their key port as well as administration and communication centre. A key factor in the success of an empire is for the ruler to be able to maintain control (Daniels et al 2001) and so communication was of extreme importance.

The network system of roads introduced by the Romans is a vital aspect in understanding how they were able to retain their empire for so long. The routes covered were direct and straight so far as was possible, with basic surveying techniques used to ensure this was the case. Through the extensive road network, the Romans were able to control their empire. Their power was advanced by the relatively quick and easy exchange of information and ideas. The armies could move easily in order to capture more of the country and were constantly supplied with provisions and military materials.

Trade and industry were improved as it was an entire system of roads that linked major ports to towns and means of defence. Taxation was enabled in widespread areas. “These roads represent the most useful of the great works raised by the conquerors, and they are the most enduring in their effects” (Ward 1911). Indeed much of this road network still exists, two thousand years later. Roads as a method of communication still play a major role today and many are simply developments of what was there before due to increased usage and advances in technology.

Many of the towns as we know them today were founded in Roman times, Exeter is an example of this. The towns were the centre of trade and industry and grew up based on three key circumstances: as the Romans gained more power the armies were needed less and the disused battlements were used to accommodate them, eventually growing into settlements; the Britons were keen to become “Romanized” and so built new capitals in the Roman style e. g. Leicester; the forts encouraged trade and merchants houses and markets were soon established nearby (Wilkinson 1998).

The towns were carefully planned, existing in a grid layout with water facilities such as bath houses, sewers and lavatories incorporated. The rapid increase in population with the arrival of the Romans meant more pressure on agriculture for the production of food and in due course the initiation of new technology e. g. plough with a ridging board, metal blades as opposed to wooden ones and a reaping machine. It was the resources of the rural areas combined with the mining industry that allowed for the survival and success of towns in Roman times.

Settlements such as this permitted the existence of markets in order to sell produce in addition to being trading hubs and housing administrative and governing organizations. It is this physical infrastructure that is today as it was then, an essential part of civilised living. A fundamental aspect of people existing as a group are the common beliefs in terms of spirituality and often, how faith is expressed. The foundation and subsequent division of religions has been a continuous occurrence throughout history.