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Lesson 2.3: Essential Innovations into and from the Mediterranean Region, 5000–1000 BCE


Lesson 2.3: Essential Innovations into and from the Mediterranean Region, 5000–1000 BCE


Topic 3: Technology and Cultural Innovation


This lesson traces the origins and diffusion of three major developments and innovations, in transportation, metallurgy, and language, and describes how historians have explored the evidence of their development and movement beyond their origins. These innovations are horse and camel riding and the wheel; mining and metalworking on copper, gold, bronze and iron; and the origins of major language groups in the Mediterranean (indo-european, semitic, afroasiatic (north African). An important part of the lesson is understanding how research into these innovations has revealed interconnections among them. Each of these developments illustrates the way in which the wider world affected and was affected by the Mediterranean region.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies




2014 Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


2-3 class periods (approx. 1 for each segment)


• Students will trace the origins of horse domestication and describe archaeologists’ understanding of the location and transition to horse riding, and its spread from the Eurasian Steppe to the Mediterranean.

• They will locate and trace the chronology of the invention of the wheel and its spread, its relationship to domestication of animals (oxen, donkeys, and horses), and the rise of chariot warfare in the Mediterranean region.

• They will locate and trace the spread of camel transport and military use in the arid zones surrounding the Mediterranean.

• They will locate and trace the origins of metalworking in copper, bronze, and iron and describe its impact on human culture.

• They will identify three major language groups spoken around the Mediterranean and trace their origins (Indo-European, Afro-asiatic, Semitic), and describe their relationship to the emergence of writing systems.

• They will locate regions where these language families are spoken today.


• Student Handout 2.3.1 – Horses, Wheels and Riding

• Student Handout 2.3.2 -- Metals

• Student Handout 2.3.3 – Language families

• Student Handout 2.3.4a, 2.3.4b – charts of word similarities in Indo-European and Semitic languages

• Student Handout 2.3.5a – alphabets and languages (chart of Phoenician-Greek-Latin letters & corresp sounds; Chart of Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic ditto).

• Student Handout 2.3.5b – Inscription Artifacts

Lesson Plan Text

1. HORSE AND WHEEL: Review with students some domesticated animals from ancient times. Ask if horses are different from sheep, goats and cattle, dogs and cats. Have students think about what horses mean in our culture today.

2. Provide students with Handout 2.3.1. It traces in image and text some evidence of horses, wheels, and chariot warfare. The examples reflect scholars’ efforts to understand when horses were domesticated, when they were ridden and how the spread of the wheel and the spread of Indo-European languages are related to migration from the Eurasian Steppe. Students can work in pairs or groups to answer the question that follows most of the numbered (1-11) evidence examples. They should also locate these places mentioned on a map.

3. Discuss the questions and other ideas as a class. As a culminating activity, print out a copy of Student Handout 2.3.1 and cut out each text and image. Using removable tape, attach each image to the location on the map that it represents. The result will be a classroom display to share, which will show how distant events in Eurasia influenced events and culture in the Mediterranean region in profound ways.

4. METALLURGY & THE MEDITERRANEAN: Introduce or review the concept of the Stone Ages, the first use of metals such as copper and gold, and Bronze Age (3000-2500 BCE), and the Iron Age (1200-1000 BCE), and open the Tiki-Toki timeline of Mediterranean Technology from Module 1). Have students locate Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age on the timeline, and note the length of time each lasted, and how long after the Neolithic Revolution they began, and how long ago they are from the present.

5. Assign Student Handout 2.3.2, a reading on the development of metallurgy (copper, bronze, and iron) and its impact on society (economic, social, political), and the environment. The handout provides a brief overview of the technology with images. Metal artisans and supporting workers (including slaves), such as smiths and miners, merchants, sailors, and soldiers who consumed armor and weapons, were part of an organized industry in the Mediterranean. Tin is fairly rare, so in the search for sources of the metal, trade networks widened, helping to disseminate other ideas. Taking notes by generating a word web or relationship diagram will help to “forge” the connections from this narrative.

6. At the end of this part of the lesson, students should be able to narrate how a single technology can spur interrelated changes in many aspects of society. Another way to enrich this lesson by imagining further connections is to search for bronze objects from the perioid in museums (for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History ( Ask questions about the kind of objects that were made in bronze, and why (temple objects, statues, masks, vessels, ceremonial weapons, ornaments, grave goods), and how they illustrate the connections between different realms of social change.

7. LANGUAGES AND MIGRATION: Ask students to write the following on an index card or paper: (1) how many languages they speak, and where they speak them (at home, on social media sites, when traveling, with multi-lingual family members). (2) Ask them to write one or two similar words in these languages. (3) Ask for 1-2 examples of a root word that appears in the vocabulary of a language they know, e.g the Latin root vox, vocis for “voice” in “vocabulary.”

8. Set-up for Student Handout 2.3.3 As a class, discuss what students know about how languages today are related to ancient languages. How do languages spread today? (mass communication, travel, language lessons) How did languages spread before writing systems? (with people moving or traveling, through the naming of new things found or introduced through trade, etc). Use Student Handout 2.3.3 to introduce the concept of language families spoken in the Mediterranean region and their geographic origins and spread. Note the issues posed in the introductory paragraph on the connection between migration and languages, and the factors that make people decide to and be able to migrate. On the map, have students trace the pathways of these languages with their finger, noticing multiple directions of migrations over time, and in relation to the Mediterranean and surrounding lands. See Christopher Ehret video (20 minutes) on Afro-Eurasian Language families and early human migration at

9. Student Handout 2.3.4a and 2.3.4b introduce the difference between alphabetic/phonetic vs. pictographic language, and its impact on literacy. examples of Cuneiform, Hieroglypics (just 2), then examples of Phoenician/Punic, Tifinagh, Linear B, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew from inscriptions of the period.Compare letters across several languages for similarities using Student Handout 2.3.5.

10. ASSESSMENT/SUMMATIVE: Conduct culminating activities that relate the three areas discussed in this lesson. Make a word web based on three circles placed in a triangle with additional circles radiating from them. Groups of three students, each representing one area suggest a connection, and each of the other two name a connection in turn.

11. Summarizing what has been learned—transportation by wheel and horse, metallurgy, language groups and writing systems were changes that developed within the Mediterranean region and reached adjacent areas (near and far), or developed outside the region and arrived in the Mediterranean region. All three of these clusters of innovation had major impacts. Students review what they have learned and identify specific ways in which these changes were connected, (and marshall evidence for their ideas).



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 2.3: Essential Innovations into and from the Mediterranean Region, 5000–1000 BCE,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,