Ancient Civilization And Sustainable Lifestyle

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‘We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children’, this advice prods us to contemplate the future, and not only the present. Instead of living just for today and gratifying our own immediate needs, we should think about how our current actions will affect the future generations and that is why sustainability is a prerequisite for our lifestyle. It is through a sustainable lifestyle we can meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfil their own needs. But then the question arises how can we learn it? The researcher aims to find out the roots of sustainable lifestyle from our ancient civilizations by using the wisdom of our elders and how the modern civilization has outdone the latter in its vogue to live a lifestyle embedded with sustainability. The paper is a qualitative one based on secondary data. The researcher through this paper has connected the dots between ancient civilization and sustainable lifestyle in various sectors like agriculture, architecture, health, etc. And as is quoted by Mahatma Gandhi – “Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed”, the outcome of this study underlines that sustainability too is a joint effort and can never be achieved otherwise. The paper also enlists the measures that can be assimilated from ancient civilization to achieve development and at the same time acknowledging the much needed sustainability.

Keywords: Sustainability, civilization, lifestyle, development, wisdom

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“A sustainable lifestyle means rethinking our ways of living, how we buy and how we organize our everyday life. It is also about altering how we socialize, exchange, share, educate and build identities. It means transforming our societies and living in harmony with our natural environment. As citizens, at home and at work, many of our choices – on energy use, transport, food, waste, communication and solidarity – contribute towards building sustainable lifestyles.” The value and ethos of Indian philosophy have always emphasized assuring a sustainable lifestyle for the well-being of the present and future generations. The key perplexing question is whether development must be compromised in order to ensure sustainability.

When sustainability is conferred in relation to limited resources, it has been appropriately quoted, ‘We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children’, this proverb just does not emphasize on the difference between the words, ‘ancestors’ and ‘children’, but the difference between, ‘inherit’ and ‘borrow’. When it comes to the earth, no one owns it. In this sense, we do not ‘inherit’, we are simply ‘borrowing’. When we borrow something, then we need to take care of it, since we are accountable to our future generations.


· To find out the practices which we can learn from our ancient civilizations to lead a sustainable lifestyle and how did our ancestors reduce their ecological foot print, and what methods did they use?

· To study the innovations implemented by the modern civilizations for making themselves sustainable.

Research Problem

With the advent of technology and modernisation, the lifestyle and way of doing things have seen drastic as well as frequent changes. Though it is being said that, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”, but this change should not compromise the ability of future generations to fulfil their own needs.

Research Methodology

The research paper is descriptive and qualitative one. The data used to study the relationship between ancient civilization and sustainable lifestyle is secondary in nature collected from different sources like journals, articles, web links, books and periodicals. There is no empirical touch to this paper.


Ancient Civilization & Architecture

Ancient civilizations people were viewed as simple, primitive people, just a couple of decades ago.  However, number of surprising facts have been revealed about ancient cultures after numerous discoveries since then, namely that many of them possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and more. Some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient civilizations have left scientists/archaeologists scratching their heads. Following are some of those from whom we can learn the much needed sustainability too:

1. Aqueducts and hydro technology

Who would have thought that to solve water access problems, years old technology would have been looked upon by 21st century governments for guidance? But, Lima, Peru is the place where it is happening.

Water security of the entire country was undermined due to the chronic problems of severe water crisis that has been faced by Peru, such as polluted water supplies, combined with environmental change. However, Sedapal, Lima’s water utility company has put forward a new plan, in order to supply unpolluted, clean water to the population by reviving Wari culture’s ancient network of stone canals that was built by them in around 500 AD. Canals were used to capture the mountain water during the rainy season in the advanced water conservation system built by the Wari culture. During the dry season, the water was transported to the places where it could feed the springs further down the mountain through the canals to maintain the flow of the rivers.

2. Concrete

What’s the secret behind the structures that were built by the Romans 2000 year ago from concrete as these structures have to this day maintained their structural integrity? Whereas, on the other hand 100 to 120 years is typically the time period for which concrete structures of today lasts for.

Concrete was made by mixing volcanic rock, lime and seawater by the Romans. A chemical reaction is triggered instantly when the three components are combined, in which the lime incorporated molecules into its structure and the whole mixture cements together when it reacted with the ash. Ideal crystalline structure of Tobermorite were contained in the ancient seawater, which has a greater strength and durability than the modern equivalent. Being environmentally-friendly as well as more durable are the qualities which defines the Roman concrete when compared with the today’s concrete. Significant amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere for producing the conventional modern cement as it requires heating a mix of clays and limestone to 1,450 degrees Celsius. In contrast, much less lime and much less fuel was required to produce the Roman cement as it was made from baking limestone at 900 degrees Celsius.

3. Stone Cutting and Walls

The precision of the creations of the modern day, produced with advanced machinery are rivalled with the precision of the numerous examples of ancient stone-cutting that can be found around the world. Puma Punku, an ancient archaeological site in Bolivia, is one such prime example which is dated to 15,000 years old by some historians, as it contains such incredible stonework that it looks as if the stones were cut using a diamond tool. Enormous blocks consisting of perfectly straight edges, that weighs up to 800 tons contain no chisel marks and lock perfectly into each other. The precision of the stonework has not been able to be replicated with failed attempts.

The Inca civilization is well-known for its advanced masonry work, much of which can still be seen today in Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman in Peru. Their large dry stone walls display huge blocks that had been carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar and with levels of precision unmatched anywhere else in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward (to prevent damage in the event of an earthquake) have puzzled scientists for decades.  The method used to match precisely the shape of a stone with the adjacent stones is still unknown and attempts to recreate the technique have all failed.

4. City planning

Urban planners and scientists have been astounded because of numerous ancient cities that have been unearthed in the last century.

With the discovery of the 5,000-year-old site of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, what archaeologists discovered found was unprecedented in the region –an exceptional level of civic amenities and planning was demonstrated in the city. Brick-built toilets and bathrooms were found in the houses and the wastewater from these drains into well-built brick sewers covered with bricks or stone slabs that ran along the centre of the streets. Public supplies of drinking water was managed with wells and cisterns finely constructed of wedge-shaped. As per an estimate, around 40,000 inhabitants would have been living in the city in those days.

In the same era, Caral – another great city but on another continent was being constructed., Caral is a 5,000-year-old city, located in the Supe Valley in Peru, that consisted of plazas, temples, pyramids, amphitheatres alike huge monuments and residential areas. They had extensive agriculture, built water supply, developed an intricate irrigation system, developed the use of textiles, ate a varied diet and used a complex system for calculating and recording.

Caral is being looked upon by architects for inspiration in city planning. The building designs that was implemented by Caral to protect people from earthquakes is intended to be incorporated by the Japanese architects. To prevent collapse and dissipate earth movements, the houses of the people of Caral were suspended in baskets filled with stones.

Ancient Civilization & Agriculture

As it pertains to agriculture, sustainable describes farming systems that are ‘capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.’ Water scarcity in many places is due to overuse of surface and ground water for irrigation with little concern for the natural cycle that maintains stable water availability.

Sustainable agriculture must involve measures for soil conservation, water conservation and irrigation, and mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change. Large-scale afforestation, encompassing commercial forestry, farm forestry, social forestry, captive plantation as also adoption of community-based forest management practices are needed.

Critical evaluation of aspects of “modern” agriculture – particularly its costs and its inbuilt unsustainability associated with non-renewal resources like fertilisers based on imported petrochemicals – are leading to a felt need to take a relook at the varied practices associated with indigenous or traditional agriculture which cost little or nothing at all. It is also a given that prior to 1966, the use of deadly pesticides to deal with problem insects simply did not exist.

1. Maintaining Soil Fertility by method of rotation

Vedic people knew the method of improving the fertility of the soil by what may be called the method of rotation. As the Taittiriya Samhita mentions, ‘rotation of crops’ might have been practised in as much as rice would be sown in summer and pulses in winter on the same field. According to Roxburgh, the Father of Indian Botany, ‘the Western World is to be indebted to India for this system of sowing’.

2. Basin irrigation

Egyptians developed and utilized a form of water management known as basin irrigation. This practice allowed them to control the rise and fall of the river to best suit their agricultural needs. A crisscross network of earthen walls was formed in a field of crops that would be flooded by the river. When the floods came, the water would be trapped in the basins formed by the walls. This grid would hold water longer than it would have naturally stayed, allowing the earth to become fully saturated for later planting. Once the soil was fully watered, the floodwater that remained in the basin would simply be drained to another basin that was in need of more water.

3. Chinampa Plot

When we think of the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures people think about the, what’s the first thing that comes to our minds is human sacrifice. Whereas, than this practice, these civilizations are known for much more too. The so-called ‘floating gardens’ or the chinampa agricultural system was innovation which is worth a discussion, can be found in the Valley of Mexico on the shallow lake beds of the valley.

A rectangular enclosure was staked out into the marshy lakebed to construct a chinampa plot. The stakes were then joined with wattle to fence in the enclosure. After that, mud and decaying vegetation would be filled in the fenced in area. It was important that the fill brought the chinampa plot above the lake level, in order to prevent the roots from becoming water-logged. The chinampa plots were misattributed as ‘floating gardens’ as the canals surrounding them formed an illusion that these agricultural lands were floating on water. These plots were further stabilised by planting willows around the perimeter. The stability occurs due to anchoring of the retaining walls of the structure because of the dense root system and reduced the effects of erosion therby. Well management of the supply of water was vitial in order to ensure that good harvests are produced by the chinampas throughout the year. Though flooding would have been a problem during the rainy season. Hence, to counter this problem, a sophisticated drainage system, which included sluice gates, canals and dams were put in place. The city’s wastewater would have also been treated by using human excrement to fertilise the crops, thus the Aztecs were also able to create a healthier living environment.

There have been unsuccessful attempts of implementing the system of agriculture and waste water treatment as seen in those floating gardens of Mexico, in the modern times.

Innovations Of Modern Civilization

There’s never been a greater push for sustainable products and technologies than there is today. We’ve reached a critical point with regards to climate change, and many innovators and businesses are stepping up to the plate to build a green future.

Here are just some of the incredible break-throughs and initiatives that could change the world as we know it, and pave the way for a more sustainable way of living.

1. The Green Building Initiative: Building Homes and Reducing Emissions

The Green Building Initiative (GBI) is an international effort towards creating sustainable, resource efficient buildings. They offer a certification program for commercial buildings who adhere to their environmentally-friendly vision.

Their goal is to establish a standard of best practices for green buildings globally, as well as providing third-party assessment tools for sustainability requirements.

2. AirCarbon: A Sustainable Plastic For the Future

AirCarbon was developed by Newlight Technologies, and has already won many awards for its innovative sustainability. It’s made from carbon emissions that would otherwise be released into the air, and can have a multitude of uses.It’s a verified carbon-negative material, meaning every step of its production and use is fully green and sustainable. Because it is not made from oil like other plastics, it is also a cost-effective alternative to other synthetic materials.

3. ENGIE Insight: Resources for a Sustainable World

Formerly known as Ecova, ENGIE Insight is a sustainable resource management initiative that works with businesses to reduce environmental impacts. They provide technology and experts to help businesses with their goal of becoming more sustainable, and reducing their carbon footprint. To date, they’ve worked with AMTRAK, GameStop, and others to create resource-efficient business practices that don’t harm the environment

4. Demetra: Reducing Food Waste Organically

Created by Italian start-up Green Code, Demetra is an all-natural treatment for food preservation. It’s made from 100% plant extracts, and can improve the shelf life of natural produce. Thanks to Demetra, produce would no longer require to be kept at cold temperatures while in transit, saving a lot of energy. The produce itself could also stay fresh and ripe longer, effectively reducing food waste in supermarkets and groceries.

5. The Veganbottle: An All-Natural Alternative to Plastic Bottles

Created by LYSPACKAGING, the Veganbottle is made from an all-natural bioplastic that could replace plastic bottles forever. Everything in the Veganbottle, from the cap to the wrapper, is made from 100% biodegradable materials. The bottle is made from sugar cane extracts. Sugar cane requires far less water than other crops, and the manufacturing of the bottle itself depends on little energy. 

6. CloudFisher: Converting Fog Into Drinking Water

Created by Aqualonis, CloudFisher could allow people living in coastal or mountainous areas to convert fog into safe drinking water. This water can also be used to irrigate crops or forestry efforts. It’s made from a 3D mesh that can withstand high wind speeds, while still retaining water. It comes in a variety of sizes, to suit individual needs or the needs of entire villages.

7. Waitrose Delivery Vans: Vans Fuelled by Food Waste

Last year, British supermarket chain Waitrose introduced a new fleet of eco-friendly delivery vans. The vans run on biomethane, a sustainable green alternative to fossil fuels. Delivery vehicles are responsible for high levels of carbon emissions, and finding green alternatives to current delivery systems is crucial. Vans like the ones used by Waitrose could be a game-changer for delivery fleets across the world.


The researcher through this paper has connected the dots between ancient civilization and sustainable lifestyle in sectors like agriculture and architecture. And though the wisdom of our ancestors has taught us about various sustainable lifestyle practices still the modern civilizations are being innovative in their approach towards achieving a sustainable lifestyle as shown by the researcher through the seven break-throughs and initiatives.

References and Notes

  5. NCERT Books (Ancient Civilization)
  6. Various journal, periodicals, etc.


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