Civilization or civilisation generally refers to polities which combine three basic institutions: a ceremonial centre (a formal gathering place for social and cultural activities), a system of writing, and a city. The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements, characterized by a ruling elite, and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending man's control over both nature, and over other human beings.
The emergence of civilization is generally associated with the final stages of the Neolithic Revolution, a slow cumulative process occurring independently over many locations between 10,000 and 3,000 BCE, culminating in the relatively rapid process of state formation, a political development associated with the appearance of a governing elite. This neolithic technology and lifestyle was established first in the Middle east (for example at Göbekli Tepe, from about 9,130 BCE), and Yangtze and later Yellow river basin in China (for example the Pengtoushan culture from 7,500 BCE), and later spread. But similar "revolutions" also began independently from 9,000 years ago in such places as Mesoamerica at the Balsas River and in Papua New Guinea. This revolution consisted in the development of the domestication of plants and animals and the development of new sedentary lifestyles which allowed economies of scale and productive surpluses.
Towards the end of the Neolithic period, various Bronze Age civilizations begin to rise in various "cradles" from around 3300 BCE. Civilizations, as defined above, also developed in Pre-Columbian Americas and much later in Africa. The Bronze Age collapse was followed by the Iron Age around 1200 BCE. A major technological and cultural transition to modernity began approximately 1500 CE in western Europe, and from this beginning new approaches to science and law spread rapidly around the world.
Assessments of what level of civilization a polity has reached are based on comparisons of the relative importance of agricultural as opposed to trade or manufacturing capacities, the territorial extensions of its power, the complexity of its division of labor, and the carrying capacity of its urban centres. Secondary elements include a developed transportation system, writing, standardized measurement, currency, contractual and tort-based legal systems, art, architecture, mathematics, scientific understanding, metallurgy, political structures, and organized religion.
Traditionally, polities that managed to achieve notable military, ideological and economic power defined themselves as "civilized" as opposed to other societies or human grouping which lay outside their sphere of influence, calling the latter barbarians, savages, and primitives. while in a modern-day context, "civilized people" have been contrasted with indigenous people or tribal societies. Use of the word "civilized" is often controversial because it could imply superiority or inferiority. There is a controversial tendency to use the term in a less strict way, to mean approximately the same thing as "culture" and therefore, the term can more broadly refer to any important and clearly defined human society. Still, even when used in this second sense, the word is often restricted to apply only to societies that have a certain set of characteristics, especially the founding of cities.