The Nature and Limits of History The Limitations of History The Concepts of Pre- and Proto-History
PART I: PRE- AND PROTO- HISTORIC ROOTS OF ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS: THE INTELLECTUAL AND SPIRITUAL UNDERPINNINGS OF ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS A. Evidence of early Accomplishments 1.The PALEOLITHIC to 45000 BCE. The matter of human origins is a study appropriate to ARCHAEOLOGY, the BIOLOGICAL Sciences, and to such METAPHYSICAL studies as THEOLOGY. This course begins at that point in time where archaeology supplies sufficient information to provide some insight into the mind of NEANDERTHAL and early CRO MAGNON [i.e., Modern Man]. 2. The Late PALEOLITHIC, 45000 - 10000 BCE. Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis disappeared at the beginning of this era, but he left behind evidence of his Spiritual perceptions. This is most clearly seen in a. Neanderthal Burials at SHANIDAR in northern IRAQ, excavated by Richard Solecki, and in Russian Turkestan. The Shanidar grave contained the body of a 42 year old man, sprinkled with flowers. The Turkestan grave contained a 4 year old boychild buried with the accouterment of a warrior. b. The Meaning of Grave Goods. The Shanidar burial is not in and of itself evidence of a belief in an Afterlife. But in the case of the boy from Turkestan, one must ask why a boy, who could not have been a warrior, were buried with such equipment unless there were an expectation that he might need it? This is the best evidence of a belief in an afterlife 45,000 years ago, though it is not proof. c. The "Bear Cult" of central Europe and the intriguing cave art of southwestern Europe provide evidence, but not proof, of a belief in life after death. However, the paintings scattered around the world, especially those of western Europe, reveal that ancient man was concerned with both beauty and communication. d. Alexander Marshak and ICE AGE Time-Factoring. After Marshak identified the ISHANGO Bone [B.1, below], he investigated scratched pebbles and other materials from the last Ice Age in EUROPE and discovered inconclusive evidence of time-keeping [time factoring] as far back as about 45000 years. The conclusion to Section A is that late Neanderthal and early Modern Man were spiritually and intellectually more sophisticated than the popular image of them suggests. This was certainly true of the people of the Neolithic period.
B. NEOLITHIC Man, to 8000 BCE 1. The Ishango bone from modern Uganda in equatorial east Africa was identified by Marshak as a Lunar Calendar, dated about 9000 BCE. Lunar calendars measure the recurrent changes in the face of the Moon. These changes repeat approximately every 28 days. A lunar calendar can only treat time in segments of 28 days. After many Moons even the best memory would be unable to correlate an event and the Moon within which it occurred. Sun defined the Day. Moon defined the Month. Subdivisions of the month were defined by the Phases of the Moon roughly correspond- ing to the Week: New Moon to Crescent Moon, Crescent to Full Moon, Full to Crescent, Crescent to New Moon. Some means of defining longer periods of time was necessary before the Year could be delineated. The Flood-based year of Egypt, though cor- related with the star Sirius, corresponded to the Solar Year. The Solar year became (and remains) the basic unit of time, but the discovery of the solar year may have come 6000 years after the discovery of the lunar month. For thousands of years mankind attempted to correlate the Month and the Year with other recurrent phenomena such as the unreliable wet/dry seasons of the tropics, the unreliable four seasons of temperate lands, the complex but unreliably measured interplay of the fixed and mobile lights in the Sky. The periodi- city of the Sun may not have been discovered by the residents of the Nile Valley. The builders of Stonhenge knew of the solar year by about 3000 BCE. Other peoples probably knew of it just as soon. Recognition of periodicity in the movements of the Sun was followed by an effort to count the number of days in a solar year. MAYAN time keepers knew the correct number of days (and parts-of-a-day) in a solar year perhaps as early as 250 BCE. The prediction of a Solar Eclipse by THALES of MILETUS in 586 BCE does not prove that some Near Easterners knew the length of the solar year but only that they were careful observers of the movements of the sun. This knowledge may not have been widely shared. The 365 day solar year is still not universally employed in calendar making. 2. The UR [meaning first] CULTURE developed during the Neolithic Age and became global in expanse by 8000 BCE. It involved the use of MAGIC in the practice of WITCHCRAFT, or SHAMANRY. a. MAGIC was a means of contacting the Spiritual World for the purpose of influencing or controlling the actions of Spiritual beings. Such contact was frequently accomplished through the consumption of intoxicating or hallucinogenic sub- stances [See the works of Michael Harner]. The SHAMAN might make contact by way of a self-induced trance or madness [Consult the works of Mircea Eliade]. b. SHAMANRY, which some still call Witchcraft, had/has two faces. Some Shamans practiced only good magic, such as healing or finding lost or stolen objects. Others practiced evil magic, called black magic. These Bewitching Shamans used their special talents to place curses on a client's enemies, or to cause illness. The presentation of Voodoo and related practices in the popular media tends to leave the mis-impression that all Shamans [witchdoctors] were/are evil. c. All the above must be assumed to be part of the cultural and intellectual symbology embedded in the world views of late pre-historic and early historic peoples. [Consult also APPENDIX I.]
PART II. PROTO-HISTORIC Man, 8000-2400 BCE I. The Transition to settled living A.NOMADS: Hunters and Gatherers. Prior to 10000 BCE all of humankind lived by harvesting what nature offered, be it animal or vegetable. By the end of the last great Ice Age [ca. 8500 BCE], most of the large game animals had been hunted to extinction. The great age of the hunter neared its end. Hunting never disappeared, but its role in providing food for mankind was increasingly constricted. Fishing remained an important means of procuring animal food, but even this activity suffered from the increasing desiccation of large portions of the Earth. The problem of growing deserts was especially acute in North Africa and Southwest Asia. B. AGRICULTURE: Domestication of Plants. 1. SWIDDEN [slash and burn] farming was the earliest extensively used method of farming. Fields cleared in this way remained productive only two to three years; then the farmers moved to a new site. This type of agriculture could not support permanent settlement, nor large communities. Even rain-watered open lands, where farmers also practiced, could only support small groups who had no assurance of regular annual harvests. Swidden farmers spread rapidly from the Near East through Europe to the Atlantic and the British Isles before 3000 BCE. In the well watered areas of Europe and its islands, small groups were able to exist in the same place indefinitely, barring human or natural catastrophe. They even developed villages and common-ground ceremonial centers, but no cities. 2. IRRIGATION. When people learned to manage their water resources, chiefly River water, permanent settlements became possible. The earliest form of irrigation was partly or wholly natural, such as at CATAL HUYUK in southwestern Turkey. Catal Huyuk lies near the foot of mountains and at the edge of a seasonal "river." Every spring the river not only watered the soil but also enriched it with its silt, making it unneces- sary for the inhabitants of the community to relocate every two to three years. Rivers and Water became powerful symbols in the thinking of ancient man, especially as cities grew along the river banks. C. HERDING: Domestication of Animals. During the same time period,people also domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Some groups became herders and gatherers and thus remained NOMADS, while others combined herd- ing with farming. The result of sedentary farming or it in combi- nation with sedentary animal husbandry was permanent settlement with excess food which allowed occupational specialization and the development of cities, as well as an increase in population.
II. The Rise of CITIES, 8000-3000 BCE A. Early Development to 5000 BCE. It is unlikely that we will ever determine which of the "cities" currently contend- ing for the honor of being oldest is the more ancient. It is indeed probable hat none of the settlements now being considered was the first to develop into a city. The evidence now available suggests 7000 BCE as a likely date for the beginning of cities. That would be 20000 years after the oldest known "villages." 1. One of the leading contenders is JERICHO. This city, located near a permanent spring a few miles west of the JORDAN River was excavated by Kathleen Kenyon. There were indications of settlement after 9000 BCE. This settlement grew to city status by 7000 BCE, and is perhaps the oldest continuously occupied city on Earth. 2. CATAL HUYUK [ca.6900 BCE], in the dry interior of southwestern TURKEY, and the city of HACILAR which lay even further to the west, prescribe the westernmost limits of the region likely to contain the first city. The settlement of JARMO, in the foothills of northern IRAQ, dates to about 6800 BCE. Jarmo defines the northeastern limit of the "likely region," while TEPE YAHYA in east central IRAN [dated before 5000] lies at the eastern limit. To the south and southeast, the limits are defined by the ARABIAN DESERT, and the deserts of SINAI and SUEZ. The cities named above, except for Jericho, were abandoned before city living became common in the valley of the EUPHRATES and TIGRIS rivers.
B. The URBANIZATION of MESOPOTAMIA, 5500-2400 BCE Cities, or settlements which became cities, existed in Meso- potamia from 5500 BCE. The earlier cities lay in the northern part of Iraq, and in northeastern Syria. City living quickly spread down the EUPHRATES River and into the valley of the TIGRIS River, reaching the swamps at the head of the PERSIAN GULF before 4000 BCE. ERIDU, to the south of UR and close to the Gulf, built its first temple before 5000. By 4000 BCE the combined valleys of the Tigris-Euphrates were dotted with small cities whose peoples ruled over the built-up area and its supporting agricultural lands. The document called THE SUMERIAN KING LIST, though it dates to the 18th-19th century BCE, suggests frequent warfare between CITY STATES, as one city after another was "smitten with weapons, and its kingship carried off" to the victor's capital. Pottery-making had existed in the Near East perhaps since the 7th millennium (7000 to 6000 BCE). By the time the Sumerians entered Mesopotamia, around 32-3500 BCE, most of the Technology of Ancient Mesopotamian CIVILIZATION was already there. Copper was already in use, as was gold and silver. Bronze, already available in southern Canaan and Thailand, was a later addition. Most scholars think the Sumerians added the wheel, the brick- mold, the pick-axe, and the sailing ship; and that they invented, or at least developed, WRITING to the point where it came to play an essential role in their public and private lives. The origin of the Sumerians is unknown. Their language is unrelated to any other language thus far discovered. The Sumer- ians drove out the earlier residents (or, as is more likely, they kept the PEASANTS in their previous status, and made collabora- tors of of some of the "city folk."). The peoples driven from the Valley by the Sumerians may have been the Subartu. Whoever they were, they may have been the first of the Valley's residents to become LITERATE. In the period before 2700 BCE, the Sumerians considered most of their KINGS to be GODs, or at least HEROs. The Deification and Heroization of kings mostly ceased after GILGAMESH, king of URUK around 2700 BCE. The Gilgamesh of the EPIC was predominantly an Heroic, but tragic, figure. He was no GOD. Some early Sumerian tales about Gilgamesh make him appear ambivalent. He was not a GREAT KING. The story, "Gilgamesh and Agga of KISH," shows him forced to acknowledge the overlordship of the Great KING OF KISH, possibly Mesannepada of UR. The EPIC OF GILGAMESH [See also Appendix V] is a story of man coming to grips with his own mortality. It reaches the Secular conclusion that Salvation (becoming one with God) being beyond hope, the "Immortality" of man lay in his deeds and the remembrance of them. This solution differs dramatically from that reachedinEgypt. C. CANAAN and PERSIA, 5500-2400 BCE. ELAM, adjacent to SUMER in southwestern PERSIA and frequently treated as an exten- sion of Mesopotamia, reached Literacy by 3000. Its capital, SUSA [Shushash], exercised considerable influence in Valley affairs. This region and adjacent areas may have been the Anshan of the "Sumerian King List." CANAAN, the coast and interior of the eastern Mediterranean, had many cities by 2400 but was not generally literate. The city of EBLA, in northwestern SYRIA, had recently adopted Sumerian writing and wrote in Sumerian more often than in its own language [a SEMITIC language related to modern HEBREW and ARABIC]. Ebla was excavated in 1975-76. The archaeologists found some 16000 clay tablets; 80% were written in Sumerian. The remainder, written in a previously unknown language, contain the oldest reference to Jerusalem and several other Hebrew proper names. D. The EGYPTIAN Model to 3000 BCE. Prior to ca. 3000, EGYPT seemed to be divided into a large number of small priestly- governed states each with its own names for commonly accepted divinities. About 3000 Egypt was unified by a conquering family out of the southern city of THEBES. The new dynasty placed its capital in the city of MEMPHIS which lay at the point where the narrow valley of the NILE broadened into the DELTA. This was the boundary, the Balance of the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt); also called the Two Ladies. Half the usable soil of Egypt lay up- river (south), the rest lay down-river (north). E.The "Old Ones," SEMITES, and INDO-EUROPEANS. In addition to the Sumerians, who have no known Linguistic Relatives, the Ancient Near East was the home of the SEMITIC FAMILY of languages. The Semitic Family includes Dead Languages such as AKKADIAN, AMORITIC, OLD BABYLONIAN, CANAANITE, ASSYRIAN, and ARAMAIC; as well as modern HEBREW and ARABIC. The language of ancient Egypt may prove to be Semitic; or, it may be a member of a super-family to which the Semitic family also belonged. There were also "The Old Ones," whose languages are unknown to us. Some presume their speech ancestral to modern KURDISH, and Russian GEORGIAN, and call them CAUCASIAN. Let's call these peoples Subartu, a name given to them after they were driven northward by the Sumerians and other conquerors of Mesopotamia. Indo-Europeans spoke languages ancestral to all modern European languages except FINNISH, HUNGARIAN, and BASQUE. It was also ancestral to modern IRANIAN, AFGHAN, and most of the languages of PAKISTAN and INDIA. They were not native to the Near East, but their intrusions into the area made them increasingly important after 2500 BCE. F. The Development of WRITING to 2400 BCE. Though writing is still presumed to have evolved in Mesopotamia, it seems likely that the pre-Sumerian inhabitants of the valley, and not the Sumerians themselves, were the first to use it there. New evidence from Egypt re-opens the possibility that Egyptians may have started writing as early as the Mesopotamians. By 2400 writing was in use throughout the Near East from HARAPPAN INDIA westward, possibly as far as the Mediterranean island of CRETE. Do not interpret this to mean that everyone within the described area knew how to read and/or write. To the contrary, the vast majority of the peoples who lived before 1900 CE/AD never learned reading and writing. Because literacy was so narrowly confined to a small ELITE of LORDS and SCRIBES, it was easy for entire civil- izations to lose literacy. Such a loss was experienced by INDIA from about 1700 BCE to 1000 BCE, and by the peoples of Turkey and the AEGEAN area from 1200 to 800 BCE.