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by John T. Cullen
Description: What really happened during that early twilight zone of human existence--after the last Ice Age, but before people started writing things down? We live in an epoch called the Holocene, which began about 12,000 years ago, and of which we know relatively little except for the past 6,000 years since writing was invented. But there are mysterious megaliths around the world, and strange cities built by skull cultists who kept their dead around--and other evidence that all is not what we may think. Will we ever find out the whole story? To understand the missing 6,000 years, we actually have to delve back at least 50,000 years into the Ice Ages, where we will meet our ancestors. They are fully modern human beings who sing, who make music, weave beautiful clothes, paint glorious Dreamtime images deep in the caves of France and Spain. Meanwhile, our cousins, the Neanderthals are not oafish brutes, but people not unlike ourselves, who die out shortly after 30,000 years ago. Mesolithic man in the Holocene was little more than Paleolithic man without the ice and the megafauna. Jericho, the world's oldest city, population 500, was actually started in the last shadows of the Paleolithic. From Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to Neolithic farmers and city builders, we follow the miracles of wheat and wine, and the ritual killing and resurrection of kings who atone for their people. We uncover the dark secrets of the prehistoric Holocene. As always with history, we learn surprising things about ourselves.
eBook Publisher: Clocktower Books and Far Sector SFFH (magazine), 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [118 KB]
Reading time: 56-78 min.
Eternity. There is a wonderful illustration in the frontispiece of Hendrik Willem Van Loon's 1922 classic children's book The Story of Mankind. This still readable world history won the first Newbery Medal, and Van Loon was noted not only for his clear, crisp style but his evocative illustrations. The unforgettable frontispiece illustration is a full page drawing showing a person on skis standing at the edge of a snowy hill at night, looking out over a star-studded night sky. The only other feature in the picture is a distant row of snowy hills with stands of pine trees on them. The caption of this breathtaking litho-like sketch reads simply Eternity. and it is truly an instance of when a picture is worth a thousand words.
Van Loon's tale covers the past half million years, and begins by asking: "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?" In the first 16 pages, including illustrations, the Dutch-born raconteur does away with the first 495,000 years of the story, spending the rest of the nearly 600-page tome on the story of how we humans have carried on (usually to our mutual discomfort) in the recent 5,000 years or so since we humans built large cities and figured out how to write, thus creating more durable records of who we were.
In this article, we delve deeper than ever into the question: If the Ice Ages ended 10-12,000 years ago, and writing didn't begin until 4,000 BC, what were humans doing in those missing, mysterious 6,000 years in-between? Who built those giant, enigmatic stone monuments at places like Stonehenge and Malta that predate written records? What mute and baffling message do our long-ago ancestors seem to be sending our way? What would they tell us if we could speak with them? In this revised edition, we recognize the need to delve further into our ancestors in the ice ages, who emerged as fully modern humans from the Pleistocene into the Holocene.
People began writing things down, for the first time, around 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia. We have cuneiform records, law tablets, and the boasting of kings from. We have wonderful, imaginative mythologies, like the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (late Third Millennium BC), but that is not yet real history. We can read war stories and treaty information from long-ago Egyptian pharaohs.
As a discipline, however, history--as a true record narrating and interpreting events--did not become a field of serious inquiry until the Classical Age of Athens (6th-4th Centuries BC). Among ancient historians are the Greeks Plutarch and Xenophon, and the Romans Livy and Tacitus. Some, like Pliny the Elder (who died while investigating the ongoing eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD), were veritable Renaissance men in the mold of the centuries-later Leonardo da Vinci. That leaves a huge gap in our understanding of those unrecorded 6,000 years.
The skier of Eternity still stands there in Van Loon's illustration, in the same pose as when I first saw him (or her) many years ago, or for that matter how Van Loon drew him 80 years ago, which is somehow comforting--how silly, to think that a figure in a drawing might actually stop leaning on her poles, maybe get hungry, maybe wipe sweat off her brow, and then disappear on quietly whispering skis into the dark woods of a long-ago Dutch childhood, leaving us to stare at the unchanged stars of a stranger's imagination.
Our skier might just as well be staring into the vast glaciers that covered those slopes until 12,000 years ago. And that is where our curiosity and our imagination must go now, back to the Ice Ages. We gain a new understanding of our long-ago relatives--those intelligent painters, musicians, weavers, tool makers, hunters, story tellers, mothers, fathers, and children who came walking out of that frozen night and made their new homes on the lush green prairies of 12,000 years ago. They weren't saturated with information and theories like we are in the Internet age, but they were keen observers of nature. As animists spiritually, they were more part of nature than we are.
As we behold the mysterious marvel that is the world we live in, which defines us--if we could only understand its hieroglyphs!--we have more questions than answers even now. One of the dark areas in our common knowledge is a longish chunk of time that stretches backward--from when the fabled Egyptian sage Imhotep, later declared a god, supervised the building of the huge pyramids of Giza 5,000 years ago--to some hypothetical icy mountain range many millennia ago.
Borrowing a page from Van Loon--as we go backwards and skipping the rise of city states, the growth of agriculture, and invention of the metal plow, and much of what we call the Neolithic (new stone age)--we zoom back to 11,000 years ago, and find ourselves in the company of no more than perhaps 4 million of our kind...