Lately, my binge-watching of history docs has had more focus. Being a total history geek anyways, I’ve found a new fascination with ancient civilisations.
I’ve always been interested in ancient societies. However, there has been a shift in our understanding, often gained from our ever advancing own ‘tool use’; and that’s what I find interesting.
That, and sometimes it’s perhaps the tools themselves that get in the way, and imagination and youth that brings about a change in perspective.
Whether it’s a PennState lecture on the birth and spread of early indo-European languages, or some BBC documentary on the Hittites, I’m seeing this shift in perspective towards many ancient Peoples and the complex mysteries that surround their civilisations.
Like many, I too once had a very narrow view of our ancient ancestors. Thinking them crude, primitive, and barely subsisting in semi-complex villages, until the Greeks and Romans’ came along and civilised everyone.
But, as one of my favourite Time Team archaeologists, Francis Pryor once pointed out, the ancient British Peoples before the Romans “were already CIVILISED“.
Dialogues of ancient peoples even featured in the Bible are now being re-examined. As researchers are beginning to understand their cuneiform script baked into palm size clay tablets.
These tablets were discovered throughout regions of the Middle East, and document everything from trade agreements, to the myriad of interactions of a dynamic international economy. They offer a window into which we can gain a clearer insight of these complex economic relationships between these ancient empires that once dominated the regions of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, to the Hittites who swept across Turkey and Syria.
One, in particular, made the news this week, from Babylon. This 4000-year-old customer service complaint to a merchant as to the poor quality of goods received.
In what is said to be the oldest customer service complaint discovered, Babylonian copper merchant Nanni details at length his anger at a sour deal and his dissatisfaction with the quality assurance and service of Ea-nasir.
Forbes reports, “The letter implies that Nanni had dispatched his personal assistants to Ea-nasir Fine Copper at least once looking for a refund, only to be rebuffed and sent home empty-handed – and through a war zone!”
Recent discoveries sometimes fly in the face of our quaint childhood notions of ancient humans.
With our flush toilets, and complex sewage systems. With our trade deals, our complex weaponry and strategies, our alliances of nations, our advanced tools. Our understanding of the cosmos, our advanced mapping tools.
But our modern complexities are not unique. Science didn’t come into being during the Middle Ages, instead, it was RE-discovered.
Peoples of 3500 plus years ago had their own gender issues, their own powerful female rulers, their own religious prosecutions, their own conspiracies, their own advanced tools to simplify life. And they indeed engaged in their own revising of history to suit the victor, as discovered via papyrus in Egypt, or clay tablets strewn about the floor in ancient Turkey.
This particular theory we were taught of a linear evolution of advancement is now being called into question.
Though, we can’t forget that it is through technology that we are now beginning to gain an understanding of the complexities of our ancient ancestors. Technologies that help us answer age-old questions, like is that Egyptian Mummy male or female? What does tooth enamel say about a skeleton’s early childhood? Is their a secret room behind King Tut’s tomb in the Valley Of The Kings?
I was struck this week by the clever deductions of a 15yr old Quebec boy, armed only with a star map and a hunch (just like all the best archaeologists), discovers a 4600-year-old Mayan village in the dense Mexican jungle. AND he even got the Canadian Space Agency involved.
Some specialists are questioning these findings, suggesting instead the images are showing a field. Which is the nature of the scientific method, to question. Technology, alas, can only go so far and this mysterious image will only be sorted by feet (with proper spades and shovels at hand) on the ground.
Perhaps civilisation though is not this gradual, gentle stroll up the incline of advancement. Rather, various risings of advanced cultures, have given way to dark times, as history shows many civilisations have come and gone, going way back into antiquity, maybe for millenniums.
Yet our advanced science does not define us as uniquely civilized.
Researchers, historians, and scientists of all kinds are but human, and often fall into the common trap of theories based on what results we want to see, and not looking at the evidence on its own. Removed of the trappings of our own culture, our own labels, values, and morality, lie truths yet to be unearthed.
We may learn something more about these ancient lost civilisations then their agreements of trade. Maybe we can discover why they fell, and if there were circumstances within their control? The writing sometimes could, in fact, be written on the walls (of tombs or temples).
It is of course not a unique feature to our modern times, this rape and pillaging of the land. This strip mining in order to reap the benefits inherent in the melt and cooling of earth metals. For a totalitarian approach to agriculture and the various issues related to an unsustainable population explosion is actually a unique feature consistent with many collapsed Empires.
Alas, perhaps it will be the next generation of researchers who turn their eyes away from the past, and many preconceived notions and strive instead for more understanding of what lies beneath our feet.