The Neolithic Revolution: Toward the end of the last ice age, some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, a few of the communities that were most favored by geography and climate began to make the transition from the long period of Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, savagery [ED. my emphasis] to a more settled way of life depending on animal husbandry and agriculture.
|Stereotypical view of an old stone age man with the obligatory club in hand.|
These are drawings of wild men or savages by Durer in the 15th century. (commons.wikimedia.org)
|Uncivilized barbarians destroying everything in their path as they attacked the Romans in 451 CE. Notice the helpless bound woman and naked child being trampled by horses at the bottom of this 19th century drawing. (commons.wikimedia.org)|
“Savages we call them because their manners differ from ours.”
Here is a current blog on the Internet that shows how easily the words caveman, barbarian and savage are accepted in contemporary thought: Curing the Caveman Mentality -- I’m sure that the “finger pointing” blame-game approach for determining responsibility dates back well into prehistoric times. Battles between Harry B. Barbarian and Charlie Q. Savage were likely fought...
A savage hardly conceives the distinction commonly drawn by more advanced peoples between the natural and the supernatural...Along with the view of the world as pervaded by spiritual forces, savage man has a different, and probably still older, conception in which we may detect a germ of the modern notion of natural law or the view of nature as a series of events occurring in an invariable order without the intervention of personal agency.
Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough
"One of the traps we have to avoid, I think, is that we shouldn't think people back in those times were dumber, not so bright, not so intelligent. So far as we know, they had brains exactly like ours. And if they survived in the conditions in which they lived, they were probably a lot smarter on their feet than most of us are today."
Prof. Trevor Watkins, Prehistorian
This confusing carpet of stars was familiar to Paleolithic people -- it was possibly like a book that they knew how to read from hour to hour, day to day, month to month and year to year. (commons.wikimedia.org)
“Of such importance is a knowledge of the stars to the Aborigines in their night journeys and of their positions denoting particular seasons of the year, that astronomy is considered one of the principal branches of education.” (Dawson 1881)
“The Aborigines of the desert are aware of every star in their firmament, down to the fourth magnitude, and most, if not all, of these stars would have myths associated with them.” (Mountford 1976)
Indeed, foraging peoples are legendary for their vast stores of local zoological and botanical knowledge. Lee, for example, writes that !Kung “tools and techniques of gathering are relatively simple” but the “knowledge of plant identification, growth, ripeness, and location . . . is extremely complex, and the !Kung women are highly skilled at distinguishing useful from nonuseful or dangerous plants and at finding and bringing home sufficient quantities of the best food species available” (Dobe !Kung 37)
Michelle Scalise Sugiyama and Lawrence S. Sugiyama, Use Of Oral Tradition To Buffer Foraging Risk
“All the known world, excepting only savage nations, is governed by books.”
“This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth...you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing...will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom..."
NOTE: Even the word 'prehistoric' -- which originally was an unbiased word meaning that part of history before written records -- now has a negative connotation.
|Lithic reduction: Levallois technique of flint-knapping. (commons.wikimedia.org)|
|Lithic flake. (commons.wikimedia.org)|
|Lithic core -- the piece that gets shaped by the removal of lithic flakes. (commons.wikimedia.org)|
|Finished flint knife - shaped so that a handle could be attached to it. (commons.wikimedia.org)|
During the Stone Age, humans fashioned tools from a variety of rocks, including flint, chert, basalt and sandstone. These materials were initially collected as loose rocks and, as demand grew, openpit and underground mining methods were developed. At some point...early humans discovered that certain minerals can be used to make paint. From natural pigments, such as manganese oxide, hematite and goethite, early artists created life-like images of bison, deer, mammoth and other Paleolithic animals. What compelled these artists to dig minerals out of the ground, grind them to fine powders, mix them with various binders (animal fat, saliva, water, blood) and apply them to cave walls hidden from view is unknown.
A look at the history of mining, Mining Engineering Online
In the painted caves of western Europe, namely in France and Spain, we witness the earliest unequivocal evidence of the human capacity to interpret and give meaning to our surroundings. Through these early achievements in representation and abstraction, we see a newfound mastery of the environment and a revolutionary accomplishment in the intellectual development of humankind.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Lamp of Lascaux, carbon dated to about 17,000 BP.
The (exterior) oval bowl of the lamp of Lascaux is an almost perfect geometrical figure, of which the carving, according to craftsmen, has been done directly into the mass of sandstone...Some colleagues, like M. Delporte, believe that the eye of the Palaeolithic artist was better than the eye of a modern technician, and that for the sake of beauty of form, he obtained an astonishing precision.
Beaune, S., White R., Ice Age Lamps, Scientific American, March 1993.
“We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter.”
Bronislaw Malinowski, the important early anthropologist stated that the "goal of the anthropologist, or ethnographer, is 'to grasp the native's point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world'. " (wikipedia.org)
Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific
- The landscape of the stars -- the celestial landscape as Dr. Emilia Pasztor called it -- was as familiar to Upper Paleolithic people as the landscape of the ground. Living in the open much of the time meant there was amble time at night, lying on the ground looking up, to observe the sky.
- Children would be exposed to the night sky from birth and would probably be given instructions about the stars from an early age.
- These people were in a sense comfortable with the night sky, it was a place where they spent a lot of time and that they used for a guide. While the terrestrial landscape did change with storms, floods, volcanos, lightning, earthquakes and snow, the night sky remained about the same year after year. It was something they could depend on to be constant.
- Based on a wealth of data from hunter-gatherer societies and texts from ancient civilizations such as Sumer, Babylon and Greece, it is quite likely that groups of stars were seen as constellations of mythical figures. Constellations had stories associated with them which helped people remember them.
- Paleolithic people were able to recognize the stars and constellations in all kinds of weather and lunar phases. So, for example, the stars looked quite different on a hazy night under a full moon or at dawn or dusk than they did when the moon was new and the sky was clear. These people also were able to identify constellations at varying angles and recognize parts of constellations when they set and rose.
- The unpolluted skies of Paleolithic times offered a better view of the sky than today.
- They were not only masters of stone but also of fire. They knew how to build fires in combination with stone to store or reflect heat over many hours.
- The color temperature of an ember fire would have been perfect for staying warm while not interfering with the eye's ability to adjust to the dark sky and to continue to see the night sky once eyes had adjusted. Read more about this in this Sky & Telescope article about star gazing.
Fire with embers. (commons.wikimedia.org)
"Evidence that contradicts the ruling belief system is held to extraordinary standards, while evidence that entrenches it is uncritically accepted."
He further added:
A new model instead "both explains the findings of archaeoastronomy and at the same time integrates those findings that remain from archaeology and anthropology."
For when all is said and done our resemblances to the savage are still far more numerous than our differences from him; and what we have in common with him, and deliberately retain as true and useful, we owe to our savage forefathers who slowly acquired by experience and transmitted to us by inheritance those seemingly fundamental ideas which we are apt to regard as original and intuitive. We are like heirs to a fortune which has been handed down for so many ages that the memory of those who built it up is lost, and its possessors for the time being [ED. meaning us] regard it as having been an original and unalterable possession...
Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Chapter 23, Our Debt to the Savage