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Two Septembers
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Ancient History... the Stone Age and Ancient Man

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The rationale behind why cavemen didn't record ancient history

(5th edition - October 2010) by A.O. Kime
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The earliest history known to have been recorded - the furthest back in time - was chronicled by the ancient Egyptians utilizing their imaginative and fascinating hieroglyphs. Remarkably, these Egyptian hieroglyphs preceded pronounceable alphabets by more than a thousand years. The Egyptians were also first to devise a calendar and began counting time in 4236 B.C., but before then, effectively nothing is known. We really don't know what humans did prior to the Egyptian dynasties.

Except for unearthing a few stone tools and human bones, along with a scattering of cave-art, telling us humans (or humanoids) once existed at certain locations, we don’t know of any human events which may have occurred… and surely they did occur. About the only events we know about are geological occurrences such as the Ice Age and the approximate dates of volcanic eruptions, meteor hits and floods.

While we also know the animals they hunted and how some buried their dead, we know little else because cavemen never left a written record. As expanded upon further below, it was because for countless generations they saw no value... otherwise they would have. As soon explained, recording history made no sense.

However... one could consider cave-art a record. Although not detailed accounts, they contain messages saying “I was here and I saw this” (referring to a pictograph of an animal they painted). Apparently for the times that was sufficient for a historical account… the demands for in-depth accounting and knowing what should be recorded didn’t come until much later. Even Herodotus (commonly referred to as the 'first historian') struggled with the idea. Aside from serving as a record of their existence, it also means our ancestors were reaching out to us... to future generations. For this reason, cave-art invokes a certain poignancy, a particular sadness.

While cave-art serves as a bridge to the past like all historical accounting, being the human method to traverse the centuries, it isn't really 'history' per se... meaning we'll have to look elsewhere to discover more.

abstract rendering of two heads

The intriguing matter of unrecorded ancient history

We must admit... the fact events weren't recorded before the Egyptian dynasties is somewhat unsettling. It's as if to wake up and not remember anything except the last six months. It would be tormenting to wonder what you once did, where you might have been... although you'd conclude you surely did something. To help relieve some anxiety, you'd probably surmise it was similar to what you’ve done recently. Sadly however, and most important, were those special moments, accomplishments and affairs lost to memory which would otherwise characterize your life. Maybe you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon or been to San Francisco you’d think. Perhaps you were once married and had other jobs somewhere, other ways to make a living. You surely lived in other houses, drove other cars.

In applying that method (of reconciling) to the missing history of the Stone Age, maybe some of the mystery can be removed. In other words, there would be many things people did in the Stone Age which would be similar to what humans do today. We know for sure they had kids, supported themselves and lived somewhere. They surely went places too; saw natural wonders like the ocean, a raging river or a beautiful mountain range. They played catch with their kids. They would have sat around the campfire often speaking of their day, of their troubles and delights. Children listened to stories while grandma stirred the stew.

So far, not an ounce of speculation is there? Okay, let's discover more ancient (unrecorded) history... although without names, dates and places, we can only paint the general picture. But since people usually react similarly in similar circumstances and since we know the probabilities for countless situations... well, that helps a lot. Of course, one must allow for the prevailing mentality although the mentality of ancient man isn't really a mystery, at least not to a backwoodsman or line-shack cowboy. In fact, it's just a matter of dumping civilized ideas.

Upon some reflection we could easily add many more things cavemen did that we’ve done... like watch a running rabbit or see a falling star. Actually there would have been hundreds, if not thousands, of similar experiences. They would have coughed, had a tooth ache, ran, looked at birds, drank water and the list goes on. Looking at it this way, noting the similarities, ancient but unrecorded history becomes less a mystery. On the other hand, most things we will never know about, like their names or what individual experiences they had. We wouldn’t know, for example, if a particular caveman fell off a cliff or if another managed to ride a mammoth.

abstract rendering of moving spirit

The shortcomings of recording history

Actually, the same can be said about people who lived only 200-300 years ago. While they may have a gravestone with their name, date of birth and when they died, but none are remembered by anyone except by written accounts, if an account exists at all. Essentially, and with few exceptions, we don’t know any more about people who lived 300 years ago than we do about any individual caveman. We would know some things however, like the wars they fought or the ships they sailed, but unless they were famous, their personalities and life experiences have been forever lost to memory.

Yet, those who lived 300 years ago we can roughly gauge their lifestyle. We know the hats they wore, the booze they drank and the dances they danced so we can generally picture them. Items which supported their lifestyles are a great help too... like their carriages, cookware, brass buttons and other such amenities. In the same manner, we can even imagine how the ancient Romans lived or the earlier Greeks. While the ancient Egyptians are more a mystery because of their strange hieroglyphs and pyramids but nonetheless we've shared many of the same life experiences... like watching the sunset, throwing a rock at a dog or rubbing our eyes. Unless they were famous, unfortunately we have no way of knowing who they were or what they did with their life.

The point is, it doesn't matter that we live in the days of recorded history... virtually everyone will still be forgotten just like all the nameless souls who lived before recorded history. So then, just because cavemen didn't record their history doesn't put us at any disadvantage in trying to picture an unknown caveman. It would be the same as trying to picture an unknown Roman soldier, medieval monk or sailor in the 15th century. However, without leaving behind much more than a few stone tools, it's difficult to picture a caveman other than being extremely primitive.

Well, we must forget this highly mistaken archaeological (scientific) depiction... and stop believing cavemen were more beast than human. One can begin by considering they seldom subjected themselves to the dreariness of caves but instead lived much like the American Indians.

abstract rendering of spirit

Why the cavemen left no written accounts

Cavemen simply weren't as primitive as we’ve been led to believe even though they left no evidence of craftsmanship, something enduring to serve as testimony. Unless to someday be found buried in muck like the 5,000 year-old door recently unearthed in Switzerland (2010), described as "solid and elegant" and "very remarkable because of the way the planks were held together", wooden craftsmanship wouldn't have survived the ages. King Arthur's furniture from as late as the 5th century probably didn't survive either but that's no reason to call him a primitive.

Still, the void of knowledge is troubling since cavemen didn’t bother to record their history. Yet, they were humans, those who also stubbed their toes, snored, cut their hair, nursed their young and yelled at someone.

Surely as American Indians they lived, which, if it wasn’t for the fact American Indians lived during a time when history was being recorded, in 300 years we wouldn’t know anymore about them than we do cavemen. Except for their stone tools, arrowheads and hatchets, everything else they used was natural and biodegradable which were destined to disappear virtually without a trace.

So, what then explains the drastic change from this lifestyle to one driven by the desire to build, to read and write? Since they already had a sustainable lifestyle capable of lasting practically forever... could it have been madness which overtook a tribe of Egyptians, who, out of the blue, decided to build those impractical pyramids? Well, perhaps it was inevitable but it's also part the story.

While the act of pyramid-building characterizes the beginning of what we call a civilized existence, the startling transformation is somewhat similar to what happened between the 19th century and 20th century. Both were quantum leaps although we can more easily relate to the latter... as if yesterday. Since it's no mystery the folks from the 19th century ushered in the 20th bringing with them all their ideas to develop, there should be no mystery who built the pyramids either, they were simply ordinary men who became builders, 'cavemen' only a few centuries removed. If we can't believe that... then future generations won't believe ordinary men became astronauts and went to the moon either. The pictures were faked, they'd say.

However, there is a reason history wasn’t recorded and why ancient written languages and calendars didn’t exist until they did. It was simply because early man looked upon historical events with the same mentality as those of us today who never kept a diary. With few exceptions, only historians and newspaper men have that mentality... but that's their job, they're paid to have that mentality. Nobody wants to record history for free... unless record keeping, publishing and distribution isn't thought an imposition.

If a caveman witnessed a volcano erupt, the idea to make note of it for posterity would seem ridiculous when everyone knows volcanoes erupt. fires burn, wolves attack, earthquakes happen and people die... so what? Even if some occurrence was rare, is it worth the trouble to develop a written language to record it? Should they also record when their dog barks and when their baby threw up? Since everything can't be recorded, the whole idea of recording history would have seemed preposterous initially... especially since a calendar would also be needed. The American Indians thought the same way, placing no importance on recording (petroglyphs) commonly-occurring historical events. If something was thought important enough to remember, it was passed along orally... which was surely thought to be good enough. Overall the logic being… with a memory, there isn’t a need for a record. If it was forgotten, then it wasn’t worth remembering. In other words, recording history wasn’t looked upon as necessary nor was there any value recognized... and therefore the reasons the first chapters of mankind weren't recorded.

Often overlooked, there's a connection between recording history, a calendar and a written language. First, a calendar is necessary if you intend to record history. If you intend to record history then you would also need a written language. When the Sumerians developed a pronounceable written language in 3000 B.C., and the first to do so, whether recording history was the primary reason is doubtful however. Other benefits may have been recognized earlier, like for complex messages and recording detailed information. Being effectively redundant, recording history was probably still considered unnecessary in the opinion of many people for several centuries to come. After all, we can’t forget that's what memory is for.

abstract rendering of twisting spirit

What should be chronicled?

Actually, recorded history is only a backup to memory… a hard copy, in printed form. While memory records events as well, writing it down is like what a printer does connected to a computer. To say cavemen were primitive for not recording history is to say a computer without a printer is also primitive. And since written accounts aren’t necessary for everything, we rely on memory… like how to drive to work and who's the boss. In fact, of all the events which happen on any particular day, trillions upon trillions upon trillions, only a miniscule portion is ever recorded. While we know only important things are chronicled, but who decides what is important enough? That was the caveman’s dilemma, it had not yet been established what should qualify or was worth the trouble.

While there are benefits from having events recorded today, it wouldn’t have been apparent to our early ancestors because the importance of historical knowledge first had to be instilled. The breadth of historical knowledge thought necessary today would have been unimaginable in the Stone Age simply because they felt unaffected by past or distant events. With few exceptions, they surely felt events earlier than a couple generations held no real value. Even if value was recognized, there were more important things to do initially and the act of recording history is more like 'fine-tuning' an existence.

However, if we could be more liberal in what constitutes historical recordkeeping, then, as suggested earlier, it could be said cave-art wrote the first chapter of ancient history. And, since some of this cave-art was so exquisitely done, and done so utilizing pigments expertly prepared to endure for thousands of years, chapter one states those folks were a lot smarter than anthropologists think. After all, a paint job today doesn't last more than 10-20 years. Cave-art was intended to be a historical record because their enduring pigments weren't a fluke.

When cavemen finally decided to advertise their presence to future generations in a big way, they began building pyramids to serve as lasting testimony to their abilities. By then, having shed themselves of any reason to be considered 'primitive', their collective sights were then set on building the Parthenon, the Colosseum and great cathedrals in Europe. Ultimately, to fly to the moon.

While historians ignore 99.99+% of everyone and everything, although often justifiably so - having no historical value - being then effectively equal to the forgetfulness of the human memory, historians sometimes paint the wrong picture... just as the cavemen suspected. Cavemen probably knew it would happen after seeing someone's pictograph of a unicorn.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 02/23/16