Tag Archives: prehistory

Stones and bones

I use this as a shortcut reference to the types of evidence available for early and middle prehistory. Bones, as in fossil remains of human skeletons, and stones, as in stones that show evidence of having been formed into tools. Most of the references I have for early prehistory are in the “bones” category, but as I work forward into middle prehistory, “Stones” become more important. This should be no great surprise. Since bones are organic material, they are subject to all sorts of processes that degrade them, and it is fairly rare that conditions are right for them to be fossilized. It is also fairly uncommon for the rock layers in which fossils can be found to exposed at the surface; they are often either buried under later deposits, or have been eroded away. Stones are more durable.

Running late and around

To continue my investigations into early prehistory, I found it necessary to broaden the interconnections of African peoples, Asiatic peoples, and Western civilization. These are now done sufficiently that I can move on to the next stage. For Africa peoples, I now have connections to African cities and communities. The next step will involved connecting stone age developments to the various peoples of the world, There aren’t many cities that can be reliably traced that far back.

Social change and movements

In sociology, social mechanics, social change, I am working with particular changes and movements back through centuries of antiquity. These include stone age developments, the agricultural revolution, agrarian developments, and the industrial revolution. Each of these will be subdivided further. For now, since I am interested in beginnings, In the 19th century, European archaeologists began to classify artifacts as belonging to the Stone age, Bronze age, and Iron age. The Stone age was further subdivided into the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone age) and Neolithic (New Stone age). The Paleolithic was subdivided into include Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic, referring to the depth at which artifacts were found. There were regional variants. Outside Europe, Mesolithic is often called Epipaleolithic, and African finds are often labeled differently (Early Stone Age, Middle Stone Age, and Later Stone Age). Dating of cultures and cultural developments is only very approximate, and the various stone ages began and ended in different times and in different places. Most of these cultures and stages of development are only known through archaeology. I refer to those discovered and described by explorers and anthropologists, chiefly in modern times, as the historical Stone Age.

Armchair archeology

Since I don’t have the training (or really, enough interest) to participate in field archaeology and anthropology, I am limited to what I can gather from what has been published.  This is a more hazardous endeavor than it would seem.

For one, there is a difficulty that papers and reports are published over time, and the newest results take time to disseminate. In popular opinion,  the latest and most sensational news is mingled..or mangled…with outdated results to give a thoroughly confused picture.  Many people have so little sense of the geological or archaeological time scale that they cannot tell the difference between ten thousand years ago and a hundred million, and so imagine cavemen being chased by dinosaurs. Since filmmakers are generally more concerned with drama than fact, they have perpetuated such images, which make it into the public consciousness somewhat more easily than the impenetrable prose jargon employed by professional archaeologists.  Filmmakers are scarcely the only culprits. Many authors of simplified introductions to strictly human prehistory freely mingle artifacts from widely separated times and places and discuss them together.

Academic dispute is a second difficulty. It may take years of advanced scholarship just to be able to read the papers that are written.  Some Important findings may be buried in obscurity, while others are cited over and other.   Authors have a tendency to describe the same things using different words, and use the same words for different things, and the disputes about the meaning of artifacts are wondrous to behold.  A glance at the professional literature of archaeology might well bring the response:  Here there be monsters.

When I read about an archaeological site, I want to know..where did these people come from? Where did they go? Who was there before? Who was there after? Who were their neighbors? Did they talk with, trade with, mate with, or fight them? And, if these questions have known or suspected answers, how do we know?


Creation and the Temple

Those familiar with Mormon teachings about the creation of the earth will recognize that instead of only one (Biblical) account of the creation of the world,   they recognize four: the one in the Bible, two in the Pearl of Great Price, and one given in the temples.  The differences in these accounts make it difficult for Mormons to adhere to either strict biblical literalism or a Young Earth Creation theory.  Since the scientific revolution beginning in the 16th century, there is a competing and purely secular account of creation given by scientists.

It is largely recognized by scholars that the account in Genesis is actually two accounts: The first of them, in Genesis 1 and 2:1-3, giving a seven days account, and the second, giving a more abbreviated account and focusing on the origins of mankind.

It has long been recognized that the account in Genesis is not strictly consistent with a scientific view of the world. The Earth is a sphere, not flat, and the blue of the sky is not water separated from the ocean and dry land by  a transparent ceiling.  Since plants depend on light, it seems out of order to have plant life created before sources of light (or for that matter, to have light before the Sun).  However, before dismissing the Biblical account as nothing more than a version of ancient Middle Eastern mythology, there are other things to consider.

The account in the Book of Moses (in the Pearl of Great Price) was written by Joseph Smith, and is closely related to his translation, or revision, of the Bible. This closely follows the accounts in Genesis, with the difference that the “we” and “us” references in Genesis 1 are explicitly identified as God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, in accordance with Christian doctrine that represents Jesus Christ as the Creator.  Moses specifies also that “all things” were created spiritually first, before they were created physically.

It is somewhat puzzling that the account of Moses (with its various scientific inaccuracies),  should be presented as given by God, but there are two principles given elsewhere in scripture that may help account for this.   One is the principle that God often speaks to men on the level of their understanding.  (2 Ne 31:2) This suggests that God did not consider it necessary to give the ancient Israelites an accurate physical cosmology: other things were more important.  Another is that God gives revelation a little at a time, not all at once.  (2 Ne 28:30)  The successive accounts of creation each add a little to our understanding of the process.

The account in the Book of Abraham, (also in the Pearl of Great Price), given by Joseph Smith later,  is parallel to the accounts given by Moses, but in this case, instead of a single creator or a pair of them, reference is made to “the gods”, who are not further identified or specified: One could reasonably identify them as God the Father and his Son, but one could also legitimately include other beings as participants in the creation.  It also specifically mentions “times” rather than days, and implies a lengthy process of setting up conditions for life and observing until the conditions were fulfilled. This account is far more compatible with a belief in biological evolution.

The fourth account, given in the temples, is the most compatible with modern scientific understanding: most notably in placing the creation of plant life after the appearance of the astronomical bodies.

However, the temple account is spiritual and religious in purpose, not primarily scientific. Its close similarity to the Genesis account suggests that that, too, was intended to be spiritual and religious, and may have accompanied the worship in the Israelite tabernacle and temple.

Much of the modern value of the creation accounts is that they establish  that the earth was created, with and for a purpose, and did not arise by chance. They also establish that the earth,  sea, sky, sun, moon, planets, plants, trees, animals,  and mankind are creations of God, not gods themselves.

There is reason to suspect that those who look for Intelligent Design,  conclusive proof that something could not have arisen by chance, are doomed to failure.  It is hardly surprising either that a god of Nature should use natural means, or that the means that He uses look natural.   Without knowing His purposes,  it is impossible to tell whether what looks like an accident or random chance is purposeful or not.    There is no fundamental incompatibility with Mormonism and genuine scientific understanding, but there may be a conflict with atheistic secular philosophy which is often mingled with science and sometimes confused with it.