I’m a science geek. It isn’t unrelated, I think, that I have some interest (a lesser interest, truth be told) in History. I maintain that the two subjects are distinct but not separate; archaeology is linked to both, after all.
While I’m being opinionated, I’ll say that the plate techtonics theory never made much sense to me. Yeah, I know. Crazy. In a similarly heinous move on the part of my brain, neither did the “Ages” classification. It is the latter that I wish to discuss.
See, in almost all the books we have the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and soon. The idea is that, as mankind’s existence progressed, so did their knowledge; thus, their tools and other bric-a-brac improved over the however-long-you-want-to-call-it. You can thank a Danish businessman and museum housekeeper named Christian Jurgensen Thomsen for this proposal.
Put that way, it makes some amount of sense. Aaron figures out the art of smelting (which is smolten metals mixed together, or something a lot like that) and passes it on to his apprentices, who move to other towns and shares around this smelting, and eventually it spreads around throughout the continent.
Something like that.
Unfortunately, there are all the random obscure people who mess up this theory for me. Take the Romans, for example.
I’m a Latin buff of sorts (8 years and running) and I’ve been to Italy once, at this point. My Dad has been to England numerous times. Both have the remains of Roman “projects.”
Those guys were brilliant. Ever heard of the Pantheon? No, no, not the Parthenon; we’re talking Romans here. The Pantheon. Click that linkie there for a picture.
That rotunda thingie, with the domed roof? See how exactly symmetrical it is, and how huge it is, and the cool designs on it? That’s a single pour of concrete.
Yup. We’re talking B.C. here, people. Figure out exactly how it was done and you
might win the “Archaeologist of the Year” award.
Pompeii? Most of the buildings still stand — the ash is what proved fatal. And that place as huge. The first fast food was invented there by the Romans, and this is still B.C.
Those Roman Roads you hear raved about? I’ve walked on some, and they are boss, to borrow the colloquialism. They’re graded so that the runoff and such could travel downhill. They had raised crosswalks, and the things barely look worn. It’s been thousands of years.
The Colosseum had a retractable roof, their armies were tactically undefeatable, the garrisons in England had heated floors, the Roman baths were incroyable, and the guys invented sewage systems, aqueducts, and the first known seismic-proof walls. Welcome to luxury, enjoy your stay.
So how and why exactly did we have to totally reinvent this stuff in the past few centuries? Sure, conquering invaders aren’t pleasant, but does that mean you have to reject every idea they came up with? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t have heated flooring in my basement–and yes, it gets positively cold down there. Where did this stuff all go? Why do we think that because we don’t know how Stonehenge was built, they certainly couldn’t have? Sounds like a Lewisian case of chronological snobbery to me.
Part of it may be a philosophical application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but I think a lot of it has to do with pendulums, much like Newton’s Third Law: equal and opposite (AKA, knee-jerk) reactions. G.K. Chesterton put it this way:
I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.
Maybe it’s just that people like to reinvent the wheel. But there’s a quote that says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” [George Santayana]
I think part of the idea is the attempted mish-mash of Science (factual) dwarfs History (philosophical). In order to test this, I’d like for you to prove scientifically (testable, observable, and repeatable, in other words) that Abraham Lincoln was a president of the United States. Go ahead. Test the event, observe it, and repeat it. Maybe you’d like to try it with your birthday. Can you please prove that you really did turn five one year?
Of course you can, but not by scientific methods. Photographs, promises from your Mom and historical records, on the other hand, are evidences proved convincing.
And maybe, just maybe, history is worth using as a different lens to look at the Ages theory.
(Awesome photo of the Appian Way by Geoff Wong on Flickr)