Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lost Civilizations

No amount of searching will unearth ancient astronauts or ancient cultures with anything close to the level of technology that we enjoy today. But, there is still something stirring about the search for lost civilizations. Making sense of the Sumerians and the Minoans. Unraveling the origins of the first civilizations we can identify from the historic period in the prehistoric Neolithic cultures that came before them. Piecing together the family tree of the languages we know of in history, some themselves lost, to connect them into a larger whole. Tracing the migrations of man from Africa to points across the globe to discern how the peoples that inhabit it now came to be. Looking at history on the scale of millenia. Identifying the sources of are archaetypical myths, giving them the context from the times that they originated. Unearthing the substrates in our contemporary languages and cultures to reveal their mixed origins. Learning the details of the process by which we became farmers and herders. Determining if the cultures that died were victims of war, of changing climate, or of the collapse of their own organizing principles.

Part of it is an act of overcoming demons and ghosts and myths of the past by gaining a better understanding of where they came from in the first place, of piercing back beyond the veils of our oldest layers of myth and legend and religious doctrine. Nothing demystifies the Biblical Philistines, for example, more than being able to figure out that they were real people, being able to determine when they arrived and where and from whom, being able to understand that larger forces that drove their exile, and being able to make sense of their culture from the perspective of disinterested outsiders rather than warring Levantine factions.

Where did we come up with tales like Atlantis and Lemuria? Were Sumerian and Egyptian myths original, arising with writing, or were they much older oral traditions? How much older?

We live in an era where it seems we have a genuine capacity to answer some of those questions with new methodologies and technologies, and when the evidence has not irrevocably been erased.

Tracing our ancient history in detail also sheds light on who were are as a species on a grand scale. What are we capable of? What drives the rise and fall of empires? What causes new languages to form and old ones to die? What are the cyclical trends of deep history? What are the trends where progress seems inevitable? To the extent that we can determine definitively what happend in pre-history, can we at least model it well enough to determine the processes and forces that shaped it? What factors drove history? Which factors were merely secondary?

We know which cultures survived. We don't know nearly as well which cultures did not, or why they succumbed to that cultures of others. Can we put the myriad bits and pieces we understand about our deep past into a coherent narrative? Can we tell a Genesis story that has more than oral tradition and old books of uncertain veracity to back them up? We have the broad outlines of that story, but filling in the detail breathes life into it, makes it real.


Maju said...

There are two legends of Atlantis, one is historical (Plato) and does not imply any sort of "advanced technology" other than the mysterious metal "orichalcum", the other one was invented by an incredibly popular jerk from the USA known as Ignatius Donelly. That he had such a big success only underlines the level of ignorance that existed back then (and not just in the USA).

However as you link it with Lemuria, it is obvious that you are thinking in the Blavatsky mythology, which she almost single-handedly invented. Again it is incredible she and her nonsense could become so popular.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'm just simultaneously dampening any aspirations to make the kinds of discoveries confined to crackpots and science fiction, while at the same time making the implicit argument that even though one doesn't need the supernatural or science fiction to explain it, that myths and legends don't come from no where and even if they are partially fictional say important things about the past that can't be discerned in any other way.

Dravidian origin myths at the root of Lemuria are surely wrong if taken at face value. There is no missing continent in the Indian Ocean. But, it isn't unreasonable to think that we may someday know enough to have a sense of some historical context that illuminates the origins of a story like that.

Likewise, while all the hype about Atlantis is exaggerated, there is good reason to think that Plato's account derived from a historical event.

Even without the window dressing, these traces of lost civilizations are interesting.