Table of Contents
Part I: Longevity in Antiquity and
Its Bearing on Chronology
The Evidence of Archaeology
The Sudden Appearance of High Cultures
in the Middle East
one of the best authorities, (47) "No undoubted hominids have been found of an
antiquity clearly older than the Early Pleistocene, and so far
no fashioned implements have been proved of any greater antiquity."
This is the carefully considered
opinion of Sir W. E. LeGros Clark. Homo sapiens is
given therefore somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500,000
or 600,000 years to evolve the cultures of the world as they
However, as far as we can tell,
these high cultures (both living and extinct) can all be traced
back to the Middle East, where the earliest historically certain
dates cannot be set much beyond 3000 B.C, or 5000 years ago.
Another 3000 years probably takes us back beyond organized city
life even in its simplest forms. Until 1955, Jarmo was considered
to be the oldest prehistoric settlement. It was only a village.
(48) But another
settlement has now been discovered at M'lefaat, some twenty-five
miles east of Mosul. (49) This settlement represents about the lowest level
of organized community life conceivable. The people who composed
it lived in pit homes, without walls, and without pottery or
Yet the date is set somewhere about
5000 B.C., or some 7000 years ago, a tiny segment of the total
of 500,000 years. What was happening during this immense period
of stagnation? And what happened that suddenly in a period of
only 2000 or 3000 years at the
47. Clark, Sir W. E. LeGros, "The Fossil
Evidence for Human Evolution," Nature, September
22, 1956, p.610.
1 of 10
48. Braidwood, Robert J., "From Cave to Village,"
Scientific American, October, 1952, p.64.
49. Report from Robert J. Braidwood, Science, vol,121,
most, a circle of astonishingly
high civilizations suddenly sprang into being in Sumer, Egypt,
and in the Indus Valley? The sudden appearance of these ancient
civilizations was as evident as it was unexpected. The time lapse
in each cultural centre from initial settlement to established
civilization was completed within a few hundred years.
Between these centres there were
early links. Up to and particularly during what is termed the
Jamdet Nasr period there was uniformity of basic characteristics
throughout the whole region. This community of cultures included
Crete, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Elam, and the Indus Valley.
Less distinct, but equally significant evidences of relationship
are found in Anatolia, in Iran, and even toward the West, in
Europe. It is difficult to explain these phenomena except as
the result of the growth and spread of a single population deriving
its inspiration and technology from a single source. Autonomy
was achieved in due time, and thenceforth as might be expected,
parallelisms and cultural borrowings appear throughout the rest
of their history, but never of quite the same kind as are found
in the earliest stages of development.
How are we to account for this
rapid development in the initial stages? When archaeologists
first began to bring such facts to light, even the excavators
themselves expressed their surprise. A. H. Sayce observed: (50)
Neither in Egypt or in Babylonia
has any beginning of civilization been found. As far back as
archaeology can carry us, man is already civilized, building
cities and temples, carving hard stone into artistic form, and
even employing a system of pictorial record. . . . The
fact is very remarkable in view of modern theories of development
and of the evolution of civilization out of barbarism. . . .
In any case, the culture and civilization of Egypt and
Babylonia appear to spring into existence already fully developed.
Archaeology at all events has failed to discover the elements
out of which they ought to have grown.
have since found some of these missing elements, yet the fact
remains, none of them go back beyond a few thousand years. The
period of development must still be reckoned in centuries rather
than in millennia.
Referring to Egypt
in particular, P. J. Wiseman wrote: (51)
No more surprising fact has
been discovered by recent excavation than the suddenness with
which civilization appeared in the world. Instead of the infinitely
slow development anticipated, it has become obvious that art,
50. Sayce, A. H., Homeletic Review,
June, 1902, p.52.
51. Wiseman; P. J., New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis,
Marshall, Morgan and Scott, London, 2nd edition, revised, 1936,
we may say "science," suddenly
burst upon the world. For instance, H. G. Wells acknowledges
that the oldest stone building known to the world is the Sakkara
Pyramid, yet as Dr. H. J. Breasted points out, "From the
earliest piece of stone masonry to the construction of the Great
Pyramid less than a century and a half elapsed."
Speaking of this Pyramid, Sir Flinders
Petrie stated, "The accuracy of construction is evidence
of high purpose and great capability and training. In the earliest
pyramid the precision of the whole mass is such that the error
would be exceeded by that of a metal measure on a mild or cold
day the error of levelling is less than can be seen with the
naked eye. The conclusion seems inevitable that 3000 B.C. was
the heyday of Egyptian art." (52)
Dr. Hall in referring to this sudden
development says, "It is easy to say that this remarkable
outburst of architectural capacity must argue a long previous
apprenticeship and period of development, but in this case we
have not got this long period."
Again, Sir Flinders Petrie writes,
"The materials used in building tell much of the builders.
In the series of pyramids the finest materials and work is at
the beginning, and through the IVth to the VIth dynasties the
degeneration is continuous, until a pyramid was a mere shell
of a building filled with chips."
In the face of these facts, the
slow progress of early man is a doubtful assumption, and the
idea that an infinitely prolonged period elapsed before civilization
appeared cannot be maintained.
of their literature, R. E. Bewberry pointed out: (53)
The essentials of the Egyptian
system of writing were fully developed at the beginning of the
first dynasty. It must have been the growth of many antecedent
ages, yet not a trace of the early stages of its evolution have
been found on Egyptian soil.
Childe put it this way: (54)
On the Nile and in Mesopotamia
the clear light of written history illumines our path for fully
fifty centuries, and looking down that vista we already descry
an ordered government, urban life, writing and conscious art.
The greatest moments -- that revolution when man ceased to be
a parasite . . . have passed before the curtain rises.
This was written
in 1935. We do have some light now, and some of the sources of
this original culture are coming to light in Iran. But the time
interval is still to be reckoned at about 2000 years or less.
It tells us nothing about how it happened that this same rate
of progress did not characterize man for the half-million years
supposedly preceding this.
52. Petrie, Sir Flinders, The Wisdom of
the Egyptians, Quaritch, London, 1940, p.89.
53. Quoted by C. Urquhart, The Bible Triumphant, Pickering,
London, 1935, p.36.
54. Childe, V. G., New Light on the Most Ancient East,
Kegan Paul, London, 1935, p.2.
Some sites in Syria bear witness to this same peculiar
aspect of Middle East cultures. T. J. Meek in this connection
Tell Halaf has revealed the
most wonderful handmade pottery ever found. Although the lowest
strata here are probably representatives of the oldest culture
so far definitely attested [this was in 1938], yet it is already
clearly chalcolithic. From various indications we know that metal
was used, although not very extensively. In this period great
skill was shown in the working of obsidian into knives and scrapers.
. . . The pottery of Tell Halaf was made by hand, unbelievably
thin, indeed not thicker than two playing cards, and shows
an extraordinary grasp of shape and decorative effect in colour
and design. The pottery was fired at great heat in closed kilns
that permitted indirect firing with controlled temperatures.
The result of the intense heat was the fusion and vitrification
of the silicates in the paint so that it became a genuine glaze
that gives the surface a porcelain finish quite different from
the gloss of burnished ware so common later.
Technically and artistically the
Tell Halaf pottery is the finest handmade pottery of antiquity
and bears witness to the high culture of its makers.
Where are the
long ages of development? An early contemporary culture in Mesopotamia
was being evolved at Al Ubaid. It represents one of the root
settlements of the later Sumerian civilization. V. G. Childe
wrote of these people: (56)
The authors of the Al Ubaid
culture cannot have sprung from the marsh bottom, and the culture
itself shows no sign of having developed locally from any more
primitive Mesolithic forerunner.
C. J. Gadd remarked:
The Sumerians possessed the
land since as far back in time as anything at all is seen or
even obscurely divined, and it has already been remarked that
their own legends, which profess to go back to the creation of
the world and of men, have their settings in no other land than
their historical home. . . . But the shapes of the earliest
flints are not those of a pure stone age, nor has any certain
evidence been found in Iran of a population so primitive as to
have no knowledge of metal.
Meek, in a lecture given in the University of Toronto, stated:
The Sumerian culture springs
into view ready made, and there is yet no knowledge of the Sumerians
as savages: when we find them in the fourth millennium B.C.,
they are already civilized highly. They are already using metals
and living in great and prosperous cities.
But the evidence
now points to the Iranian highlands to the east, as being the
original home of the people who thus early established
55. Meek, T. J., "Mesopotamian Studies,"
Havaford Symposium, 1938, p.161.
56. Childe, V. G., ref. 54, p.145.
57. Gadd, C. J., The History and Monuments of Ur, Chatto
and Windus, London, 1924, p.17, 24.
58. In a course on Middle East history, October, 1935.
themselves in the Mesopotamian
plains. What do we find as we trace the lines back toward the
Before entering the plains, or
the Indus Valley, the earliest migrants established a settlement
at Susa in Elam. Of Susa, H. G. Spearing had this to say: (59)
The earliest colonists at Susa
were well civilized before they left the country of their parenthood
and arrived there. For in their burial ground outside the city
walls are found bronze hatchets of the men, and mirrors and needles
and the ointment vases of the women. There are also relics of
delicate fabrics, finely woven on a loom. . . .
The pottery is wonderfully hard
and thin, not much thicker than a couple of post cards, and it
rings like porcelain, though it is not so transparent. The forms
are simple and graceful: they are produced on a rudimentary pottery
wheel used with a skill that looks like the inherited experience
of many generations of craftsmen.
Nearly all the bowls and vases
were elaborately decorated either inside or outside with strange
designs, most of which have no similarity with other designs
found in other parts of the world, so that we have no clue to
the country where these potters learned their art, though we
can be fairly sure that they brought it from some center of civilization
where it had been undergoing a long period of development.
would be that men were surviving to far greater ages, and in
those long years developed much greater skills.
From Susa we must turn toward the
north. Al Ubaid and Tell Halaf were approximately contemporary.
Susa preceded Al Ubaid and presumably preceded Tell Halaf also.
There are parallelisms between Tell Halaf and the earliest levels
at two sites in the Indus Valley, namely, Changu Daru and Harappa.
Susa seems not to be derived from further east, but to be near
the parting of the ways of the first migration of people who
created both the Al Ubaid culture and the cultures of the Indus
Valley. Ernest MacKay said: (60)
There seems no doubt that .
. . we must look to the Iranian Highlands for the region whence
culture was brought to India.
And here we
arrive at Sialk, a site where considerable excavation has been
undertaken, and a site until recently believed to represent the
earliest settlement in the Middle East.
Speaking of this settlement, Vere
Gordon Childe wrote: (61)
59. Spearing, H. G., "Susa, the Eternal
City of the East " in Wonders of the Past, vol.3,
Putman, London, 1924, p.583.
60. MacKay, Ernest, "Great Discoveries of Indian Culture
in Prehistoric Sind," Illustrated London News, Nov.14,
1936, Plate I.
61. Childe, V. G., What Happened in History, Pelican,
London, 1946, p.64.
culture found at Sialk can be matched at other sites upon the
plateau and northward up to Anau in the Merv oasis in Russian
Turkestan. At Sialk a second phase can be seen in the villages
built on the ruins of those described. The houses are no longer
built just of packed clay, but of molded bricks dried in the
sun. Food gathering is less prominent in the communal economy,
horses have been added to the domestic stock. Shells are brought
across the mountains from the Persian Gulf. Copper is commoner,
but it is still treated as a superior sort of stone worked by
cold hammering. Equipment is made from local bone, stone, and
chert, supplemented by a little imported obsidian. But special
kilns are built for firing pots.
Then with Sialk III the village
was removed to a new site close by the old one and watered by
the same spring. Equipment is still mainly home-made from local
materials. But copper is worked intelligently by casting to make
axes and other implements that must still be luxuries. Gold and
silver are imported, and lapis lazuli from northern Afghanistan.
Potters appear who make vessels quickly on a fast spinning wheel,
instead of building them up by hand. And men use seals to mark
their property. Finally Sialk IV is a colony of literate Elamites.
From the first
village at the base of the tell to a literate civilization with
an advanced industry, covers only a remarkably short period of
time. Even of the very first settlers Childe remarked: (62)
They bred cattle, sheep, and
goats. They grew cereals by irrigation, and reaped them with
sickles of bone armed with flint teeth. They spun and wove some
undetermined fibers, and made vases out of stone and pottery.
Here then we
are near the foundations of those cultures in Sumer, the Indus
Valley, Syria, and Egypt; yet the people who created them were
already well on the way to organized community life with some
knowledge of both art and technology. On this simple foundation
there was quickly built a more complex culture which by the time
it was rooted in the other centers a few centuries later was
Behind the settlement of Sialk
there now appears to be an even more basic foundation, which
has been uncovered at M'lefaat, to which reference has already
been made. This site marks a true beginning, since it indicates
the absence of pottery, masonry, and cultivated grain. Yet the
date assigned to it is only around 5000 to 6000 B.C., roughly
1000 to 2000 years before we meet with the high civilizations
in the other cultural centers of the Middle East.
This then seems to be the picture.
Somewhere in this Iranian highland a small group of people settled
who needed little time to develop sufficiently to create the
later culture complex which characterized first of all Jarmo
and then Sialk. From here, or from some similar site in about
the same stages of development, emigrants set
62. Ibid., p.46.
out towards the West
to settle finally at Tell Halaf. Others went south, dividing
into two bands, the one passing around the lower end of the Zagros
Mountains where they came up into the plains of Mesopotamia from
the south, and the other turning to the east and finally establishing
themselves in the Indus Valley. From Mesopotamia and Northern
Syria it seems, more adventurous spirits travelled on until they
reached Lower and Upper Egypt. And all this took place within
a remarkably short time.
This is manifestly a gross over-simplification.
Yet even though the reconstruction may be artificial insofar
as the links are concerned, the time factor is not likely
to be changed very much. The tendency has been, if anything,
to reduce rather than to extend the overall chronology. Moreover,
it should not be supposed that these particular sites are the
only links that could have been proposed for this claim. They
are merely representative of the stages from no pottery, cultivated
grain, or masonry, to wheel-made pottery, domesticated animals,
power farming, and buildings of considerable size and complexity.
All this seems to have taken place between M'lefaat and Al Ubaid
in a period of about 1000 to 1500 years, showing how quickly
the transition was made. Each site successively reveals a logical
step in the evolution of Middle East culture as a whole, until
we arrive in Mesopotamia where Al Ubaid stands at the beginning
of the Sumerian civilization, which within a few hundred years
achieved a greater complexity than many parts of Europe immediately
before the Industrial Revolution.
One is inevitably faced with the
question of what was happening during the exceedingly long period
of comparative stagnation which followed the initial appearance
of Homo sapiens as represented by the fossil remains at
Swanscombe and Fontechevade, and the art galleries created in
European caves by Cro-Magnon Man, all of whom antedate M'lefaat
by up to 250,000 years. At the moment we have no light on the
matter. Indeed such a period with virtually no progress is almost
inconceivable. Yet in the light of what we have been reviewing
from the Middle East, this is what it amounts to.
It is important to observe the
sequence of events. First, for perhaps a quarter of a million
years, intelligent men, to all intents and purposes apparently
much like ourselves, advanced their culture scarcely at all.
Then appeared a settlement in the Iranian Highlands near the
traditional site of the landing of the Ark, which within a period
of perhaps 1500 years evolved into a culture in the Mesopotamian
plains which in turn, within a thousand years, developed into
a series of high cultures scarcely paralleled until
times. And finally, after this sudden burst of activity lasting
possibly a further 1000 years, which witnessed some of the greatest
cultural achievements in Babylonia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley
which the world has known, the process once more slowed up until
many prosperous centres decayed and disappeared, and much of
India, Africa, and Europe remained in a state of semi-barbarism
till well on towards Roman times, and in some instances much
The sequence is, then, an unbelievably
long time with almost no growth; a sudden spurt leading within
a very few centuries to remarkably high culture; a gradual slowing
up, and decay; followed only much later by recovery of lost arts
and by development of new ones, finally creating our modern world.
What was the agency which operated
for that short period to produce such remarkable results? Is
it unreasonable to suppose that the sudden rise of the initial
culture resulted simply from the fact that, because of longevity,
the cumulative experience of each individual was far in excess
of what followed in later generations when the normal life span
was greatly reduced? This initial extension of a man's life was
equivalent in many respects to an extension of the means of communication,
a factor of great importance. Each man carried within himself
a sum total of his vast experience as well as that of his predecessors,
thus compounding it much more extensively than we can ever hope
to do with our brief span of productiveness.
Just as in our generation we have
seen the immense speeding up of cultural processes due to the
extended means of communication we have created, so that we can
with comparative ease enter into and take advantage of the experience
and skill of others far removed in age or distance from us, so
these ancient and longer-lived patriarchs may well have contributed
to the acceleration of the processes of cultural growth by their
longevity, for they survived to share their experience personally
with each succeeding generation and for many generations.
But in the course of time the span
had dropped so drastically that from what we can tell about Greek
culture the average was somewhere around 30 years or less. It
does not require the exercise of much imagination to see what
a profound consequence this would have in the development of
civilization. What if the age should drop to the point where
we all suffered from the disease to which reference has already
been made, namely, progeria? How much could each of us contribute
with perhaps four years of useful life at the most?
Here then, we have a factor in
the study of cultural history
which has been neglected
yet which could be of very grave consequence. And looking towards
the possible future extension of life, what is likely to happen
if we fail to discover a way to curb the destructive tendency
of human inventiveness as we find it today?
Conclusions and a Look Into the
be closed without observing that there are intimations in the
biblical record of a time to come when men will once again live
to be centuries old, so that a man who dies 100 years of age
will be said to have died in childhood (Isaiah 65:20), and his
normal years will give him the stature of a tree (Isaiah 65:22).
But such longevity could only be desirable if human nature and
conditions throughout the world are radically changed. Not long
ago an editorial comment appeared in a popular magazine which
suggested that death is after all not altogether a curse for
man as he finds himself: (63)
Our eye was caught last month
by two adjacent news items that seemed to dovetail neatly. One
quoted an eminent scientist who said that the time might easily
come when medical advances would make it possible for human beings
to live forever. The other reported the formation of the Toronto
Memorial Society, aimed at ending "morbid, barbaric"
funeral rites and at reducing "the high cost of dying."
With all respect to the eminent scientist, we hope this prophecy
proves wrong. The advantages of living forever, we suspect, are
almost wholly illusory. We personally are committed to nature's
ancient and wise system of cycles in which the new continues
to replace the old at regular intervals; we have no wish, really,
to run on century after century like a stuck record or a play
without a final act, repeating past follies and renewing stale
triumphs to the boredom of ourselves and others. No there are
many worse fates than death.
This is not
the whole story of course, for the goal of the scientist is to
add life to years as well. But it does suggest that the world
also needs to be changed, not merely human viability.
Such a change is intimated in the
Bible. It will be a world without any struggle for survival either
of man (Isaiah 36:16) or of beast (Isaiah 11:7; 65:25), but not
because men will finally create a new order by his own will or
intelligence, but because God will impose one upon the whole
earth as soon as it becomes fully apparent that man cannot achieve
his own ideals. As things are, it does not seem altogether desirable
to extend life too far even if it should become possible.
In the meantime, the biblical record
states that men did once live to far greater ages, and as we
have seen, there is some evidence for the truth of this. The
picture which the record furnishes of early
63. Source unknown.
man in the Middle East
should perhaps be given more serious attention from the cultural
point of view. The early chapters of Genesis can hardly be pure
fabrication. This is particularly true of those sections which
have found strong support in various ways from archaeology. Regarding
the chronology and genealogy of Genesis 5, the confirmation comes
from statistical analysis. Both archaeology and statistics favour
the record wherever they may be applied. As Henry Morris put
Although we may not be able
to actually prove or disprove the longevity of the ancients,
at least the Bible is consistent with itself.
a geneticist, J. B. S. Haldane had no difficulty in committing
himself to the belief that man will one day live for centuries.
(65) Then why should
this not have also been true at some time in the past? Other
species have passed through phases of development, and reversals
are not unknown. The evidence is indirect, it is true. But prejudice
against the assumption is likely to arise from the fact that
the Bible supports it, rather than from any inherent unreasonableness.
As Napoleon said, "A man will believe almost anything so
long as it is not in the Bible."
Philip Mauro pointed out how sane
and sensible the record given in Genesis 5 is, and how completely
unlike the records of other nations of antiquity: (66)
It is safe to say that, if Gen.
5 were not in the Bible, and if a tablet were exhumed, say in
Assyria or Egypt, bearing the same concise statistical statements,
it would be hailed as the most wonderful and valuable relic of
antiquity. And not only so but many who attach little or no importance
to these statements of the Bible, would give full credence to
the very same statements, if recorded by some unknown Egyptian
or Babylonian scribe.
This is a strange
circumstance. Yet it is true. If in due time, some ingenious
method is devised by scientists enabling us to determine the
exact age of a skeleton at the time of its death due to its content
of some radioactive chemical, and if it then turns out that fossil
remains of early man reveal a normal life span of several centuries,
the discovery will be hailed as one of the most remarkable, a
triumph of the scientific method; and very few will ever notice
the fact that the Bible has been telling us the same thing for
nearly six thousand years.
64. Morris, Henry, The Bible and Modern
Science, Moody Press, Chicago, 1951, p.28.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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65. Haldane, J. B. S., Genetics, Paleontology and Evolution,
Princeton University Bicentennial Conference, Series 2, Conference
3, 1946, p.26.
66. Mauro, Philip, Chronology of the Bible, Hamilton
Brothers, Boston, 1922, pp.9,10.