The Lost Knowledge of the Ancients: Were Humans the First? Part 1

The Lost Knowledge of the Ancients: Were Humans the First? Part 1

Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Where did such knowledge come from?

The amazing Antikythera Mechanism found in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in Greece. (Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY 2.0)

The Days and Nights of Knowledge

1500 years ago, people generally believed that the earth was flat and rectangular. However, as early as the 6th century BC Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that the earth must be a sphere and in the 3rd century BC the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes had deduced that the earth was round and computed its circumference.

Oddly enough, peoples further back in time had greater scientific knowledge than the European nations of Byzantine and Medieval times. Until the second part of the 19th century, scholars in Europe thought that the Earth was just a few thousand years old. Yet ancient Brahmin books estimated the Day of Brahma, the life span of our universe, to be 4,320 million years - not very far off from modern calculations. Modern science emerged from the medieval darkness during the renaissance. By studying classical sources humanity re-discovered old-truths that had been known by the Babylonians, Ionians, Egyptians, Hindus, or Greeks for many centuries.

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  • Ten Things the Ancients Did Better than Us

Imago Mundi Babylonian map, the oldest known world map, 6th century BC Babylonia.

Medieval cities of France, Germany, and England were usually built by accident (without any planning.) The streets were narrow, irregular, and had no way to manage sewage. Because of the unsanitary conditions epidemics and plagues devastated these towns.

But around 2500 BC, the cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in today’s Pakistan, were as carefully planned as Paris or Washington. An efficient water supply, drainage, and rubbish chutes were provided. Besides public swimming pools, many homes also had private bathrooms. Until the end of the last century this was a luxury in Europe and America.

Panoramic view of the stupa mound and great bath at Mohenjo Daro. (Saqib Qayyum/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Before the latter part of the 16th century, Europeans had neither spoons nor forks on their tables –they used only knives and their fingers. Yet the people of Central America had these one thousand years before the appearance of Cortes. In fact, ancient Egyptians used spoons even earlier – in 3000 BC.

Modern science has only rediscovered and perfected old ideas, it has demonstrated that the world was much older, vaster, and globalized than was thought only a few generations before.

  • Ten amazing inventions from ancient times
  • The Ancient Civilizations that Came Before: Self-Eradication, Or Natural Cataclysm? – Part I

The Lost Documents of Mankind

One of the greatest handicaps archaeologists and historians are confronted with is a lack of evidence. If it were not for burning libraries in antiquity, mankind’s history would not have so many missing pages.

The famous collection of Pisistratus (6th century BC) in Athens was ravaged, the papyri of the library of the Temple of Ptah in Memphis were totally destroyed. The same fate befell the library of Pergamon in Asia Minor containing 200,000 volumes. The city of Carthage, razed to the ground by the Romans in the seventeen-day fire in 146 BC, was said to possess a library with half-a-million volumes. But the worst blow to mankind’s history was the burning of the Library of Alexandria in the Egyptian campaign of Julius Caesar; during which 700,000 priceless scrolls were irretrievably lost. The Bruchion contained 400,000 books and the Serapeum 300,000. There was a complete catalogue of authors in 120 volumes, complete with a brief biography for each author.

5th century scroll illustrating the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus.

The Alexandrian Library was also a university and research institute. The university had faculties of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, literature, as well as other subjects. A chemical laboratory, astronomical observatory, anatomical theater for operations and dissections, and a botanical and zoological garden were some of the facilities of the educational institution where 14,000 pupils studied, laying the foundation of modern science.

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‘The Burning of the Library of Alexandria’, by Hermann Goll (1876). ( CC BY NC SA 2.5 )

The fate of the libraries was no better in Asia. as emperor Tsin Shi Hwang-ti issued an edict whereby innumerable books were burned in China in 213 BC. Leo Isurus was another arch-enemy of culture, as 300,000 books went to the incendiary of Constantinople in the 8th century. The number of manuscripts annihilated by the Inquisition at autos-de-fe in the Middle Ages can hardly be estimated.

Because of these tragedies we have to depend on disconnected fragments, casual passages, and meager accounts. Our distant past is a vacuum filled with random tablets, parchments, statues, paintings and various artifacts. The history of science would appear totally different were the collection of books of Alexandria intact today.

Heron, an Alexandrian engineer, built a steam engine which embodied the principle of both the turbine and jet propulsion. If the library had not been burned, we might have had a plan for a steam-chariot in Egypt. At least we know Heron invented an odometer registering the distance travelled by a vehicle. Such achievements were not surpassed, only copied. The source of modern science lies hidden far back in time.

Depiction of Heron (Hero) of Alexandria and his aeolipile, a simple bladeless radial steam turbine.

[Read Part II ]


Human history

Human history, or recorded history, is the narrative of humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, and linguistics, and since the advent of writing, from primary and secondary sources.

Humanity's written history was preceded by its prehistory, beginning with the Palaeolithic Era ("Old Stone Age"), followed by the Neolithic Era ("New Stone Age"). The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin, between 10,000 and 5000 BCE, in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. During this period, humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals. [2] As agriculture advanced, most humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.

Whether in prehistoric or historic times, people always needed to be near reliable sources of potable water. Settlements developed as early as 4,000 BCE in Iran, [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] in Mesopotamia, [8] in the Indus River valley, [9] on the banks of Egypt's Nile River, [10] [11] and along China's rivers. [12] [13] As farming developed, grain agriculture became more sophisticated and prompted a division of labour to store food between growing seasons. Labour divisions led to the rise of a leisured upper class and the development of cities, which provided the foundation for civilization. The growing complexity of human societies necessitated systems of accounting and writing.

With civilizations flourishing, ancient history ("Antiquity," including the Classical Age, [14] up to about 500 CE [15] ) saw the rise and fall of empires. Post-classical history (the "Middle Ages," c. 500–1500 CE, [16] ) witnessed the rise of Christianity, the Islamic Golden Age (c. 750 CE – c. 1258 CE), and the Timurid and Italian Renaissances (from around 1300 CE). The mid-15th-century introduction of movable-type printing in Europe [17] revolutionized communication and facilitated ever wider dissemination of information, hastening the end of the Middle Ages and ushering in the Scientific Revolution. [18] The Early Modern Period, sometimes referred to as the "European Age and Age of the Islamic Gunpowders", [19] from about 1500 to 1800, [20] included the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration. By the 18th century, the accumulation of knowledge and technology had reached a critical mass that brought about the Industrial Revolution [21] and began the Late Modern Period, which started around 1800 and has continued through the present. [16]

This scheme of historical periodization (dividing history into Antiquity, Post-Classical, Early Modern, and Late Modern periods) was developed for, and applies best to, the history of the Old World, particularly Europe and the Mediterranean. Outside this region, including ancient China and ancient India, historical timelines unfolded differently. However, by the 18th century, due to extensive world trade and colonization, the histories of most civilizations had become substantially intertwined, a process known as globalization. In the last quarter-millennium, the rates of growth of population, knowledge, technology, communications, commerce, weapons destructiveness, and environmental degradation have greatly accelerated, creating unprecedented opportunities and perils that now confront the planet's human communities. [22]


Ancient Aliens Visit the Dogon Tribe?

African Tribe Possessed Knowledge Science Had Yet to Discover

The Dogon tribe and the Sirius Mystery are amazing enough that we’ve covered them elsewhere.

This African tribe (whose name is pronounced “DOE-gone”) has known all sorts of specifics about the star Sirius for thousands of years, passed down from holy man to holy man. We’re talking details here, like how Sirius has a companion star (“Sirius B”), and that it circles the main star (“Sirius A”) every 50 years. Here’s the thing: it is absolutely true—but modern scientists didn’t know these things about Sirius until the middle of the 19th century. The Dogon knew a thousand years ago. Heck, the Dogon also knew that Sirius has a second companion star, and scientists didn’t discover it (“Sirius C”) until the 1990s.

How did the Dogon get this scientific information about Sirius B? If you ask them, they’ll tell you that the tribe was visited by the Nommos, an amphibian-like race that came from the Sirius star system in a noisy “ark” that spun and whipped up wind while it landed. It was the Nommos, a race of ancient aliens, who told the Dogon about their homeworld and its star cluster.

Knee-jerk skeptics like to invent reasons why all this can’t be true. Westerners must have stopped by and told them about Sirius, one denier said. There’s no way, though: the Dogon have artifacts that are thousands of years old, depicting Sirius and its companions. No one should have known this stuff that long ago, but the Dogon did.

This short video does a good job explaining the ancient Dogon knowledge. (I have no idea why the narrator pronounces Sirius as “SIGH-ree-us”, but we can give him a pass on that.)


7 Veins Carried Blood, Arteries Carried Air Originator: Praxagoras


An ancient Greek physician whose writings have been lost to humanity, Praxagoras is perhaps best known for being the first to realize that veins and arteries are different. However, he believed that air traveled through the arteries (probably due to the fact that blood tends to leave the arteries upon death and accumulates in the veins). Praxagoras explained away bleeding by saying the arteries attracted blood from the neighboring tissue when exposed to air. This theory was widely believed for hundreds of years.


Ancient rock shelter

Researchers have found countless artifacts and 18 human burials at the Shum Laka rock shelter, which people have used for at least 30,000 years. But the new study focused on the burials of four children, who lived as the Stone Age transitioned into the Metal Age (also called the Stone-to-Metal Age) in western Central Africa.

This included the remains of a 4-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy found in a double-burial dating to about 8,000 years ago. The researchers also analyzed the DNA of a 4-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy found in neighboring burials dating to about 3,000 years ago, during the late Stone-to-Metal Age.

Although they lived thousands of years apart, these children were distant cousins, the researchers found. About one-third of their DNA came from ancestors who were more closely related to hunter and gatherers in western Central Africa. The other two-thirds came from an ancient source in West Africa, including a "long lost ghost population of modern humans that we didn't know about before," study senior researcher David Reich, a population geneticist at Harvard University, told Science magazine.

The DNA of these cousins upended a previously held idea. Until now, researchers thought that the Bantu-speaking peoples, which includes several hundred indigenous groups in sub-Saharan Africa, originated in this area of Central Africa, before radiating out across the lower half of Africa, which includes central, western central, eastern and southern Africa. This idea was thought to explain why most of the people from these regions are closely related to each other.

But the new genetic analyses show that's not the case. The inhabitants of Shum Laka were not the ancestors of Bantu-speaking people at least according to the DNA of these four children.

"The finding that the Shum Laka individuals are most related to present day rainforest hunter-gatherers and not ancestors of Bantu-speakers is surprising given that Shum Laka was long considered by archeologist[s] as the site where Bantu-speaker culture [was] developing in situ," Carina Schlebusch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, who wasn't involved with the study, told Live Science in an email.

"However, as the authors mentioned in the article, it might be that multiple groups used the site," Schlebusch said. This means that the Bantu's ancestors might have used the site, but it's not shown in these particular burials.


Ancient ingenuity

Facing an extremely difficult (even by today&rsquos standards) task, the civilizations that erected the giant statues on Easter Island, and the colossal figures of the Pharaoh Ramesses in Egypt, used human ingenuity in construction. An Incan wall of irregular stone blocks, fitted together so precisely that even after centuries of earthquakes it is not possible to fit a piece of paper between the joints. The stone block weighs an estimated 100 tonnes! [More pictures available in Creation magazine.]


The Burning of the Library of Alexandria

The loss of the ancient world's single greatest archive of knowledge, the Library of Alexandria, has been lamented for ages. But how and why it was lost is still a mystery. The mystery exists not for lack of suspects but from an excess of them.

Alexandria was founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolemy I Soter, founded the Museum (also called Museum of Alexandria, Greek Mouseion, “Seat of the Muses”) or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. The Museum was a shrine of the Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens. The Museum was a place of study which included lecture areas, gardens, a zoo, and shrines for each of the nine muses as well as the Library itself. It has been estimated that at one time the Library of Alexandria held over half a million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations. Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The library was so large it actually had another branch or "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis.

The first person blamed for the destruction of the Library is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In 48 BC, Caesar was pursuing Pompey into Egypt when he was suddenly cut off by an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria. Greatly outnumbered and in enemy territory, Caesar ordered the ships in the harbor to be set on fire. The fire spread and destroyed the Egyptian fleet. Unfortunately, it also burned down part of the city - the area where the great Library stood. Caesar wrote of starting the fire in the harbor but neglected to mention the burning of the Library. Such an omission proves little since he was not in the habit of including unflattering facts while writing his own history. But Caesar was not without public detractors. If he was solely to blame for the disappearance of the Library it is very likely significant documentation on the affair would exist today.

The second story of the Library's destruction is more popular, thanks primarily to Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". But the story is also a tad more complex. Theophilus was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385 to 412 AD. During his reign the Temple of Serapis was converted into a Christian Church (probably around 391 AD) and it is likely that many documents were destroyed then. The Temple of Serapis was estimated to hold about ten percent of the overall Library of Alexandria's holdings. After his death, his nephew Cyril became Patriarch. Shortly after that, riots broke out when Hierax, a Christian monk, was publicly killed by order of Orestes the city Prefect. Orestes was said to be under the influence of Hypatia, a female philosopher and daughter of the "last member of the Library of Alexandria". Although it should be noted that some count Hypatia herself as the last Head Librarian.

Alexandria had long been known for its violent and volatile politics. Christians, Jews and Pagans all lived together in the city. One ancient writer claimed that there was no people who loved a fight more than those of Alexandria. Immediately after the death of Hierax a group of Jews who had helped instigate his killing lured more Christians into the street at night by proclaiming that the Church was on fire. When the Christians rushed out the largely Jewish mob slew many of them. After this there was mass havoc as Christians retaliated against both the Jews and the Pagans - one of which was Hypatia. The story varies slightly depending upon who tells it but she was taken by the Christians, dragged through the streets and murdered.

Some regard the death of Hypatia as the final destruction of the Library. Others blame Theophilus for destroying the last of the scrolls when he razed the Temple of Serapis prior to making it a Christian church. Still others have confused both incidents and blamed Theophilus for simultaneously murdering Hypatia and destroying the Library though it is obvious Theophilus died sometime prior to Hypatia.

The final individual to get blamed for the destruction is the Moslem Caliph Omar. In 640 AD the Moslems took the city of Alexandria. Upon learning of "a great library containing all the knowledge of the world" the conquering general supposedly asked Caliph Omar for instructions. The Caliph has been quoted as saying of the Library's holdings, "they will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous." So, allegedly, all the texts were destroyed by using them as tinder for the bathhouses of the city. Even then it was said to have taken six months to burn all the documents. But these details, from the Caliph's quote to the incredulous six months it supposedly took to burn all the books, weren't written down until 300 years after the fact. These facts condemning Omar were written by Bishop Gregory Bar Hebræus, a Christian who spent a great deal of time writing about Moslem atrocities without much historical documentation.

So who did burn the Library of Alexandria? Unfortunately most of the writers from Plutarch (who apparently blamed Caesar) to Edward Gibbons (a staunch atheist or deist who liked very much to blame Christians and blamed Theophilus) to Bishop Gregory (who was particularly anti-Moslem, blamed Omar) all had an axe to grind and consequently must be seen as biased. Probably everyone mentioned above had some hand in destroying some part of the Library's holdings. The collection may have ebbed and flowed as some documents were destroyed and others were added. For instance, Mark Antony was supposed to have given Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library long after Julius Caesar is accused of burning it.

It is also quite likely that even if the Museum was destroyed with the main library the outlying "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis continued on. Many writers seem to equate the Library of Alexandria with the Library of Serapis although technically they were in two different parts of the city.

The real tragedy of course is not the uncertainty of knowing who to blame for the Library's destruction but that so much of ancient history, literature and learning was lost forever.

Selected sources:
"The Vanished Library" by Luciano Canfora
"Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbons


What Archaeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, And Fingerprints Of The Gods

It's no secret that far more people watch TV shows like the History Channel's 'Ancient Aliens' than attend lectures by professional archaeologists and historians. Millions of people tune in to watch TV series and docu-dramas with a questionable grip on facts about the past. The stories spun by producers and writers may have some basis in truth, but they're largely stories -- they're compelling stories, though, and they're aimed at a general audience the way that most academic output isn't.

People are also reading books about ancient aliens and other forms of pseudoarchaeology, according to archaeologist Donald Holly. He starts a recent open-access book review section in the journal American Antiquity by asking archaeologists to entertain the idea of pseudoarchaeology -- just for a little bit -- so that we can create better teachable moments, whether we're talking to students or to anyone interested in our jobs. People who read these books are not ignorant or obstinate, he points out, but rather undecided about alternative archaeological explanations and clearly interested in understanding the past. "It's time we talk to the guy sitting next to us on the airplane," Holly asserts. In collecting nine reviews of popular-on-Amazon pseudo-archaeology books by professional archaeologists, Holly hopes that this will both "offer the silent and curious majority that is interested in these works a professional perspective on them" and give archaeologists unfamiliar with the books a pseudoarchaeology primer.

The article starts out with two reviews of books whose main premise is that we need advanced humans -- or nonhumans -- to make sense of past developments. First up, Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization, reviewed by Ken Feder, an archaeologist famous for his anti-pseudoarchaeology book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. The gist of Fingerprints is that an extraordinarily advanced civilization roamed the seas thousands of years ago, giving advice to the people they found in places like Egypt and Peru and helping them establish their own civilizations. In return, these advanced peoples were treated as gods, particularly after some cataclysmic event wiped them out. Feder's main problems with Hancock's book include the fact that he cherry-picked his data, not bothering to address all the evidence that he relies on very old and discredited fringe thinkers and that he can't conceive of cultural evolution.

In the second review, The Ancient Alien Question, archaeologist Jeb Card points out, as does Feder, that the origins of this idea lay in Victorian mysticism and Theosophy, a movement that "blended hermetic magic, spiritualism, Western curiosity abut Eastern religion, colonial racism, and misconceptions of evolution into a worldview of root races, lost continents, and ascended masters who originated on Venus or other worlds." The author of The Ancient Alien Question, Philip Coppens, was a regular on the Ancient Aliens TV series and presents academic research as if science itself is mysterious. Most problematic, Card finds, is Coppens' invokation of "the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and other book burnings as suppression of ancient truth without recognizing his own call for the destruction of the scientific order, replacing scientific investigation with a new history of mysticism and myth."

Neolithic site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. (Image via wikimedia commons user Teomancimit, used under . [+] a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.)

Other books in the review section focus on specific sites or cultures and illustrate that the popular author has artificially selected which information to present. Andrew Collins' book Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, reviewed by archaeologist Eric Cline, deals with the Neolithic site in Turkey that Collins tries to connect to the biblical Garden of Eden by treating the Bible as incontrovertible fact. Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt by Robert Bauval and Thomas Brophy, reviewed by archaeologist Ethan Watrall, misunderstands both astronomy and the Bible to show that the Egyptian state was "black African" yet also manages to accurately point out that academic archaeology has for a long time ignored sub-Saharan Africa.

The southwestern U.S. is covered by Gary David's Star Shrines and Earthworks of the Desert Southwest, reviewed by archaeologist Stephen Lekson. While Lekson admits that David is on to something with his "loose, journalistic style," the "content [of the book] is fantastic, it is phenomenal, it is flabbergasting, it is. a mish-mash." Archaeologist Kory Cooper tackles Iron Age America Before Columbus by William Conner, which suggests that there is evidence of iron smelting sites in prehistoric North America. Cooper's highest praise is that it "would make a useful reference for an Introduction to Logic course because the book is a veritable catalogue of logical fallacies." And archaeologist Benjamin Auerbach reviews The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America: The Missing Skeletons and the Great Smithsonian Cover-Up by Richard Dewhurst, who uses old newspaper articles to claim that not only were the skeletons of giants found in the U.S., but that the most well-known science museum in the country tried to hide the evidence. Auerbach points out that he personally has studied many of the skeletons Dewhurst mentions and "none had statures over six feet." The selective evidence in these books is clearly problematic, but not as problematic as the motif underlying many pseudoarchaeology books.

The primary theme among these popular pseudoarchaeology books that professionals have a major problem with is ethnocentrism, or the idea that we can judge other cultures based on the yardstick of our own. But racism figures in here too. Archaeologist Larry Zimmerman reviews The Lost Colonies of Ancient America by Frank Joseph, who insists that mainstream archaeologists are the ones ignoring information on transoceanic voyages and that any number of past civilizations may have colonized the New World first. Zimmerman, though, notes that "Joseph echoes half a millennium of speculation geared toward inventing a deep Old World history in the Americas, thereby challenging the primacy of American Indians in the hemisphere, or at least implying their inferiority, their poor stewardship of the land, and the need to civilize them, all in the service of Manifest Destiny and justification for taking their land." Similarly, John Ruskamp's Asiatic Echoes: The Identification of Chinese Pictograms in Pre-Columbian North American Rock Writing, reviewed by archaeologist Angus Quinlan, puts forth the idea that pictograms found in North American rock art are Chinese script characters left by an otherwise archaeologically invisible trip across the Pacific. The similarity is substantial, Ruskamp insists, but Quinlan calls it "another illustration of deductive thinking at its worst." Further, Quinlan points out that these sorts of interpretations that try to shoehorn in foreign visitors to explain New World culture are "disrespectful of the Native American cultures that used rock art in their sociocultural routines."

Native American pictograph (painted rock art) from a panel of images found in Horseshoe/Barrier . [+] Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Image via wikimedia commons user Scott Catron, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.)

Archaeologists are trained as anthropologists to recognize and celebrate the diversity of humanity, both today and in the past. Eric Cline succinctly explains this in his review, noting "pseudoarchaeologists cannot accept the fact that the mere humans might have come up with great innovations such as the domestication of plants and animals or built great architectural masterpieces such as the Sphinx all on their own rather, they frequently seek or invoke divine, or even alien, assistance to explain how these came to be."

Pseudoarchaeology books are problematic for archaeologists for a number of reasons. First, of course, they tend to present misinformation, cherry-picked from legitimate (and not-so-legitimate) sources that is often taken as fact because it's presented as fact. Archaeologists, as scientists, can no more select what data to consider than a chemist can select which laws of chemistry to follow. Second, pseudoarchaeology seems like a legitimate body of scholarship because authors tend to cite one another, creating a body of information that, however outlandish it sounds, fits together. Archaeology also does this, but as scientists, we are invested in improving our understanding of the past rather than in protecting our own theories the way pseudoarchaeologists do.

But these books are perhaps most problematic for archaeologists because, as Lekson notes, "alternative archaeology is more interesting than the stuff we write. more interesting to more people, that is." Academic archaeologists are not trained to write readably, which means there is a large opening for authors to connect with the "guy on the airplane." Archaeologists like Brian Fagan who do write more approachable books have to walk a fine line between making data interesting and not making extraordinary claims.

Unfortunately, tales of ancient aliens and extraordinary humans creating the Pyramids as a communication device are often more fascinating than slow cultural change. We as archaeologists need to find a way to showcase the humanity of the past and get across the idea that ancient humans were intelligent, capable, and innovative -- that those of us alive today are the product of that long history of innovation, and that we are continuing the tradition of our early ancestors by inventing cars, computers, and, yes, even pseudoarchaeology.

For more on pseudoarchaeology books, you can read the American Antiquity book reviews here, or check out the fantastic blog by Jason Colavito, the "skeptical xenoarchaeologist," who critiqued Hancock's recent appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. And if you want to take a class in pseudoarchaeology, Ethan Watrall has put his fall 2015 Michigan State University course online, with all course material freely available to anyone who's interested.


The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved

Wolves became dogs via cooperation and reciprocity rather than through competition with humans

"I wrote this book to remind people that the wolves we often demonize and persecute through wildlife management policies aren’t that different from the dogs we have in our homes and should be treated with a higher level of respect." (Brandy Fogg)

I recently had the pleasure of reading Ray Pierotti and Brandy Fogg's new book called The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved. In their landmark book, the authors begin by clearly outlining the material they want to cover and how they will go about doing it. They write, “In our efforts to produce a significant new contribution to a crowded field, we looked to a source that has been largely ignored in investigations of the evolution of humans and their ecological relationships with other species: the solid information contained within accounts from Indigenous peoples around the world.” And the authors, who bring expertise in the wide-ranging fields they cover in their interdisciplinary analyses, do just this with remarkable skill and clear and easy to read prose.

They correctly point out that almost every other book that has been published about the domestication of wolves and their relationship to humans has been written mainly from a Western reductionist tradition that emphasizes competition and rivalry between nonhumans and humans, rather than cooperation and compatibility, and this view presents only a small part of the story. They stress the importance of cooperation in many nonhuman and humans societies (P. 49) and their concentration on “examining consilience between the sciences and the humanities” (P. 8) not only is refreshing, but also what is needed to figure out how wolves became dogs. One very important point they bring up that is often ignored is that there really is no “the dog,” and that it’s very difficult to define the word “dog.” (P. 47). They correctly write, “contemporary domestic dogs are a grab-bag assemblage …” (P. 204)

I was impressed with the scope of The First Domestication and asked the authors if they could take the time to answer a few questions. They said "yes" and I'm grateful they could. Ray Pierotti's answers are in regular font and Brandy Fogg's are in italics. A response by both authors also is in regular font.

Why did you write The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved?

Pierotti: This actually goes back to my childhood, when I was told traditional Indigenous stories about how humans depended upon wolves in times of hardship and that humans and wolves were close companions who worked together. As my education progressed, I came to realize that my beloved stories did not reflect the prevailing way of thinking in Biology, which I was planning to make my career. When I was hired as a tenure-track faculty member, part of my appointment was to work with Haskell Indian College, which was located in the same small city. Working with native faculty and students brought me back to the stories that had formed my initial interest in biology and I began thinking about how to make these supposedly different ways of thinking into an appropriate reconciliation.

I began addressing these topics in publications with Daniel Wildcat in the late 1990s. I published my first major work on this topic with my 2011 book Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. At the same time, I was working with my excellent graduate student Brandy Fogg, who shared my interest in canids and was interested in doing her MA on this topic. During her research, it became apparent that we had the makings of a book.

Brandy and I have both been inspired by the work that you and Jane Goodall have been doing to show the complexity of nonhuman minds. You two (and others) showed us what was possible.

Fogg: The bond humans have with dogs is unlike any other animal. We refer to them as man’s best friend but most people are unaware of how this relationship originated. I wanted to explore the history behind this. As I set out to discover the roots of this relationship I realized there was a wealth of knowledge on the subject available through the stories of Indigenous peoples that had largely been left out of the domestication discussion. The relationship between humans and wolves is ancient and there is a vast amount of knowledge that has been lost through poor translations and the exclusion of the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. The stories that I used as a graduate student made it clear that this relationship began as a mutually beneficial arrangement and not the domineering one humans tend to think of when discussing domestication of other species. I wrote this book to remind people that the wolves we often demonize and persecute through wildlife management policies aren’t that different from the dogs we have in our homes and should be treated with a higher level of respect.

"Indigenous people and their knowledge and traditions should be taken seriously and recognized as valid ways to think about nature and biological questions."

What are your major messages?

To us, there are two major messages:

1) Indigenous people and their knowledge and traditions should be taken seriously and recognized as valid ways to think about nature and biological questions.

2) Wolves have been the closest companions of humans and we should not persecute them, but honor them for what they have meant to us as a species over the last 40,000 years.

You discuss and criticize some popular, but unsubstantiated theories of domestication, that center on how wolves became dogs, or, how Mark Derr puts it, how dogs became dogs. Can you briefly tell readers which ones you critically discuss and why you reject them?

We have been troubled by the dump-scavenging model argued for by Ray and Lorna Coppinger, because it is both anti-dog and anti-wolf in its conceptions. 1 We are amazed that it received the attention it has because it is in no way an evolutionary argument. This argument makes little sense in terms of the timing of events, however, some archaeological scholars have accepted a version of it because they do not think that “dogs” existed until they could be easily distinguished based on skeletal traits. It is this argument at which we direct our main critique. The key thing to understand is that a number of other scholars seemed to concede to the Coppingers’ argument so it seems like we are more critical than we actually are when we reference these other scholars. We are critical of Richard Francis’ book on domestication, but he basically falls into the ancient argument that wolves and humans were competitors and bitter enemies. We are all critical of some individuals who seem to believe that there can be no such thing as a “domestic wolf”, and who basically argue that wolves and dogs are different species.

In addition, we have some serious questions about the results from DNA based studies because 1) scholars in this field seem unwilling to provide a scientific name for the organisms they are studying, and 2) we suspect that is because they do not want to acknowledge that dogs and wolves are the same species, i.e. Canis lupus, because they are worried that making this argument might lead conservative critics to argue that wolves are not endangered because dogs are so common. This argument has some merit, but rather than address this they simply avoid it. In addition, results from different DNA based studies provide results that are mutually incompatible. Finally, DNA based work seems to be based on the assumption that there was a single origin of all dogs, even though they argue for at least four different locations of dog origins (Eastern Asia, Northern Europe, the Levant, and China). We suspect that “dogs” originated in all of those localities, however, under contemporary systematics it is necessary that each “species” have a single origin because polyphyly does not fit cladistic models.

What view(s) do you favor on how wolves and human coevolved and why?

Pierotti: It is important to recognize that we think this relationship occurred on multiple occasions in several different regions. We think this explains the different DNA results and also that this process continued until very recently in some areas, especially Siberia and pre-contact North America, where many “dogs," or at least “canids living with humans”, were basically wolves from at least a phenotypic perspective. We think the relationship started because when modern humans moved out of Africa into Europe and Asia they were competent hunters, but unfamiliar with cold climates and the large ungulates found in these regions. They surely noticed the presence of wolves, as the other medium-sized social (group-hunting) carnivore, and according to many indigenous origin stories, depended upon scavenging wolf kills to survive. It is likely that each species recognized a useful ally in the other, with wolves being strong at pursuit and tracking and humans being good at killing once a prey had been run down or cornered. For some reason, there seems to be no evidence that Neandertals ever hunted cooperatively in this fashion, which is a major premise of Pat Shipman’s argument in The Invaders. Wolves would already have been familiar with similar arrangements since they seem to hunt cooperatively with ravens throughout North America and probably did in Eurasia as well.

Fogg: We use the term coevolved because we believe certain aspects of human society were actually learned from wolves. After our nomadic period in history, we chose to live in areas with established boundaries. At one point these were boundaries for an entire village and eventually we staked out property lines for single family groups. This is similar to the way wolves claim territories and monitor these boundaries. Humans live in family groups that are unlike any other primate species. The closest living arrangement to the way humans live is that of a wolf family group. This arrangement allows humans and wolves to invest more time and energy into ensuring the survival of those we share the most genetic material with. Humans naturally recognize the need to be a part of a social group. The lone wolf typically does not do as well as members of a cooperative family group. Research shows us that social relationships and interactions are essential to human health, both mentally and physically.

Who is your intended audience?

We hope anyone who cares about dogs will find this book interesting, and also realize that the animals they care for so much are, in fact, domesticated wolves, and in some cases not all that domestic. We also hope that scholars interested in human behavior and evolution, or people interested in coevolution within a cooperative framework, will find this book useful and that it stimulates more thinking about how cooperation is more important than competition.

What are some of your current and future projects?

Pierotti: My next project is a book about another underappreciated group of organisms who have been associated with garbage dumps. I refer to gulls, better known to most people as “seagulls” even if some of them never visit salt water. I studied this group for twenty years and published a number of papers, and I want to reveal how gulls are important components of aquatic ecosystems, and act as catalysts for mixed species foraging groups.

Fogg: My next project will focus on the relationship Americans have had with a specific breed of dog. We selectively bred them to have a unique set of qualities that would allow them to protect our families and help work with livestock, but several factors have contributed to this breed becoming one of the dangerous and often mistreated breeds in America. Certain cultural trends caused this breed to fall from a respected role in families as “nanny dogs” to statistically a danger to society. I plan to explore the history of the American Pitbull Terrier so that people will recognize this remarkable breed as the victim of irresponsible ownership and breeding instead of an innately ‘bad dog.'

An apt summary of the Pierotti and Fogg’s view of how wolves became dogs is, “As long as humans considered themselves to be fellow predators. we lived comfortably with wolves. They were our companions, sharing both our hunts and our kills and living with us in a more or less equal sort of reciprocity.” (P. 23) Their conclusion is well founded and in basic agreement with those of others who have written on how wolves became dogs, including experts Mark Derr and Patricia Shipman.

The First Domestication is an outstanding book because of the care with which existing data are treated and presented and its encyclopedic scope. It could well become a classic not only in terms of the numerous topics it covers but so too as a model for how detailed analyses of copious data and relevant stories can be used to make for a coherent and factual account of the subject at hand. Each time I read different sections, I came away knowing far more than I did on a topic in which I’ve been interested in for decades. It would be an excellent choice for undergraduate and graduate students and for non-scientists who want to learn more about how wolves became dogs, or, as Mark Derr puts is, how dogs became dogs, and the numerous disciplines that need to be given serious attention when trying to credibly answer this fascinating question.

I'm sure others will weigh in both supporting and refuting some of the calling made in this book. I look forward to these exchanges.

1 A little more detail here might be useful for readers. I could easily see how the subtitle for this eclectic book could well have been something like, Dumping the Dumpster Belief and Other Ideas About How Wolves Became Dogs. While Pierotta and Fogg focus on and thoughtfully reject a number of theories of how wolves were transformed into dogs, they thoroughly and convincingly show why the one belief that has received the most media attention with little to no scientific backing is incorrect. Often called the “dumpster theory” of how wolves became dogs that is attributed to the late Ray Coppinger and his wife, Lorna, the simplistic idea that wolves evolved as scavengers around human camps and that humans controlled the interactions between wolves and themselves fails on biological/evolutionary (“The Coppingers are at odds with evolutionary theory…” p. 37), behavioral, and archeological grounds (The Coppingers argue “There is zero evidence for dogs before 12,000 BP… P. 207). It also is narrowly monocultural, assumes a single origin for dogs (Pp. 31ff and elsewhere), and is self-contradictory (P. 33).


The Spirit of Humanism

The most important thing to remember about Renaissance Humanism, however, is that its most important characteristics lie not in its content or its adherents, but in its spirit. To understand Humanism, it must be contrasted with the piety and scholasticism of the Middle Ages, against which Humanism was regarded as a free and open breath of fresh air. Indeed, Humanism was often critical of the stuffiness and repression of the Church over the centuries, arguing that humans needed more intellectual freedom in which they could develop their faculties.

Sometimes Humanism appeared quite close to ancient paganism, but this was usually more a consequence of the comparison to medieval Christianity than anything inherent in the beliefs of the Humanists. Nevertheless, the anti-clerical and anti-church inclinations of the humanists were a direct result of their reading ancient authors who didn’t care about, didn’t believe in any gods, or believed in gods who were far and remote from anything that the humanists were familiar with.

It is perhaps curious, then, that so many famous humanists were also members of the church — papal secretaries, bishops, cardinals, and even a couple of popes (Nicholas V, Pius II). These were secular rather than spiritual leaders, exhibiting much more interest in literature, art, and philosophy than in sacraments and theology. Renaissance Humanism was a revolution in thinking and feeling which left no part of society, not even the highest levels of Christianity, untouched.


Watch the video: 10 berühmte Kinder - die entsetzlich geworden sind!