The ways in which we attempt to determine the history of early man say much more about who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow, and who we want to be today, and who we want to be tomorrow, than they do about who we were in the past. This statement comes from a person who knows little about science, and less about the specific scientific techniques used in archeological excavation and analysis. But it seems to me that much of the observations that are made in the study of early man are predicated as much on new theory as they are on old observation, and much of the old observation seems to be based on how humans act now, rather than in the past.
For instance, an entire new field of study known as "Evolutionary
Psychology" is based on the premise that we can understand who we are
today based on how we have evolved, and what we have evolved from. Evolution,
is more or less a proven fact, analogous to gravity, it is a theory that we
have used to understand countless other phenomena in the world around us.
But there is no theory about how early man behaved, how he evolved, or even,
what he looked like, that comes even close to being as widely accepted. In
other words, this new field of study is based on science that does not yet
exist, and might not ever exist, and the thinking behind it is similar to
thinking behind the study of early man. Evolutionary psychologists use things
we don't know about who we were then to try and understand who we are now,
and anthropologists use things we don't know about who we are now to try and
understand who we were then.
Our debates about these early human ancestors echo our debates
about our present and our modern history to such a degree, that in some ways,
this echo seems to cast doubts on the entire process of examination.A great
debate in history departments around the world who study the Twentieth Century
concerns what is known as the "Great Man Theory." This theory supposes
that the major events, and major social changes, of the past century were
due more to the actions of a handful of men and women (usually those in positions
of great power, or those who made important scientific discoveries) rather
than to the actions of the majority. It is a difficult theory to swallow among
those of us who count themselves among the less exceptional majority. It is
also not necessarily true. One can make an equally persuasive argument that
what was done by these so-called great men were either reactions to changes
that would have occurred anyway, or that if these great men had never been,
other people, who history does not now consider "great" would have
taken their place. It seems impossible that this question could ever be settled
through objective reasoning. One believes it one way or the other or somewhere
in between because of what one wants to believe, because of one's own concerns
about the direction their world is taking.
The same debate appears in the study of early man, and his relationship
to technology, accept in this field it is called the "Genius Hypothesis"
Did one exceptionally intelligent person start planting, growing, and harvesting
and then pass his skill onto the others, or did agriculture develop gradually?
Did one man learn how to start his own fires and teach the others who passed
it on, or did many people all over the planet discover they could bang rocks
together, and catch the spark, when their brains were all starting to grow
a little bigger?
The debate in the study of our primitive history is the same
as the study of our primitive history. Until more time is spent on physical,
scientific discovery, and less time on emotionally driven hypothesis, these
questions will never be answered.
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