Remember my preference



Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part I: Longevity in Antiquity and Its Bearing on Chronology

Chapter 3

The Evidence of Archaeology

The Sudden Appearance of High Cultures in the Middle East

     ACCORDING TO 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 now exist.
     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 cultivated grain.
     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.
48. Braidwood, Robert J., "From Cave to Village," Scientific American, October, 1952, p.64.
49. Report from Robert J. Braidwood, Science, vol,121, 1955, p.191.

     pg 1 of 10      

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:

     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.

     Archaeologists 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, and

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, pp.28, 31-33.

     pg.2 of 10     

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.

     And speaking 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.

     Vere Gordon 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.

     pg.3 of 10     

      Some sites in Syria bear witness to this same peculiar aspect of Middle East cultures. T. J. Meek in this connection wrote: (55)

     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: (57)

     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.

      T. J. Meek, in a lecture given in the University of Toronto, stated: (58)

     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.

     pg.4 of 10     

themselves in the Mesopotamian plains. What do we find as we trace the lines back toward the probable foundations?
     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:

     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.

     Another alternative 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:

     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:

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.

     pg.5 of 10     

     The earliest 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 highly complex.
     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.

     pg.6 of 10     

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

     pg.7 of 10     

comparatively modern 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 later.
     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

     pg.8 of 10     

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 Future

     This cannot 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.

     pg.9 of 10     

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 it: (64)

     Although we may not be able to actually prove or disprove the longevity of the ancients, at least the Bible is consistent with itself.

     Speaking as 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:

     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.
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.

     pg.10 of 10     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                             Next Chapter

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us