Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why are there no records of civilization beyond 10,000 years ago?

Here is another email from a supporter.

I really enjoyed your site, and the easy manner with which you deal with difficult subjects. I am a former evangelical christian who, over time, like you, came to realize there was another side to the story, with overwhelming evidence to support it.

I do have one question though, that you may be able to help me with. This is particularly an issue for a christian friend of mine. Every time we discuss or debate the age of the earth/universe, he always resorts to "why are there no records of civilization beyond 10,000 years ago?"

It is enough for me to accept that beyond 10,000 years ago, people didn't write, period. But that is unsatisfactory for him. So, my question to you is, is there strong evidence of civilizations beyond 10,000 year ago? Do you have any links or info that would show this?

Appreciate any help or advice you can offer. And keep up the great work!

That is is good question, and it is one that I had pondered for a long time. Science shows that humans who were essentially the same as us lived 40,000 years ago. Why do we not see signs of their civilizations? There is a simply answer to this question. They didn't have much food.

Let me explain. In the wild, less than 0.1% of the biomass is edible by humans. Much of the edible food is hard to obtain. Wheat, strawberries, potatoes, etc. simply did not exist in the forms we know them today. Thus, early humans spent much of their time searching for natural food. Frequently they exhausted the food in one region, and had to roam long distances in small tribes. Such existences are not conducive to the development of civilization.

Nevertheless, there are signs of early civilization that do survive. Early cave paintings in France show that these people were fully human in their ability to create. And early Polynesians sailed far beyond the visible horizon to reach Austrailia and the Pacific Islands. Europeans would not be able to duplicate this feat for another 30,000 years. Doubtless there were other works of art, techonology, and civilization of which we are not aware.

But the development of advanced civilation had to wait until food was more readily available. The process was slow. Wild grains, for instance, had small seeds which quickly fell to the ground when they were ripe. However, a mutation in some of these grains caused them to stay on the stalk. Early humans could have found these grains on the stalk, and gathered them to bring to their families. On the way, some of these grains could have been scattered on the ground, where they led to the growth of more grain. Thus humans, without knowing it, began to guide the process of grain evolution, by helping to scatter the grains they liked best. Eventually grains near human settlements became bigger, stayed on the stalk longer, and were better for human consumption. Eventually, some people may have planted some of these grains as a hobby in small fields. These fields would not have been enough to supply all of their food needs, but eventually, the grain fields would become a significant part of their food supply. As time went on, the grains became better, and technology to store and process these grains improved. Grain farming became big business. The abundance of food led to increased population, and this increased the demand for better farming methods. And so this necessity became the mother of invention, and people worked together to build advanced communities.

As food became more common, some people had time to specialize in other occupations, such as building things of wood, stone and metal, and governing the towns. The crowds of people in town with time to tinker, and to share their ideas with many others, facilitated the development of the other aspects of civilization.

But all of this was not possible 40,000 years ago. Civilization had to wait until plant evolution made this all possible.

It's a most fascinating study. You can ready more about it in the book, Guns, Germs and Steel, which describes how we got from bands of hunter-gatherers to people who could conquer the world with guns and steel.

Click on the book for more details.


LorMarie said...

Admittedly, this is a shocker to me. I'd always assumed that if it could be proven that any civilization existed more than 10,000 years ago, there'd be some type of "record" (even if it is the most basic--like a primitive tool or the like). Of course, I'm not speaking of any advanced type of record.

I would think that some type of evidence would be required in order for it to be considered probable. Again, not an expert on this issue...but the "food" explanation does appear to be a bit of a stretch.

Merle said...

Ah, but primitive tools have been found. And elaborate paintings have been found in caves. And tangible evidence that people were making boats that could travel far beyond the horizon in Polynesia 35,000 ago has been found.

Exactly how is it that one would expect small bands of people hunting wild berries and fish to have the time on their hands to create a modern, permanent civilation before modern foods existed?

LorMarie said...

Exactly how is it that one would expect small bands of people hunting wild berries and fish to have the time on their hands to create a modern, permanent civilation before modern foods existed?

A modern permanent civilization wasn't the issue (if it's 10,000 years the past, it can't be modern). Similarly, if there was a civilization of that time, there would be some type of evidence even if only pictures, tools, etc. And then even with limited sources. Lastly, civilization does not only refer to an advanced society. If humans existed at that time, I'm quite sure they communicated somehow.