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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Origins of Civilisation

The origins of civilisation have been somethingI have pondered many times over the years, and recently an article I was reading on an ancient, the article claims it is more than 9,000 years old, reawakened my interest in it. The article discussed a site in Northern Turkey where archaelogists have been working for a number of years and have uncovered the earliest known 'city' yet found. It is built of mudbricks and displays all the characteristics of a single community. The artefacts can be dated and lead to the conclusion that the first occupation and the beginnings of the development of the 'city' are at least 9,000 years old.

What is puzzling is that many of the structures show a sophistication that suggests a well developed 'technology' was available to the builders - yet it seems to have sprung fully developed as it were into existence 9,000 years ago. It set me thinking, because when one reads up on all the oldest known civilisation sites of the ancient world, one quickly notices a similar pattern. Within a time span of seldom more than two human generations, supposedly 'primitive' societies go from building in adobe or wattle and daub, to monumental structures with paved roads, city walls, temples, palaces and sophisticated cities. What was the trigger?

It is almost as if there was some forerunner to the Indus Valley civilisation, the Nile Valley and the Chinese that has escaped notice. No, I'm not suggesting visitors from outer space, nor am I about to suggest some form of 'divine' intervention. But my curiosity is certainly raised by the realisation that there are a number of finds turning up along the continental shelves that appear to be 'unnatural' formations. One at least, in the Sea of Japan, bears all the hallmarks of having been 'built' by humans. There are a number of these sites, several off the west coast of the Indian sub-continent, one in the Bahamas which we now know was dismantled by a contractor who used the carved stone blocks to build a harbour in Florida.

There is something else that is noticeable, and this is that there are no such 'cradles of civilisation' in the Southern Hemisphere. The sole possible example is Great Zimbabwe, which was constructed between 1200 and 1500 when it was abandoned. About all we know for certain of this site is that it was built by the forerunners of the Mashona peoples and that they had some trade with vistors from Arabia and the Chinese, or at least with others who did. Nor do we know why they abandoned it.

When considering the reports of submerged structures offshore in certain areas, and one takes into account the fact that every major civilisation has a "flood" legend similar to the Biblical accounts of Noah, it prompts a second line of thought. One Dr Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has tried to explore in the Black Sea. As we know, sea levels were up to 200 feet lower during the last Ice Age than they are at present. Could 'civilisation' have started in cities we have now 'lost' because they were covered in water when the great Northern Hemisphere ice sheets melted? Could the refugees from these cities have founded the new ones that have given rise to the civilisations we now consider to be the 'originals?' 

That would be one way to explain how the Egyptians could go from mudbrick mastabas to the Great Pyramid in the span of 70 years. Certainly some of the refugees would have needed to build boats to reach dry land as the high ground became peninsulas, then islands and finally submerged. One account suggests that the Mediterranean basin contained a 'lake' about 300 feet lower than the present sea level, but, as the Atlantic level rose and eventually overtopped the land dam in the Straits of Gibraltar the water level would have taken several years to fill the basin to an equilibrium level. The same thing would have occured in the Bosphorus as the water in the Mediterranean finally overtopped the land dam there and carved a new channel to flood the Black Sea basin. There would have been an awful lot of very distressed and displaced people and animals trying to find ground high enough to escape the constantly rising water levels as the basins filled.

We are told that the Ice Age 'ended' about 12,000 years ago, but in fact that is only when the ice began its retreat, it may well have taken much longer than that for the water levels to rise - there's an awful lot of sheer 'volume' to fill when you look at it carefully. Looking at some of the locations suggested as possible submerged cities, it is also evident that many of them would have first been 'cut off' from the 'mainland' by the water rising slowly and not abandoned until it became obvious the water wasn't going to go down again.

Well, I'm not an oceanographer, nor am I an archaeologist, so these are questions that I can't answer, nor have I the resources or expertise to explore it. Perhaps, one day, someone will pick up on what Dr Ballard has already found along the Turkish coast in the Black Sea. And perhaps, when they do, it will answer at least some of my questions. Who knows, it may even require a little rewriting of some of the history books.

Hopefully while I've still enough marbles in my head to be able to read them.

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