Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing and Agriculture: A Puzzle Solved?

Ayyab letter mp3h8880

Paleontologists tell us that modern humans (Homo sapiens) have been around for something like 200,000 years, and that evidence of "behavioral modernity" goes back at least 50,000 years. OK, no problem.  Archaeologists tell us that writing was invented independently several times (at least in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and Central America) and that agriculture was invented independently at least twice (in Eurasia and in the Americas).  Both kinds of inventions took place within the past 10,000 years.  Archaeologists believe that these had to be independent events, since the ancestors of the American Indians arrived millenia before the invention of agriculture and there is no strong evidence for genetically or culturally significant contact with the "Old World" from that time until the arrival of Columbus.

Does this seem odd to anyone else?  

I can understand that the invention of writing should follow, probably "fairly quickly", the invention of agriculture, but....  For no one to think of agriculture anywhere for at least 40,000 years and then almost simultaneously invent it in several regions all isolated from each other sounds ... fishy.  

This, of course, gives rise to all manner of wild ideas:
  • Maybe the human species really isn't that old, just like young-Earth creationists say!
  • Maybe ideas like agriculture and writing were remembered from some much earlier civilization -- like Atlantis!  Who knows how advanced this lost civilization might have been?
  • Maybe space aliens brought this knowledge to primitive man?

Let's dispose of these quickly.
  • Young-Earth creationism has so much scientific evidence stacked against it that accounting for it would require either that God directly put lying fossils into the rocks, or that He permitted the Devil to do this.  Such an assertion might be plausible of a pagan god like Loki, but it is simply blasphemous when applied to the Christian God.
  • Societies present during and before the Ice Age may have had poetry and art, and many of their settlements may have been flooded when the ice sheets retreated.  They could not have had a technically advanced civilization like ours, though, or they would have produced much more garbage, like we do.  We would have found their dumps.  They would probably have also taken all the easily available mineral resources. Likewise, they could not have had agriculture.  Archaeology and genetics can trace the domestication of plants.
  • Quite aside from the trouble they would have had getting here, if aliens brought our ancestors technology and science, they did such a really crappy job of it that it boggles the mind.  Agriculture, writing, and technology do not show signs of having sprung up instantly in mature form, they way they do when outsiders bring a fully-formed civilization to the natives.
Other people suggest the Ice Ages themselves may have prevented civilization from arriving.  I don't buy that argument.  Sure, harsh conditions would have made it impossible to have civilization in Ice Age Europe or Canada, but other places, like the location of today's Sahara Desert, were much more hospitable then than now.  Civilization could have potentially taken hold there.

How can we explain the synchronicity, then? 

Here's an idea that just occurred to me today:  Maybe we owe it all to dogs.  Dogs were apparently the first animals to be domesticated, and their domestication began before the ancestors of the American Indians crossed the Bering Land Bridge.  If a society already has the idea of domesticating animals, it can only be so long before they get the idea of domesticating plants, too, and agriculture can support the population density necessary for ideas like writing to be needed.

So thanks, Elvis!

1 comment:

  1. I love it! E takes such a good picture. He is resting, I will tell him when he wakes up that his picture is on this site.

    And you're right, it is fishy that a pattern of farming seemingly emerged at the same time and independent from each other.