Rafael's School of Athens, depicting Plato's Academy.

The Lost Knowledge of the Ancients: Were Humans the First? Part 2

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Until documents of bygone ages are unearthed, located and recovered we are stuck with sacred texts, classical writings and myths of the past. Can these documents we know of now be considered as reliable material for reconstructing the picture of the past?

[Read Part I ]

Lost Places

One hundred and fifty years ago, no scholar took the Iliad or the Odyssey of Homer as history. But Heinrich Schliemann put faith in it and discovered the legendary city of Troy. Then, like a sleepwalker, he followed the homeward route of Odysseus and discovered golden Mycenae.

Gold artifacts from Grave Circle A at Mycenae, Greece

Gold artifacts from Grave Circle A at Mycenae, Greece ( CC BY NC-SA 2.0 )

The city of Ur, referred to in the Bible, as the town from which Abraham had come, was not afforded any geographical or historical significance by the sages of the 19 th century. Actually, until recent times, few historians have taken the Bible seriously as a source of historical data. But after Sir Leonard Woolley had discovered the ancient city of Ur in Mesoptamia, the situation began to change.

Legends can therefore be interpreted as fanciful records of actual happenings. The myth of the birth of Zeus in Crete points to the Cretan origin of the Ancient Greek culture.  Until 1952 when Michael Ventris decoded Linear B script of Crete and ascertained it was early Greek, no one in ancient or modern times had taken this Zeus myth seriously. So as we can see, folklore preserves history in the guise of colorful tales.

Clay tablet (PY Ub 1318) inscribed with Linear B script, from the Mycenaean palace of Pylos

Clay tablet (PY Ub 1318) inscribed with Linear B script, from the Mycenaean palace of Pylos ( CC BY 2.0 )

Lost Language

In his Dialouges, Plato made a reference to an archaic form of Greek language. Naturally, his contemporaries had never heard of this lost dialect. But late in the 19 th century an old script was found which, when deciphered in the fifties, turned out to be pre-classical Greek.

In the Critias, Plato tells the story of Solon to whom the priests of Sais in Egypt confided in 550 BC that 9,000 years before their time, Greece had been covered with fertile soil.  Now that information is scientifically correct because the soil of Greece was rich a few thousand years ago. In the remote period the Sahara was a steppe where abundant vegetation grew. This is but one example of the climate change which has taken place in the Mediterranean basin. But how could Plato, Solon or the priests of Sais have known about soil erosion in Greece for so long a period unless accurate records had been kept for 10,000 years by the Egyptian priesthood?

Solon and Croesus by Gerard van Honthors

Solon and Croesus by Gerard van Honthorst ( Public Domain )

Lost Art

But even further back in time there were other ebbs and flows of cultural progress. The rock paintings of aurochs, horses, stags and other beasts in the caves of Altamira, Lascaux, Ribadasella and others, are masterpieces not only of prehistoric art but of art in any period.

Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Greeks painted stylized bulls. But the bisons or horses of Altamira or Lascaux look like they might have been painted by Leonardo or Picasso. The realism and beauty of these cave paintings make them immensely superior to the paintings of animals in Egypt, Babylon or Greece.

Altamira Bison. Reproductions at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona 2011

Altamira Bison. Reproductions at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona 2011 ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Sketches and trial-pieces have been discovered in the caves, suggesting the existence of art schools over 15,000 years ago. This is another example of the way a wave reaches a peak in the curve of civilization and then goes down.

Lost Astronomy

In recent centuries, we have been rediscovering forgotten ancient science. Almost four hundreds years ago the great German astronomer Johann Kepler correctly attributed the cause of tides to the influence of the moon. He immediately became a target for persecution. Yet, as early as the second century BC, the Babylonian astronomer Seleucus spoke about the attraction which the moon exercises on our oceans. Posidonius (135-51 BC) made a study of the tides and rightly concluded that they were connected with the revolution of the moon around the earth.

Kepler was a German mathematician and optician.

Kepler was a German mathematician and optician. ( Public Domain )

During the course of fourteen centuries-from Ptolemy to Copernicus, not a single contribution to astronomy was made. Even in Ptolemy´s time thinkers looked back to former centuries for knowledge as if there had been a Golden Age of Science in the past.

Comments

I really enjoyed your article, however, I would like to see your references. You appear to be well versed in a theory I have held for some time; that there was an advanced civilization that fell (perhaps during the chaos of the melting of the ice caps at the end of the last ice age). I would believe this before I would believe the ancient astronaut theory.

Thank you for a very interesting piece Sam Bostrum, I've always maintained that our species is one that has amnesia.

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Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Cro-Magnon man communicating with each other and producing cave drawings
How human language began has been a question pestering researchers for centuries. One of the biggest issues with this topic is that empirical evidence is still lacking despite our great advances in...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

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At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

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View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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