"Four Thousand Years Ago",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Evening Star,
December 3, 1961,
of a book:
FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO,
by Geoffrey Bibby.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961
"Four Thousand Years Ago"
FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO
By Geoffrey Bibby
Children today bear the names of their fathers rather than their
mothers, learn to write by the alphabet, raise their eyes to a deity in the sky
rather than lower them to one in the earth, and see headstones placed on the
graves of the dead; all of these customs go back to events in Europe during the
thousand year period from 2000 B.C to 1000 B.C. The events of that millennium,
on a world-wide basis have been arranged and interlinked in terms of fourteen
successive generations (each of seventy years) by Geoffrey Bibby in his new
book, Four Thousand Years Ago.
Bibby, British-born Director of the Prehistoric Museum of Aarhus,
Denmark, is well-qualified for writing this book and goes at his task with verve
and imagination (some scholars might say, too much imagination). Well-known to
the general reader for his Testimony of the Spade (1956), which tried to
reconstruct the prehistory of northern Europe, Bibby won his archaeological
reputation in excavation of the newly-discovered prehistoric civilization on
Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf.
Four Thousand Years Ago skillfully reconstructs the relationships
among events which, to most of us, drift in a fog of uncertainty. Abraham, the
migrations of the Indo-Europeans, the building of Stonehenge, Tutankhamon, the
invention of the alphabet, the Hyksos, the Trojan war, Moses and the fall of
Jericho, Hammurabi the Law-giver --- names such as these which we all recognize
more or less vaguely are here placed together, each in its own generation, with
the lines of influence which link them together, carefully drawn. The whole
story is kept on a vividly concrete basis by frequent reference to the
activities of ordinary individuals of the generation in question.
Such a detailed narrative could not be made without interpreting
events beyond the existing evidence, since the latter is always incomplete.
Bibby has not hesitated to do this, but I find no significant errors in his
tale, and in almost every case I agree with his interpretation even when it goes
far beyond the evidence. The only exception lies in Bibby’s story (chapter 13)
of a voyage by Scandinavian sailors to Crete and Egypt in the generation
1510-1440 B.C. Most historians would find it easier to imagine a voyage of
Cretans to the North.
The one fundamental objection which could be made of this book is
in regard to its arbitrary chronology. By this I do not mean the division of the
millennium into seventy-year generations; this is a useful device for
organizational purposes and for chapter divisions. It is the millennium itself,
2000-1000 B.C., which lacks historical unity. The essential theme of the book is
the process by which the Indo-European peoples poured out of the Pontic steppes
and the Semitic peoples pushed out of Arabia to conquer and even destroy the
city civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, the Hittite, and the
Cretan) and to almost completely obliterate the ancient Highland Zone peoples
(Sumerians, Elamites, Hurrians, etc.), whose sole linguistic survivors today are
the Basques and some small Caucasic groups. These great movements of warlike
pastoral, grass-land peoples were caused by the sudden onset of a drier climate
known to prehistorians as the "Sub-Boreal." This drier climate, falling in the
period 2500-1000, is the real chronological division which dominated the events
of Bibby’s book. By failing to mention it and by taking as his unit the
historically meaningless period 2000-1000 B.C., Bibby has missed the underlying
cause and unifying element in the many concrete episodes he so vividly
Four Thousand Years Ago is a
beautifully made book embellished with thirty-two plates, six maps, and
forty-five line drawings.
-- Carroll Quigley