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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 1 December 1963,

of a book: 

PREHISTORY AND THE BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION,

by Jacquetta Hawkes and Sir Leonard Wooley.

New York: Harper & Row, 19xx

 

 

"Surveying Human Mind in Pre-History"

 

PREHISTORY AND THE BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION. 

   By Jacquetta Hawkes and Sir Leonard Wooley. (Harper & Row; $12.50.)

 

   Since 1949 an international commission of UNESCO has been sponsoring ďa history of the development of the human mind," which will appear in six volumes.  As part of the preparatory work, a quarterly magazine, the Journal of World History, was founded in 1953 to publish preliminary studies on various aspects of the subject. The problem of the relationship between a committee of expert advisers and the actual task of writing the first volume was met, if not solved, by giving complete freedom to two authors: Jacquetta Hawkes deals with prehistory (down to 3000 B.C.) and Sir Leonard Wooley covers the Bronze Age (from 3000 to 1200 B.C.).

 

   The result is a volume which is really two separate books, each with its own unity of style and outlook and with a separate index, but covering such a vast area that no single writer could be expected to write with equal authority on all aspects of it.  This weakness could have been overcome if the supervisory experts had been given some authority over the content of this work, but in the name of professional freedom the writers were given complete independence to reject the suggestions of their expert supervision.

 

The Flaws

   The result is a volume full of little known facts, but poorly organized and with constant evidence of personal pre-conceptions, both in judgments and in omissions.  Both parts are organized topically rather than chronologically, and in Wooley's part there is such consequent confusion that an amateur will have great difficulty following events.

 

   Mrs. Hawkes' part, on prehistory, is sounder and more complete than is Sir Leonard's and is probably the best general treatment now available in English.  Its chief weakness is a rather 19th century aroma of ethnocentric biologic superiority which presents prehistory as a fairly steady march forward to Victorian England.  The facts, which Mrs. Hawkes records faithfully but without proper emphasis, do not support such an attitude: With the major exception of paleolithic cave art and a few, very late, modifications in the making of stone tools, the great cultural advances of the Old Stone Age were not made by our direct ancestors and were not made by Homo Sapiens.  Most stone working techniques are of African and pre-sapiens origin; fire is unquestionably a very ancient achievement of the Pithecanthropi of China (p.139), and most of the other great advances of the age such as cave-dwelling, skin-clothing, cooking of food, compound tools, and (above all) burial of their dead, the first evidence of any recognition of man's spiritual nature, came from Neanderthal man or his relatives.

 

Not Compatible

   Mrs. Hawkes' constant derogation of the Neanderthal as grossly bestial, lacking inventiveness, and probably lacking language, is not compatible with her subsequent, correct statement (p.208) that the Neanderthal was the earliest of our predecessors "troubled with metaphysical intuitions."  The personal bias which gave rise to the earlier, incorrect judgment provides a shaky basis on which to erect an account, necessarily based on inference, of prehistoric non-material culture, customs, and ideas, which make up a major part of this work.

 

   Sir Leonard's portion of this volume is equally well informed but even more influenced by pre-conceptions.  He is fully aware that Mesopotamian civilization is earlier than Egyptian, yet he persists in the old English custom of always discussing Egypt first.  His first two chapters are "The Bronze Age" and "The Urbanization of Society."  Since the use of bronze in Mesopotamia is at least 1,300 years earlier than in Egypt, while cities were several thousand years earlier, this practice leads to confusion in presentation. Wooley accepts (p.380) the now well-established fact that the original elements of civilization came to Egypt from some eastern area in close, contact with Mesopotamia so t that his discussion of Egypt before Mesopotamia confuses his narration.

 

   The personal nature of most of Sir Leonard's judgments and omissions is evident.  He had no high opinion of the Semites, and, in spite of protests from his experts, (p.411), attributes the decline of "Sumerian civilization" to a growing "admixture of the Semitic element" (p.385).  More unfortunate is an almost total unconcern with the distinctions between cultures or the chronological changes within the Bronze Age as a whole.  Accordingly, the great movements of peoples and the interrelationships between societies and civilizations which make up so much of the history of the period are ignored.  This, for example, was the age of the Achaean invaders of Greece leading to the Mycenaean period. It was also the great age of Canaanite civilization which gave us the alphabet, the bellows, and transcendental monotheism through the Hebrew patriarchs.  Sir Leonard's rather mechanical division of his subject into successive chapters on social organization, techniques and crafts, economic structure, language and writing, religion, the arts, and literature confuses the contributions of diverse peoples and periods into a series of jumbles and omits all the history and drama of this most significant and dynamic period of our past.  The words Achaean, Mycenacan, Habiru, Joshua, and many others which the ordinary reader has a right to find mentioned and discussed are not to be found in the index and are not discussed in the text itself.  The Bronze Age is far too long and diverse to be treated in a topical arrangement that sets items from totally different societies separated by a thousand or more years in time side by side on the same page just because they fall mechanically into the same organizational category.

 

--CARROLL QUIGLEY.

 

 

 

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