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,
"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 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.
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.