A review by Carroll Quigley in
The Washington Sunday Star, 12 July 1970,
of the books:
CLIMATE, MAN, AND HISTORY,
by Robert Claiborne.
New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1970
THE FIRST CIVILIZATIONS: The Archaeology of Their Origins,
by Glyn Daniel.
New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, Apollo Paperback, 197x
"Using the Evidence"
By CARROLL QUIGLEY
CLIMATE, MAN, AND HISTORY. By Robert Claiborne. W. W. Norton. 444 pages.
THE FIRST CIVILIZATIONS: The Archaeology of Their Origins. By Glyn
Daniel. 95 figures and illustrations. Apollo Paperback. Thomas Y.
Crowell. 208 pages. $4.95.
Robert Claiborne is a freelance
journalist and senior editor of the magazine, Hospital Practice. Glyn
Daniel is, with the possible exception of Stuart Piggott, Britain's top
prehistorian. Yet, where these two volumes overlap, the amateur is far
superior to the expert. The reason is simple: the amateur tries to
explain the influence of climate on human history using all the evidence
available from any discipline, but the expert seeks to explain the
origins of the seven primary civilizations using only archaeological
evidence. This difference in the use of evidence reflects two different
minds: The Claiborne mind, lively, imaginative, skeptical, draws
information from all directions like a vacuum cleaner; the Daniel mind
is stodgy, descriptive, dogmatic, and prejudiced.
"Climate, Man, and History" covers what the title indicates. Part One
explains how climate operates and tries to establish the sequence of
climate patterns in the past. Part Two tries to fit our knowledge of
human origins and early man into the sequence of past climates. Part
Three uses climate as a framework for explaining the origins of the
early civilizations, and Part Four deals with the climate factor in
Western history since Greece and Rome.
On this vast stage, through all four acts, Claiborne performs like a
virtuoso. He seems to have read everything up to the moment of
publication, is familiar with most of the scholarly disputes, and has
his own tentative judgments about these. His attitude is scientific, and
his style is breezy and informal. He examines the evidence as it is now
available and puts it together to provide the most likely version of
this moment. But like all good scientists, he is fully aware that
today's interpretation of the evidence may be modified or discarded
tomorrow. Unlike Daniel, he is also fully aware of the distinctions
between facts, theories, and words.
In Part One, Claiborne explains the methods available for establishing
the chronology of the past, a matter in which climate is a major factor.
He deals with geological stratigraphy, glacial deposits (varves),
oceanic bottom cores, carbon-14 and potassium-argon dating, shifting
terrestial poles and magnetic reversals, and other methods for
prehistoric dating. The framework established in Part One is used in the
historical interpretation of the rest of the volume.
Claiborne's style of writing is close to slang. This leads, perhaps, to
rapid reading, but there is, in Part One at least, too obvious an effort
to be breezy and rapid. As one consequence, there are too many careless
errors: he confuses the rotation of the earth with its revolution, and
equally confuses varve-counting with stratigraphy, as well as the shifts
of the earth's poles with reversals of its magnetic field; he tells us
that the glacial period lasted two "billion" years, but six pages later
has it at two million; he misplaces Professor Emiliani from the
University of Miami to the University of Florida, then misplaces
"Central Africa" from the source of the Zambezi to a source of the Nile.
In spite of such numerous and needless errors, this is an outstanding
book, well worth reading for its succinct summaries of discoveries and
disputes about climate and history.
The key to Daniel's book lies in its subtitle: he is not concerned with
the origins of the seven early civilizations but with the light which
archaeology throws on those origins. This is hardly worth doing, for
efforts to reconstruct any past history must use all available evidence;
it must also be based on some conception of the nature of human society
and of the processes of social change. Here Daniel is woefully lacking.
Instead, he has written a confused book which seems to be part of some
private war of his own against historians and diffusionists.
Daniel begins with an attack on Arnold Toynbee for using historical
(that is, written) evidence with insufficient attention to
archaeological evidence. He assumes quite incorrectly, that there are
only these two kinds of evidence and thus ignores a third kind, based on
what we know from recent studies of the world we live in. It is this
last kind of knowledge, in fact, which allows us to give functions or
historical significance to archaeological or written evidence. But
Daniel ignores all this and, as a result, flounders about in such
matters as the origins of agriculture, where essential evidence in plant
genetics or in botanical and palaeobotanical studies is ignored.
Instead, he tells us, "Prehistory is prehistoric archaeology" (his
emphasis). Anyone who does not agree with this writes nonsense. He says
(page 161) that non-archaeological theories of American origins rely "on
nonexistent or misrepresented facts."
A large part of this volume consists of Daniel's own ignorant attacks on
those who do not share his views. He rejects the well-established
sequence of palaeolithic, mesolithic, neolithic, chalcolithic, bronze
age, and iron age, on the grounds that these are not accurate enough. He
would replace them with the sequence: savagery, barbarism, civilization.
This trio must be less accurate since it divides the same duration into
Moreover, the terms are misleading. The early neolithic peoples, who
were generally peaceful peasants, lacking both weapons and
fortifications, hardly deserve to be called "Barbarians." In fact,
Daniel himself misuses his terms, telling us that the people of the
Caribbean, at Columbus' arrival, were "not civilized peoples, but
savages," although their practice of agriculture would make them
barbarians, in his terms.
Much of this book is taken up with quibbling over terms. He would reject
Gordon Childe's "Urban Revolution" for the prehistoric beginnings of
urban life, on the grounds that the expression makes people think of
skyscrapers; it should be replaced by "synoecism"! Daniel also rejects
the terms "primary" and "secondary" civilizations for a useful
distinction between those derived from neolithic cultures and those
derived from peoples of previous civilizations. This is done since "
'Secondary' seems to have a pejorative meaning. Instead, he would use
"earliest" and "later." The chief trouble with this is that some of the
"later" ones (such as Minoan or Syrian-Canaanite) are chronologically
earlier than some of the "earliest" (such as China, Meso-American, or
Daniel's organization and writing are as confused as his thinking, as he
mixes his discussion of the origins of the "earliest" civilizations with
explanations of how their archaeological discoveries were made. By the
end of the volume it is clear that the origins got lost in the mixture
of excavation accounts, revisions of vocabulary, and attacks on
non-archaeologists and diffusionists. At the end (page 191) he
concludes, "Civilization and history began seven times. Why? Because
seven separate societies in a state of cultural development in which
they were able to develop certain possibilities that, if used, could
promote synoecism, accepted the challenge of those possibilities and
became civilized." This will not satisfy most readers. Nor will they be
persuaded by his belief that peoples who accept the challenge did so
because of their "genius" (page 83), because they were "gifted people"
(page 84), or because they had "judgment and high spirits" (Page 143).
This is a nineteenth century way of looking at these questions. The 20th
century way, which Daniel ignores, is that civilizations began when an
organizational structure, invariably based on a religious foundation,
appeared among the people of an agricultural society in a fitting,
geographic context. This organization could be of any type which
accumulated economic surplus and applied this to exploit new social
patterns and activities.
Daniel ignores all questions of social organization, of economic
accumulation, of social innovation, or even the role of "complex
ceremonial centers" which he seems to feel are significant elements in
early civilizations. It is probably too late to ask Daniel to stop
criticizing Gordon Childe and other prehistorians long enough to notice
what they say on these matters, but the ordinary reader will be well
advised to read the breezy journalist, Claiborne, in preference to the
dogmatic and crotchety Daniel, if he has any interest in how the primary
civilizations rose and fell.
Scan of original review