I have long thought that people don’t really change so very much over the centuries. What makes the difference, or, as many people call it, progress, is the continuing discovery of new materials and technology. This was particularly proved to me when I was doing the research for my Dictionary of Architecture and Interior Design when I saw that there was literally very little that was new in the world.
I remember giving a talk in Washington and showing slides of some 17th, 18th and 19th century chaises longues along with those of the early 20th century le Corbusier and Breuer and, to my delight, members of the audience being convinced that the 17th century version was actually the newest.
Certainly, over the last 2000 odd years we know that our actual thought patterns seem to have been much the same while the profound reflections of the writers and philosophers of early Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Far Eastern civilisations have not really been surpassed.
But those 2000 years don’t count for so much when we look at 17,000 year old wall paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves in France and wonder at man’s ingenuity even then. In the early part of this century„ those interested, marveled even more as we heard about ancient cave and rock paintings in South Africa which were dated as an incredible 40-60,000 years old. And now, extraordinarily, a mixed group of archaeologists and scholars from all over the world have discovered an actual workshop with delicately-made tools from animal bones; finely worked weapon points; and, most extraordinary of all, ochre and red paints (mixed in Abalone shells with charcoal, mammal bone marrow and iron oxide powder), adhesives and powders in the Blombos cave in South Africa (some 200 miles East of Cape Town), which they identify as 100,000 years of age.
Blombos was not a dwelling cave, it was literally a workshop, a place where people actually came to work 100,000 years ago. Other scientists are reporting exciting finds in other sites all over Africa and John Noble Wilford in a recent NY Times article said the Blombos scientists are talking of the discovery of ‘extraordinary conceptual abilities’; an obvious ‘elementary knowledge of chemistry’; ‘a benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition’ and ‘the gradual assemblage of the package of modern human behaviour in Africa and its later export to other regions of the old world’.
Once again, in fact, ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ except I wish those slave traders had known all that noble tradition of the discovery and dissemination of knowledge all over the world, before they exported and sold their disrespected human cargo from Africa.
Also, I’d love to know how those 100,000 years ago guys first came up with using (scholars think) warmed bone marrow (before the bones were made into tools?) mixed with the ground ochre rock or red earth and little bits of charcoal and a sort of iron oxide powder to make paint with no written recipes. And they were mixed in Abalone shells which may have provided food a few days before.
Talking of which I saw on the web today an advertisement on a health site which read ‘Eat and live like a caveman for a perfect diet’ and extolled the virtues of The Paleo Recipe Book with 320 recipes in 18 food categories just as they ate in Palaeolithic times. Certainly, those 100,000 year old caveman workers were hardly despoiling the planet. It’s food for thought about what exactly progress is, as well as health.