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Historical Cycles

  • O. G. S. Crawford
Extract

History has been studied and histories written for more than two millennia. From time to time attempts have been made to discern some pattern or design running through it. But they have usually failed because the data have been inadequate. You cannot see the pattern of a carpet when only a minute portion is uncovered, and you cannot discern the pattern of history until large portions of it are available for examination. It was not until the 19th century that really long vistas were opened up by archaeological exploration in the East. Here, in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Crete, there were found the remains of forgotten civilizations; and Sir Flinders Petrie, one of the pioneers in that work of epoch-making in the literal sense, has himself sketched an outline of the pattern he believes he can see emerging. The present essay is an attempt to interpret and explain that pattern.

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1 Sir Flinders Petrie’s Revolutions of Civilization(Harper’s Library of Living Thought, 3rd edn., 1922) was first published in 1911 ; but the author informs me that the main thesis was worked out by him many years before this date.

2 Concerning Man’s Origin (Putnam, 1928), quoted in a most suggestive article on cancer in the British Medical Journal (5 October 1929, p.607),bySampson Handley, W.M.S.,F.R.C.S.

3 Barth regarded the family rather than the individual as the unit.

4 In caves near Sulaimanya in southern Kurdistan, Miss Garrod found Mousterian (old palaeolithic) flintimplements in the lower layers, overlaid by a later palaeolithic layer and finally by a top neolithiclayer containing painted pottery of the antediluvian Sumerian type. See Bulletin of the American School of Prehistoric Research (MacCurdy, C.G. Director), no. 6, March 1930, pp.8–43.

5 We may of course regard whatever lay between the solitary hunter and the village or city state as transitional and as corresponding perhaps to the early cell–aggregations of biology–such as flagellate colonies, sponges and polyps.

6 Handley in B.M.J. (op. cit. supra).

7 But not always ; some of the American civilizations for instance have vanished utterly and have not been replaced by any other.

8 In the analogy we compare the life–history of a human community with the lifehistory of a species. But we compare the organization of that community to the organization (structure, function, etc.) of the individual multi–cellular organism. The human community recapitulates, as we shall see below, thelife-history, not of the individual organism but of the species. But since the organism itself, as the species develops, recapitulates its own evolution, there is a general resemblance between the lifehistory of both organism and community.

9 There is also of course a certain thickness, but for our present purpose this may be ignored.

10 For an elaboration of this argument see my Man and His Past (Oxford, 1921), especially the first two chapters.

11 see The Science of Life, byWells, H.G. Huxley, J.S. and Wells, G.P. vol.1, p.207(table of geological formations with approximate relative lengths and duration in years).

12 Introduction to Political Science, byWells, H.G. SirSeeley, J.R. London,1896,p.89.

13 King, L.W. A History of Sumer and Akkad, London,1916,pp.8485.

* SirArthur, Keith, however (1924,p.9) ‘the highest stage which has been yet reached by man in the evolution of human societies has hardly passed beyond Nature’s lowest stage-that represented by sponges.’We have no room here to argue the point, which moreover is not relevant to our main thesis.

14 Unless the Esquimaux be taken to represent them ; but the Esquimaux are not solitary hunters.

15 See ProfessorSmith, Elliot Presidential address, Section H, British Association (Dundee, 1912),Report, pp. 575–98.

* What is Individuality?’ byHuxley, Julian The Realist,vol.1, no. 1, April 1929, pp.109121.

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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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