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The whole of modern biology has been called ‘ a commentary on the Origin of Species ’
(Charles Singer, 1949). In a sense this is true. Following the endeavours to trace the natural histories of the various living organisms, attempts are still in progress
to determine the modes, patterns and directive forces of evolution. The end of the 19th
and the first quarter of the 20th centuries were characterized by morphological studies in
comparative anatomy, the rise of geology and the birth of genetics. The second quarter
of this century has witnessed a phenomenal expansion in technical advances leading to
critical appraisals of previous concepts and to maturation of new, revolutionary theories
based upon seemingly disconnected disciplines-experimental embryology, genetics,
physkal anthropology, palaeontology and geology. One of the unacclaimed causes of the
correlation of knowledge is the post-war mastery of air travel. The spectacular rise of
the ' basic ' biological sciences due to emergent industrial and atomic competitive needs
in an era of socio-economic enlightenment is another factor giving rise to the pursuit of
such knowledge. In a general sense this is the end of a Darwinian ' cycle ' ; the favourable
socio-political situation of the 19th century formed the ' overture ' to the Darwinian
theory. Act One saw the development, championing and triumphs of the intellectual
interpretations of ' Darwinists '. In Act Two the weaknesses and the vital issues of the
application of the theory to various living forms and particularly to Homo sapims were
exposed, mainly through the clashes of ' neo-Darwinists ' and ' neo-Lamarckists '. This
led to Act Three in which the various sciences (and especially genetics), competing to
illustrate and develop alternative theories of evolution, blossomed out, particularly in their
search for the mechanisms of the evolutionary processes. In the final scene of this Act
the socio-political situation once again formed an important background as the diverse
disciplines combine tq unify concepts, and, in fact, to prove evolution.
Benjamin Franklin appears to have been the first to call Man the ‘tool-making animal’ while Thomas Carlyle in Sartor Resartus (1833)declared : ‘Without tools he is nothing.’ In pre-Darwinian days the definition of Man was no more than philosophical exercise. That Man might have evolved from lower animals was in the minds of very few people in those days. Certainly the question of how to draw a boundary between pre-human and human had not yet become a practical issue. Even the conception that Man had a long unrecorded past had barely taken root a hundred years ago, although the seeds of the idea had been sown by a few men far ahead of their time, such as Isaac de la Peyrère, who published a book in Pans in 1655 on Primi Nomines ante Adamum, and John Frere whose discovery of flint tools in brickearths at Home in Suffolk led him to infer in 1797 that they had been ‘ used by a people who had not the use of metals ’, and ‘ belonged to a very ancient period indeed, even before that of the present world ’.
With the general acceptance of the doctrine of organic evolution continuity between human history and natural history was also accepted. The latter became just the latest chapters in a single historical record with archaeology bridging the gap between the record of the rocks and the written record. The content of these latest chapters may be termed social evolution, and the Darwinian mechanisms of variation, adaptation, selection and survival may be invoked to elucidate the history of man as well as that of other organisms. But while the use of these terms may emphasize the continuity of history, it may also cause confusions and, in fact, misled some early anthropologists and archaeologists when they tried uncritically to apply Darwinian formulae to human societies or artifacts.
How are cultural similarities in non-contiguous regions to be explained? This has been an important question in ethnology for many years and still remains so to this day. E. B. Tylor termed it the ‘ great problem, the solution of which will alone bring the study of civilization into its full development as a science’. It has been important for two reasons : first because it involves a theory of, or attitude towards, culture in general; culture is thought of as having one kind of nature if these similarities are explained in one way, but having a different nature if explained in another. Secondly, the question is important because we wish to know in the case of particular instances whether similarities are due to independent or to a common origin; quite apart from general theory we wish to know, and feel that it is important to know, whether, for example, the practice of mummification in aboriginal Peru originated indigenously or whether it had its origin, as some have believed, in ancient Egypt.
It is a little surprising that in spite of the relatively high standard of excavation techniques current in Britain today so little attention has been paid by practical excavators to the processes of formation of the sites which they dig.
All of us recognize, of course, that a site consists of a sequence of deposits, some formed deliberately and usually rapidly by man, and others more slowly by nature; and that some processes of formation, such as erosion and filling by the plough, are still continuing today. But there seems to be a widespread assumption (though it is difficult to be sure of this, since such things are seldom discussed) that once a constituent layer of a site has been formed, and sealed by another layer above it, it becomes immediately fossilized and remains unchanged until examined by the excavator, perhaps several millennia later. It is equally widely supposed that once an object, large or small, has come to rest in or upon a deposit it will remain in that position for all time. In short, the tacit assumption is that once formed the nexus of finds and deposits which constitutes a site is almost wholly static, and that change, if it occurs at all, occurs only at the surface.
1. In the September number of ANTIQUITY (no. 123, pp. 124–130), I suggested that the language of Linear A was Semitic. I leaned toward narrowing down the probabilities to West Semitic, but indicated the possibility of East Semitic (= Akkadian or Assyro-Babylonian) too. The clue to the identification of the language proved to be ga-ba MAN 62 (= Akkadian gabba awîlū 62) ‘ all the men = 62 ’ (p. 128, n. 14aa). Subsequently I observed that the regular Mycenaean Greek totalling formula (e.g. to-so MAN 17 ‘ so many men: 17 ’) was as exact an equivalent of my Akkadian reading as one could expect in so different an idiom. From that moment on I approached Linear A with Akkadian in mind.