Without considering the skeletal forms of ancient people, the archaeologist studies genuine remains of past cultures behaviour to determine lifestyle models of earlier civilisations.
Simple to Complex?
It is often thought that the earlier one studies the archaeological record, the more primitive the artefacts found. This delivers the conclusion that technological advancement somehow developed upward from simple to complex through the ages.
However, archaeological discoveries show that those that were once thought to be primitive peoples, were in reality a highly complex culture with advanced technology that we cannot match today.
Large clay jars are fitted with two carbon rods and filled with acid, such as lemon juice, to produce stored electricity in the form of a battery. There is nothing new about this principle but it is not commonly understood that the Egyptians used this electrical technology three to four thousand years ago.
Archaeologists had always wondered why the inside walls and ceilings of Egyptian tombs and royal building showed no evidence of carbonisation from open burning torches as did the castles and princely buildings throughout Europe. The discovery of the huge battery jars revised former interpretations.
The First Tools
The only earliest tools that have survived in the archaeological record are made of stone. This does not mean that lithic tools were the first implements to be used. It is far more likely that the very first tools were made from perishable organic materials such as plant fibres and bone.
The ancient Hebrew scroll, Bereshit, claims that the first humans wore coverings made of plant materials but quickly changed to animal skins. Killing and skinning an animal requires a relatively sharp instrument, and flint is an easily worked stone that produces a strong sharp edge. Flint knapping is a non-complex, elementary skill that can be learned without difficulty.
Louis and Mary Leakey excavated in the African Olduvai Gorge where quantities of flint tools were uncovered. Since then these so-called pebble tools have been also known as Oldowan tools.
Homo Habilis to Fix the Dripping Tap
In biological anthropology the toolmakers are called ‘homo habilis’ which translated into conversational language simply means handyman. The present revisionist theory of human technological development takes into account the fluctuating levels of cultural maturity and notices that as some civilizations were increasing their skill base others were diminishing into more primitive and backward ways.
Ancient Ephesus, a city with a population of 500,000 around 100 AD was the major trading capital of Asia Minor. Among the city’s spectacular remains is the 24,000-seat auditorium including public toilets. Archaeologists have uncovered marble paved streets with huge underground sewage systems that flowed the city’s human waste safely away from the residential and commercial areas while drinking water was conveyed on aqueducts high above the ground.
These constructions are common in Greek and Roman architecture dating back more than 2500 years. Yet, a simple study of Europe, only a few hundred years ago, confirms that people were throwing their excrement onto the streets, allowing it to mix with their well water, and had little understanding of personal or civil hygiene technologies.
Returning to the Stone Age
It is apparent from the archaeological record that technology ebbs and flows and is not universally accelerating forward. The mechanisms that either promote knowledge or degrade it are not fully understood but archaeology is helping to bring more clarity to this subject.
Archaeological evidence suggests that it is now entirely possible that the artefact record termed the Stone Age may simply be a regressional stage of human development.
The Stonehenge and Carnac archaeological sites prove that advanced engineering techniques were being employed as early as 5500 years ago and that the dead were being buried in elaborate stone tombs that have lasted five millennia. Yet, by the time Rome invaded Britain some 3500 years later, the occupiers of the land lived in primitive village conditions, in crude wooden huts that could hardly endure a storm.
Attempting to form definitive conclusions about the first people is far more intricate than subscribing to a linear, continual-advancement theory. The technological supremacy of the ancients has left archaeologists pondering about the ‘university’ of our ancestors.