One of the areas I’ve had a life-long interest in is paleontology and archaeology. It’s fascinating to read the discoveries about early human ancestors, early human history, and various “lost” civilizations. But over the years, it’s also been a window into how we let our cultural assumptions blind us to evidence, or misinterpret what we see. Consider some of the phrases: “Primitive,” “cave men,” “hunter-gatherers,” “stone age,” and others. All carry connotations that we, the “civilized, modern humans” are “better” or somehow “smarter.” Which is why various paleoanthropologists and others seem to keep getting surprised by their discoveries, while others came up with “extraterrestrial influences and guidance” to “explain” them.
There’s been for quite some time the unconscious assumption that our ancestors were not very bright. Oh, smarter than the previous ancestor, and all of them were smarter than anything else around. Just not as smart as us. In a science fiction book a while back, I read a short statement that struck me: “Primitive does not mean stupid.” Think about that for a moment.
Let’s say tomorrow morning I take you and your family, with only the clothes on your backs, and drop you off in the middle of the woods somewhere. Heck, I’ll even be nice and do it in early summer, and right by the headwaters of a stream. If I came back two months later, the odds are pretty good it would be to recover your bodies. If I did the same with a “primitive” family? They’d be just fine. Why? Because they’d know how to use the materials at hand to keep themselves sheltered, clothed and fed. They’d even have tools they made.
What I see many times is a lot of “we can’t figure out how they did it.” We look at things like Stonehenge, the Pyramids, or Machu Picchu, and scratch our heads. Yes, we could do it with our modern construction equipment, but how did they do it without those? Since it’s quite obvious that they managed to figure out how to do it, and we can’t, then what does that say about us?
That’s not to say that someone doesn’t have an idea. One that doesn’t involve helpful extraterrestials, intervention of the gods, or even massive numbers of slaves. He doesn’t claim that this is exactly the way it was done, it’s just that he shows that a little ingenuity, observation, and a working knowledge of basic physics allows you to move things around quite easily. Large, heavy things, in fact. Meet Wally Wallington:
Simple, isn’t it? When you hear legends of “walking stones,” as an explanation, they may have originally meant what he’s doing – “walking” the stone to where you’re going to place it – instead of the stone walking itself. It’s just a reminder that while we think we’re the pinnacle, we’re not necessarily as smart as our ancestors. That’s because we’re still trying to figure out how they did something.