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The Modern Mind May Be 100k Years Old (2016) (nautil.us)
49 points by dnetesn 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 84 comments



If humans has the same capacity for thought 100,000 years go as they have now, why didn't "modern civilization" develop earlier? Or rather, why didn't the catalysts for civilization: agriculture, language, writing, etc... happen earlier?


My guess would be climate. 100K ago, humans were in the midst of the ice age and it lasted until about 12,000 years ago, at the start of the Holocene period. The early Holocene was actually warmer than modern temperatures, and it is said that even the Sahara was fertile in this time. As the ice age ended, rain patterns shifted and vegetation flourished. It probably then became possible to remain in one area for an extended period of time without roaming around in search of game and wild food, and you could actually support a larger tribe of people. Once that began to happen, people started learning and developing local culture, language, skill development, etc. and sharing that knowledge. For the same reason we see hubs of specialized labor in modern society (like Silicon Valley, Hollywood, New York financial district, etc), the first communities to develop agriculture were able to exploit those skills to improve techniques over time, and caused places like Mesopotamia and Egypt to develop and thrive over time. It appears as though Mesopotamia developed clay tablets with written language as an early form of contractual agreement rather than as a form of communication or literature.


> If humans has the same capacity for thought 100,000 years go as they have now, why didn't "modern civilization" develop earlier?

Why do you assume that it didn't? There's plenty of emerging evidence that even foraging humans had a fairly complex social organization, with "proto-cities" that functioned as ceremonial centers at the very least. That's circumstantial evidence that they did have "civilization" of a sort, and perhaps even "modernity".


/r/AskHistorians has a several topics on this theme (if it's possible there are older civilizations we don't know about). The consensus is that it's very unlikely.

E.g. https://old.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/b5yrmi/how_c...


Why should it have? Progress is always incremental. Even before civilization there were minute steps towards organization from just pure hunter-gatherer days.

Just because the neolithic period started 12-15k years ago doesn't mean somebody woke up one day with a modern brain smart enough to plant things.


It took an Einstein of the time to figure out things could even be planted. It is a monumental achievement.


I don’t want to denigrate the achievements of those involved, but it probably didn’t go from seeing seeding plant to, a ha, planting crops. It likely consisted of a long series of very much smaller incremental steps.

1. Hunter gatherers collect seeds, but drop some near their temporary settlement.

2. The next time they stay in the area, they notice food plants growing where they dropped the seeds, so they don’t have to travel as far to collect them.

3. They start deliberately spreading seeds so there will be even more there next time.

4. They start clearing land to make more space to spread the seeds on.

5. The quantity of seeds they can gather at the site meets or exceeds their needs, so now they don’t need to travel to gather enough and can settle down.

Throughout the process they discover little tricks, like scratching the ground before scattering their seeds, or which kind of ground is best to clear and sow, which seeds grow best, etc, etc. This could take many generations but once the process starts under the right conditions with the right seeds in the right area it snowballs.


Writing is also a far greater (/ less likely) achievement than many people realise. You need a language, enough social structure to create a demand for written instructions/messages beyond simple pictures, and an Einstein-level linguistic genius to figure out how to break down and codify language utterances in a way that can readily be learnt and understood by the general population.

Some languages such as Guniyandi have only recently undergone this conversion [0], in fact there are likely thousands of languages still without writetn forms [1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gooniyandi

[1] https://www.ethnologue.com/enterprise-faq/how-many-languages...


But writing didn't (IIRC) start with writing down speech. It started with accountancy, with recoding taxes payed and owed. So it arises with agricultural states, it's part of what lets a king rule so many peasants that merely having his brothers remember who owes how much doesn't work anymore.

Figuring out that it could be used to write sentences took a few millennia after that. And only after that came enough simplification for people other than palace/temple employees to learn it.


Interesting. I looked this up and there's a Wikipedia page listing the earliest written accounts [0]. Looks like joint earliest are Egyptian hieroglyphs in the tomb of Seth-Peribsen [1] and ancient Sumerian tablets [2]-[3]. It seems like a lot of early writing was also concerned with religion although a lot of the slightly later writing did cover economic and administrative records.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_first_wri...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth-Peribsen

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instructions_of_Shuruppak

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kesh_temple_hymn


These seem to define writing to mean only things with which you can write sentences, which is fair enough, but excludes earlier use of symbols for counting (of taxes!). I have in mind things like [1], or this from [2]:

"The original Sumerian writing system derives from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, this had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing by using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing were gradually replaced around 2700–2500 BC by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform), at first only for logograms, but developed to include phonetic elements by the 29th century BC. About 2600 BC, cuneiform began to represent syllables of the Sumerian language."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_ancient_numeral_sys...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_writing#Proto-writi...


Ah, yes I failed to pick up on that distinction in your last post. Now I almost want to add "sophisticated trade system" to the list of written language prerequisites.


> Writing is also a far greater (/ less likely) achievement than many people realise.

The monumental inventions are:

1. writing

2. paper

3. printing press

4. computers

5. internet

because they are ways to store and disseminate knowledge.


Spoken language is also used to spread knowledge from the wise to the young.

This is sometimes called culture.


Spoken language evolved, it wasn't invented.


> It took an Einstein of the time to figure out things could even be planted. It is a monumental achievement.

Not just that. But someone had to invent:

* Pottery (Lets store food, instead of looking for it all the time)

* Writing

* Cities (Hey, lets all settle here and come back here for some reason)

* Law

* Basic tools: Rope, Hammer, Wedge, Knife. Metallurgy.

If we were trapped in a hunter-gatherer society, even with our advanced brains today... it would take a very smart person to invent a city and/or writing. And you'd need the support of the entire hunter-gatherer society to bring you food and resources to fund the inventions.

Cities invent the aristocracy, a group of people who are dedicated to advancement of culture and technology. Agriculture and Pottery provide a way for transportation and storage of resources (food especially), supporting the aristocracy.

At which point, true inventions can begin. You can't invent new tools if you're too busy hunting for food every day of your life.


> You can't invent new tools if you're too busy hunting for food every day of your life.

Even the spear-thrower, followed by the bow and arrow, took a loooooong time to invent.


IIRC, many Europeans were throwing Axes in the Dark Ages, just ~1500 years ago.

Even if the bow was invented, creating good fetching and requiring the mass production of fragile arrows makes it a poor weapon in the Dark ages.

You pretty much have to invent mass production + commodities, standardizing the arrowhead before Bows become superior to spear and/or axe throwing. Once "any" arrow can work on "any" bow, you are golden. But this commodity idea is very difficult to come up with.

Shoot an arrow into a deer, and the arrow is ruined. You need to build a new arrow. Throw a javelin or Axe into a deer, and you can use the same Javelin / Axe on the next deer as well.


Not buying it :-)

1. arrows are reusable. I've dabbled in archery.

2. arrows are a distance weapon. You can take out prey or enemy at a distance. Throwing an axe is very short range.

3. throwing an axe means you get one shot. Then you're weaponless.

4. throwing a metal axe is much more effective than a stone axe. I seriously doubt throwing a stone axe is very effective - you'd be better off just throwing a rock.


> 3. throwing an axe means you get one shot. Then you're weaponless.

Romans carried 2 Pilum, a shortsword, and a shield. You had two shots, after which you rushed in with your swords.

Yeah, Longbowmen are obviously superior. But if you have 10,000 Longbowmen with 60 arrows per man, you require a production-capacity of 60,000 arrows per battle. That's a lot of goose feathers, even if you're recycling a significant chunk of arrows.

Note that the modern arrow has fletching for accuracy. Ancient arrows didn't have fletching: no spin, no accuracy.

Before the middle ages, mass production of arrows in this capacity was basically impossible. The British innovation to war wasn't so much the Longbow (there were plenty of archers before the British...), it was the invention of commodity mass produced arrows... which supported the Longbowman as a major unit of warfare.

Even the Roman Legionaries used Pilum (aka: Javelins) as their ranged weapon of choice. Bows existed (see the Sagittarii), but were an auxiliary (and often non-Roman) force.

------------

Slingers (!!) were still used in Roman times. Now a Sling... THAT is an ideal ancient weapon. A trained slinger can kill a Lion or Bear, and you only had to find rocks to throw. Mass production of sling-bullets (really, just a shaped rock) is easy, even with an army marching to a distant location.

Slingers used rocks, clay, and even lead bullets throughout history. They were effectively the longbowmen before the British learned to mass produce arrows.

In fact, the ancient world believed that Slings had greater range and accuracy than bows. Since fletching won't be invented for another 1000+ years, ancient arrows had very limited range and accuracy.


> Ancient arrows didn't have fletching: no spin, no accuracy.

I couldn't find any mention of when spin was added. But I would think it pretty darned hard to align the feathers so precisely that it wouldn't spin anyway. Bird feathers aren't straight, either.

Arrows date back 64,000 years (wikipedia). A long time before the Romans.

Equipping 10,000 soldiers with any sort of kit will be a major undertaking.

Most any bird feathers can be used for arrows. Not just goose.


> Equipping 10,000 soldiers with any sort of kit will be a major undertaking.

Difficulty of that kit is the real question.

Slingers would need 20 lead bullets, one of the lowest melting point substances in the world. If lead were unavailable, slingers would make due with stone, or even clay bullets.

In contrast, equipping 20 arrows to 10,000 archers would be an incredibly more complicated undertaking. You need arrowheads, those arrowheads need to fit shafts. Even without fletching, building an arrowhead design that fits different width sticks of wood is an incredibly complicated undertaking. Especially if you only have access to tools from ancient-times.

To accurately launch the arrow, you must consistently make the same arrow (or extremely similar arrows). That's just how it works. Its far easier to make 20x lead bullets (or 20x clay bullets, or 20x stone bullets) that are all consistent... than it is to make 20x arrows that are all consistent.

--------

It was a real innovation to standardize stick sizes, standardize goose feathers, and standardize arrowheads to equip the British Longbowman. There's a reason why that strategy only really took place in the Medieval period, the ancient world didn't have the tools or inventions needed to support mass-archer strategies.


> incredibly more complicated

Sorry, not agreeing. Arrows had been regularly made for tens of thousands of years.


> 3. throwing an axe means you get one shot. Then you're weaponless.

What if you had two axes!


Why are we not developing technology right now that will be developed in the next 1000 years?

Progress is incremental. One step after the other.


The hardware is the same but the software had to be developed.


Just wait for the AI software to start designing hardware. (This is what might have actually happened in the case of the non-A I, when, say, the language triggered a step in the brain's physical evolution.)


Useful original thought is extremely rare. There had to be a very long accumulation of knowledge passed down through generations before a critical mass built up.


Because nowadays when a system is created (born) a basic package of the sum total of current knowledge is downloaded onto the system (school) with a vast array of optional packages one can choose from (books, college, etc). To add to the sum total of knowledge is a painstakingly long process in comparison (phd, r&d, innovation). But someone had to be the person to git init and make the first commit. Even if they had the same specs, they didn't have access to a 10k+ year old code base. If a modern person had grown up in ancient civilization, I guarantee they wouldn't be all that much more knowledgable than others of that time.


> If a modern person had grown up in ancient civilization, I guarantee they wouldn't be all that much more knowledgable than others of that time.

If I was dropped into Roman times, what I'd invent is a printing press. After inventing paper made from rags.


Man had to learn how to think, then acquire knowledge.

This question is part of what inspired Harry Binswanger’s book, “How We Know”:

“Mankind has existed for 400,000 years. But 395,000 of those years were consumed by the Stone Age. The factor that freed men from endless toil and early death, the root cause of the elevated level of existence we now take for granted, is one precious value: knowledge. The painfully acquired knowledge of how to master nature, how to organize social existence, and how to understand himself is what enabled man to rise from the cave to the skyscraper, from warring clans to a global economy, from an average lifespan of less than 30 years to one approaching 80.”

http://www.how-we-know.com/


Hunter-gatherers who made it to age 25 were just as likely to live to their 60s as modern folks are today. The 30 year old average life expectancy of Neolithic man comes from two things: one, we cannot properly age skeletal fossils to a degree of certainty after wisdom teeth have fully grown in. You can't tell from a 10k year old fossil if it was a 30 year old or a 55 year old at time of death.

Finally, infant mortality was extremely high and remained very high until modern medicine. These infant deaths decreased the average life expectancy but it masks the lifespan that healthy adults would typically experience.


Infections were a major cause of death, including in infants. Also starvation, violence and the elements.

You can argue that those who survived infections, the elements, violence and starvation were in much better shape to survive everything else.

Also contrary to popular belief, cardiovascular disease happened before modern times, and even if we might be talking of Neolithic only, this happened even in hunter gatherer populations. Found these pretty interesting:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014067361...

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle...

In modern times what we have is much less violence, vaccines, antibiotics, a healthcare system capable of healing injuries or restore you after heart attacks, etc and in spite of prevailing beliefs we’ve got proper nutrition and at least in the industrialized countries we aren’t dying of starvation or nutritional deficiencies anymore.

Our problem is “energy poisoning”. Once we figure out how to not eat so damn much, we’ll eliminate most chronic disease we have today.


While I'm not sure it goes back nearly as far as 100,000 years (it's been a while since I read it), the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns%2C_Germs%2C_and_Steel) does a compelling job of exploring why complex civilizations arose in some times and places and not in others.

An aspect I found particularly interesting was the idea that basic physical geography could have played a strong role in determining when and where complex civilizations arose.


You might want to check this video:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=2OQmvRUdr3U

(title: African History Disproves “Guns Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond).

tl;dw: that theory is not as valid as it may seem at first.


An alternative view is "Triumph of the West" by Roberts.

https://www.amazon.com/Triumph-West-J-M-Roberts/dp/031674989...


The book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond pretty much answers this question, pretty convincingly to me at least. The book "Sapiens" does provide additional insight as well on this subject.


Human progress has followed an exponential curve. There's no evidence that intelligence has increased along with it.

In order for the mind to conceive of something, first there must be the idea that it is possible. For example, in the 1970's lots of people wondered what a home computer would possibly be good for. The only things people could imagine were storing recipes and balancing one's checkbook. I'm not kidding.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)

There is a theory that humans only developed consciousness in the last 2-3000 years, based on literary sources, and that we were sort of guided by what were in fact auditory hallucinations (generated by another, less connected part of our brains) before that time.

Interesting idea.


It's funny how modern psychology is so much like ancient philosophy of nature - assuming random things because it feels sensible and arguing about them using analogies and magical thinking.


Is that a theory or more of a very weak hypothesis?


Of the idea, Richard Dawkins said:

> “It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius; Nothing in between! Probably the former, but I'm hedging my bets.”

Even if it’s totally wrong, it is an interesting thought experiment.


Yes, but a thought experiment is not a theory.


Agriculture is a bad deal compared to hunting and gathering. Early agricultural societies had worse health and had harder lives than contemporary hunter gatherers. My hunch is that we spend a lot of time at local maximums until an outside force motivates us to go through a period of being worse off before becoming better off (after the negatives have been addressed and the positives refined).


> Agriculture is a bad deal compared to hunting and gathering. Early agricultural societies had worse health and had harder lives than contemporary hunter gatherers.

I keep hearing this, and it's probably true in some sense.

But agriculture is also an incredibly good deal, in that it now supports 7000 million human lives. H&G only reached about 50 million.

So it becomes a philosophical question: Is it better to have a few happy people alive or a huge population of less happy ones?

I'm reminded of the old "explorer's fallacy", where you encounter a tribe in the jungle and marvel at how healthy everyone is. Not realizing that the sick and infirm aren't allowed to live there.


I don't know if it's a question of happiness, but instead it was probably one of necessity. H-G numbers were kept in check by available resources randomly dispersed in nature. Agriculture gave man the ability to manifest abundance without necessarily depending on nature to provide.

I think there are many studies on the overall health of hunter-gatherers as a result of diet and exercise and leisure time as demanded by the lifestyle. In early agricultural societies you have to work harder and longer and you're forced to eat a lot of bread, potatoes and corn and other low quality foods.


Of course, you can only study the diets of the living.

> H-G numbers were kept in check by available resources randomly dispersed in nature.

But... doesn't "numbers were kept in check" mean "surplus people starved to death"?


Yes, but that tended to happen in linear fashion. Whereas, after agriculture, growth could occur exponentially and then when a major multi-year drought would hit, you'd have huge devastating loss of life. The deaths of some H-G humans is not much different than the limits of growth modern predators hit today. Hunter-gatherer humans could also keep their numbers in check by breastfeeding longer (sometimes until their children were as old as 5), since breastfeeding delays ovulation. Agricultural societies, meanwhile, developed lactose tolerance for cow's milk, and could use that as a supplement for child nutrition. And women would spend more of their time on the work necessary to run a farm or home, which is more labor intensive than what nomadic H-G tribes did.


> doesn't "numbers were kept in check" mean "surplus people starved

Not so obviously. Would you argue this for (say) lions or eagles? Few adults starve, when times are lean there is less breeding, and fewer kids who survive, compared to times of plenty.

Whereas the collapse of an early agricultural society (perhaps due to pests, or just no rain) probably did result in lots of adults starving, if there were more of them than could be supported on gathered food.


> true in some sense.

In the sense that the diets & health of ordinary people were much worse under early agriculture. This appears to have been true for a long time, maybe until a few centuries ago.

People ran away if they could. Early agricultural societies seem more and more like attempts by warlords to enslave both animals and humans for their benefit. Capturing livestock & farmers seems to have been the main goal of warfare.

> also an incredibly good deal, in that it now supports 7000 million human lives

Sure, 21st century life is (for almost all of us) much better. It's not so clear that 19th C life was so (except for a few highly-developed places).


Nor is it clear how great 22nd century life will be.


Origin of the meme, I'm pretty sure: "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" Jared Diamond, 1987

http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/Readings/Diamond_Worst...

TL;DR: there are trade-offs.

edit: I forgot to mention, there may be a third way that combines the best of both worlds: "Redesigning Civilization with Permaculture" (video) http://tobyhemenway.com/videos/redesigning-civilization-with... sequel to "How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Planet – But Not Civilization" http://tobyhemenway.com/videos/how-permaculture-can-save-hum...


Humans hunted the megafauna to extinction, which is probably why we invented agriculture:

https://theconversation.com/how-the-extinction-of-ice-age-ma...

Basically as the population grew, hunting and gathering became insufficient to feed the population.

Also bone analysis shows that the health effects you mentioned happened probably BEFORE widespread adoption of agriculture, possibly due to malnutrition.

This isn't far-fetched in an environment in which people are starving.

And with the adoption of agriculture it got a little worse before it got better. Height and life expectancy started going up again.

Basically we built better tools, we started diversifying the crops, we learned to cope with the nutritional deficiencies (for example we started eating dairy) and we eventually adapted, like we always do.


More to the point agriculture was risky. It allowed you to settle more people on an area of land than could be supported by pure hunter-gatherer behaviors. But this means if you have crop failure (and there are many reasons why this could happen, like weather, fire, warring hunter-gatherer tribes, blight, pestilence, etc...) then the people will starve. It's really no wonder religion became such a central part of people's lives, as they attempted to control the many factors in life that were otherwise uncontrollable at their technology level.

And of course without agriculture it's very hard to form a lasting society. People move around too much. Without society it's very hard to keep clever inventions from dying with their creator.


> More to the point agriculture was risky.

Relying on hunting and gathering was also risky: A harsh winter would decimate your prey, and then you would starve.


Which is why hunter-gatherers tried hard not to rely on a single source of food. The places which supported the highest densities of them, like river deltas, were places with many different ecosystems in close proximity.

I guess it's hard to have numbers, but early attempts at agricultural states (often in these same locations) seem much more fragile. Most collapsed within a few generations, to disease of humans or crops, or to weather, we can't know.


> Which is why hunter-gatherers tried hard not to rely on a single source of food.

Neither did early agriculturists.

> early attempts at agricultural states (often in these same locations) seem much more fragile

That's because there are no hunter-gatherer states. Hunter-gatherer cultures are much too fragile to support the societal structures needed for even primitive states.


Of course. Although I'd say it differently: pre-state people probably practiced some amount of farming, and niche-creation. But what we call a primitive state is precisely the superstructure needed to gather lots of them and make them farm for your benefit.

And to make sure it worked to your benefit (as the king) it was important that they farmed a limited number of things which were easy to keep track of, and easy to transport, and hence easy to tax. Like wheat or barley or rice, which you can inspect any time, and which ripens on a predictable date, on which your soldiers can show up to collect the rent. (And unlike potatoes.)


You appear to be alluding to James Scott’s "Against The Grain". I do not agree with the hypothesis of that book, for reasons I'm too lazy to write down here. Sorry :-(


If you have links to well-informed disagreements with that, I'd be interested to read them.


All I can offer you is the comments section of Scott Alexander's book review:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/10/14/book-review-against-th...

The comments there are generally of high quality, and you'll find some good counterpoints to the book's claims.


The good thing about being a hunter-gatherer is you don't have roots. If the local food sources are depleted you simply move on to someplace better. Agriculture roots you to the land, especially if you had to clear the land to make room for your plants and animals. Moving becomes expensive, which makes you more vulnerable to local disruptions to the environment.


> If the local food sources are depleted you simply move on to someplace better.

Counterpoint: "someplace better" might already be occupied by other humans. Besides, a harsh winter is not a local phenomenon, it affects entire regions. Good luck getting to "someplace better" if you're starving, don't have any transportation besides your feet, and don't even know where "someplace better" even is.


Then you just kill the humans in the better place and take their stuff.


What's your point? My point was that hunting & gathering is not less risky than agriculture. Your comment would support that statement.


I suspect civilization as we know it is a post-traumatic response to the Younger Dryas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas


Why presume that they wanted to develop civilization?

Early civilization was superior to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in only one aspect: how large of a population it could support. In nearly every other way, it provided a worse lifestyle.


The climate has been fairly stable over the last 10,000 years?


Source?



A bigger question would be: why did whatever selective process that resulted in our capacity for thought stop improving on it 100,000 years ago?


I'm assuming that as populations become larger (more successful?) that the selection process becomes more diffuse. It's clear that sub-populations have evolved or acquired useful traits (particularly dietary adaptations) in relatively short timescales.

From TFA it appears that the original human population in Africa was pushed out of the interior by climate changes, it's not inconceivable that those conditions also provided evolutionary pressure


> why did whatever selective process that resulted in our capacity for thought stop improving on it 100,000 years ago?

Some people have posited that it's because some fundamental biological limits were run into. (Our biology has already made many compromises to support the large brain, such as extended childhood, compromises in women's skeletal structure, the large energy consumption of the brain, etc.)


Population density.


Taboo observation: the human population has experienced multiple divergent migrations starting potentially as early as 300k years ago[1].

This would have significant implications for potentially different cognition among different human subgroups. Especially those that have lived in isolation for 10s-100s of thousands of years until recent history with modernized travel and interconnectivity.

This may not be a pleasant realization, but it cannot be overlooked in the quest to understand sociological dynamics.

1.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recent_African_origin_of_mod...


Recent theories around Prefrontal Synthesis are useful to consider with regard to the evolution of the "modern mind". ".. the existence of a strong critical period for PFS acquisition creates an evolutionary barrier for behavioral modernity"[1]. In short, the PFS acquisition theory explains functionality of recursive language and imagination. These adaptations are thought to occur about 70k years ago.

[1] https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/166520v8.full, 2019


I remember reading about this on reddit and how the idea that there was an explosion of thought 50kya years ago is misleading. This seems to support that idea, I wonder why it hasn't made it's way into the public consciousness yet.

The comment in question: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAnthropology/comments/4ehwdp/wou...


It seems odd to me that the ability of us to properly date these things isn’t questioned more.


Dating like any science has to be based on evidence. As we gather more evidence and learn to identify it, we get better dates.


I sometimes like to go down the rabbit hole of Atlantis and related conspiracies. I recall a time in my life those ideas seemed so laughable that they were completely pointless. I blame Joe Rogan and his podcasts with Graham Hancock for forcing me to consider ideas of ancient civilizations seriously. Not that I consider Graham Hancock's specific ideas to be serious. But it did force me to challenge my own preconceptions of what is possible.

I do recall, on hacker news I believe, an article posted based on a study by NASA scientists that tried to calculate the likelihood of finding evidence for civilizations 10 thousand years, 100 thousand years or older. What is shocking is how quickly any remnants of an advanced civilization could deteriorate. IIRC, the conclusion of the study was that the chance of us finding any evidence of civilizations that old were extremely small.

The idea that there was an ancient civilization over 10 thousand years ago is entirely plausible to me. Massive geological events (or even astrological ones like asteroid impacts) could have altered entire continents. Who knows what evidence is at the bottom of the Pacific ocean that we cannot access. Or what evidence has been forced under tectonic plates through subduction.

Of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and so far none of the presented evidence is extraordinary (IMO). But our fixed notion that civilization sprang up nearly fully formed 10 thousand years ago doesn't seem as clear to me as it once did.


The Sea Peoples were real, and so was the Bronze Age collapse. There's no need to speculate about Atlantis when we know that there was a very real epidemic of Mediterranean civilizations collapsing due to pressure from invaders.


Zero evidence of things like refined metals or synthetic materials in the geologic record makes the odds of an advanced ancient civilization seem highly improbable.


Yes, I've heard of refined glass as being one of the indicators. However, pretty advanced technologies like pottery would not have made it.

I can't be sure this [1] is the original article I was remembering but it might be an interesting read anyways. I am sure the study authors approach the subject with far greater care than I could.

1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/could-an-industri...


I don't agree that pottery is "pretty advanced". It's just fire applied to clay.

Concrete, on the other hand, is advanced.

The novel "The Hab Theory" is a good story about the discovery of prehistoric civilizations.




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