Watching shows on the History Channel, Discovery, and sitting through lectures, you get a sense that ancient humanity was far different from how we live today. Similar to many elders in the world today where “everything was simpler in my day,” we yearn for a time when things weren’t so hectic and humans were in tune with nature and the elements around them. Well, I’m here to tell you that many modern researchers have it very wrong about how people acted and lived in the ancient and indigenous world. All too often we see films and read books about the simplicity of Native American culture culminating in one of the most bigoted plot lines running through fiction, “the noble savage.” I have sat through history lectures involving whole classes of apologies to all the indigenous people the “white man” hurt throughout history while they neglect millennia of pre-Columbian war, complex society, and amazing achievements. Sorry, professors but history did not begin with the introduction of European interests.
I have also watched many shows that imply that there is deep meaning behind every work of art and every form of writing ancient man committed to stone. The view of indigenous tribes and the ancients being simpler than modern man and the idea that those who have come before us designed their art to only communicate cultural significance does only one thing: it trivializes the studied civilizations.
Think about what you do during a typical day. Hopefully you have a job and hopefully you have time to recreate. If there is consideration for what humans do most of the day, one can come to the conclusion that a lot of time is spent doing things that are only important to the person. Individual pursuits are probably the reality for a quarter to one half of the Earth’s population while the other fraction of humanity is just looking to survive. Now I would like to question, “How different do you think our modern reality is to the reality of our forerunners?” It’s probably not much different at all. Do you think the Mayans or Aztecs who left behind their ruins for us to study really sat around considering how future civilizations would interpret the meaning behind their glyphs? No, just like your doodling in class or that painting hanging in the local art gallery, those ancient glyphs and paintings were designed for the enjoyment of the people who created them.
Visual art has always been a very important aspect of the human experience and, thus, I question the theory that cave paintings had anything extra to tell the observer other than a good story. The chances are great that cave paintings were like graphic novels telling a story through a visual medium. I remember watching a television program discussing the Flood in Genesis and a man whose theory involved a meteorite stated something interesting. He said something akin to, “You have to remember that all of these paintings from the ancient world had a deep rooted meaning.” His statement regarding ancient humanity reminds me of an alien race in science fiction whose world has one language, one religion, and one culture. The idea is just not realistic. We need to start interjecting our modern sensibilities into those in the ancient world. If we are honest in doing so, I think we will realize that those who have come before are really not all that different from us.