Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tying Things Together

Far too many of our great minds of academia work in isolation. They tend to stick to one extreme specialty and make judgments about their field with little thought to how it fits in the great scheme of things. Sometimes that isn't a problem, but others, it leads to errors. One assumption adopted because it seemed good at the time becomes and incontrovertible fact in later generations. Science has given us many tools and when we use those tool and remove any preconceived notions, we can put things together to form a much better picture of our past.

Our study of the past has a new tool that is calling old theories into question. Genetics is painting a far different picture of the world than we had before. Often this seems to be in direct contrast to what we believe to know. This was really sparked by two finds. The first was an assessment of Genghis Khan's DNA based on legendary descriptions and the DNA of modern Mongols, the second was an essay on the spread of the Indo-European language group and how tying it to DNA and archeology produces a different timeline (The Paleolithic Indo-Europeans) In looking at the research on Genghis Khan, I found that the predominant Y chromosome in Mongolia is one that is shared with the Indo-Europeans east of the Alps. That was reiterated in the essay on Indo-European.

My favorite new show on TV is American Unearthed. The paleo-archaeologist host is investigating various finds around the country that indicate European contact prior to 1492. Most of the older discoveries have always been labeled fakes, mainly because they are isolated and call into question the accepted theories. While I can't say all of the things he investigates are genuine (and even he does not assume everything is), the ideas are tantalizing and possible. The most intriguing was the copper mines of upper Michigan. Timbers have been dated at over 3000 years old, which corresponds to the bronze age in Europe. The Minoans were the copper suppliers and they were superb sailors. Just because later sailors did not know where to go and feared the open ocean does not mean the Minoans did. Their sailing successors, the Phoenicians even went so far as to put something that looks like a map showing North America on some coins. Was the ancient world smaller than we think? It is possible.

The only way to make sense of these things is to cast off the concept that what we take for granted is indeed the truth. We need to prove it. It is not enough to know that Genghis Khan was a Mongolian (so we should hire a black haired Asian if we were to cast the role), we need to know his genetics, his description, the origins of his culture and language. All those point to a different face than we might think (someone of mixed ancestry with auburn hair and green eyes - someone far more western looking).

One area of study where I have long seen the error is Egyptology. When we first began to decipher the ancient Egyptian language and their history, the early researchers immediately latched onto a couple of things they saw as similar to Biblical accounts. So initially Egyptology was tied to the dates corresponding to Biblical events. As time has gone on and the knowledge of Egyptian history and archeology has grown, the dating has never changed. It was incorrectly set from the start and has never been fixed. This has the unfortunate consequence of rendering Biblical archeology undatable. The destruction of Jericho is found in the archaeological record, but the date doesn't line up. And why? Because everything date based in that region is based on the anchor of the Egyptian chronology as it was set in error at the outset. Archaeologists use tree rings, pottery, and cultural flags to date everything and so they can only really compare dates. That this archeology site over here is from the same time as that over there, which is how Jericho is dated. The destruction happened at the same time as a given period in Egypt. Comparative analysis between archeology and the various texts that purport to be historical shows that events line up in a relative chronology, just not when the establish chronologies are adhered to.

The reverse holds true as well. Many Egyptology hold that Ramses II's exploits are highly exaggerated because they cannot find records of it in the other histories. Yet if you realign the historical timelines there is a match and Ramses is no longer a liar.

I am a big proponent of throwing out our preconceived notions and trying on something different to see if it fits. It means changing things and adjusting our image of the past, but it creates a more accurate, full, and revealing picture of our past. So rather than our Indo-European ancestors spreading out in waves of conquest, they migrated in peaceful waves, using their superior technology to survive where their processors could not, even adopting them into their culture. Rather than different waves of conquest creating the Celts, Germans, Latins, Greeks, Slavs, Iranians, and Aryans, it was forced separation during the last ice age. Rather than the Egyptian and Biblical chronologies being at odds, they line up. Rather than the Mongolians being a northern offshoot of China, they are a mixed race of nomads who had held those lands for countless generations, raiding and trading with China and intermarrying, literally changing the face of their people. And rather than the Americans being isolated for thousands of years, there was near constant interaction. By putting together genetics, archeology, climatology, linguistics, history, and any other helpful branch of study, a much clearer and certain image emerges. One that is far more hopeful for our species and our future.

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