Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Review: Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 1, Part 1

The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol 1, Part 1: Prolegomena & PrehistoryThe Cambridge Ancient History, Vol 1, Part 1: Prolegomena & Prehistory by I.E.S. Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A person has to truly love history, esoteric knowledge and pottery to read this book from cover-to-cover. I have actually read it twice. The first time was over 25 years ago, when I was able to get a copy from the library. I read several of the books in the series and swore that I would own them one day. This is the first of the 19 volumes that I've bought.

The history of mankind's first steps towards civilization is a fascinating mosaic of tool (and pottery) making, the first attempts at agriculture and domestication of animals -- and of movement. The amount of movement humanity did before wheeled vehicles or anything to ride is phenomenal. From Mesopotamia to Egypt to the islands of the Aegean and into Greece, the spread of people can be traced through the types of pottery and the patterns (among things) they brought with them, and through the trade in such items as obsidian, turquoise and -- late in the book -- copper. There were isolated communities, but trade routes were plainly already established, and culture spreading along those paths.

This is not a story of personality; there are no known people except in the chapter of how various king lists are used to coordinate time with several areas by matching names with those found in other documents. After that, it is a story of humanity as a whole, learning from each other how to better survive in the world.

I love learning just for itself. However, I have also always found books like this to be a storehouse of story fodder and background material for world building. I make certain that I mark out one interesting line within every 20 page stretch. These little tidbits often seed their way into stories, along with much else I read in the books.

Below are the quotes from this book.

Page 1 -- More than four-fifths of history of our earth was over before the fossil record opens.

Page 33 -- In the end it overlaps with pre-history, and the most recent events we have described -- for example the separation of the waters of the Mediterranean from those of the Red Sea -- were unwittingly witnessed by tool-using man.

Page 60 -- The archaeological evidence supports the suggestion that irrigation farming involved only the breaching of the natural embankments of streams and made use of uncontrolled local flooding.

Page 62 -- The land of Egypt consists of three major features: the alluvial lands of the valley and the delta, the low desert bordering these land son both flanks, and, beyond, the desert uplands.

Page 93 -- The most obvious and dramatic change in temperate Europe was that forest trees were able to expand from their Late-glacial landscape.

Page 111 -- The most impressive burial at Teviec comprised six persons: at the bottom there was a man of between twenty and thirty who had evidently been killed by an arrow mounted with a triangular microlith, and above five more burials, including those of two men, two women and a girl, the whole surmounted by a heap of stone incorporating what appears to have been a ritual hearth.

Page 124 -- Although we have described this model in terms of geographical spread, it is equally applicable to dialect differentiation among the various strata of a given society or to the divergence that arise between spoken and written forms of the language which continue to influence one another.

Page 145 -- It became extinct as a spoken language, for all practical purposes, soon after the close of the Ur III Dynasty, and the end of the third millennium, but was intensively cultivated by scribes down into the second century, B. C., if not even later. (Sumerian)

Page 170 -- It has been suggested that the genesis of the Iron Age accompanied the fall of the Hittite Empire at the beginning of the twelfth century B. C.

Page 188 -- Her disappearance from history some time between his 20th and 22nd years agrees with Manetho's slightly garbled statement that after the third king of the dynasty 'his sister Amesssis' ruled for twenty-one years and nine months. (Hatshepsut)

Page 206 -- It is towards the end of the reign of Suppliuliumash that the Hittite records mention the death of Tutankhamun.

Page 234 -- According to Cameron three rulers held office simultaneously dring that period of Elamite history. When the senior ruler, the sukkalmah, died the next senior, the sukkal of Elam and Simashki, moved up to sukkalmah. The junior ruler, the sukkal of Susa would move up whenever the next highest office was vacated, and a new sukkal of Susa would be appointed.

Page 249 -- Hunting was still the main occupation, but at Zawi Chemi there is abundant evidence for domestic sheep, the first animal to be domesticated.

Page 270 -- Burqras looks like an attempt by early farmers at settling in the Euphrates valley which failed, just as the early settlements in Palestine seem to have failed ultimately, though after a much more prolonged effort.

Page 284 -- In a previous section we have already described the establishment of early village sites on the edge of the alluvial plain in the Deh Luran district and we have seen how, soon after 6000 B. C., plain and painted pottery made its appearance in the 'Muhammad Ja'far phase' at Ali-Kush, together with a decline in agriculture and a concomitant increase in pastoralism that led eventually to the abandonment of the site.

Page 306 -- By reason of their seasonal migrations nomads are most efficient agents for the transmission of culture.

Page 331 -- It need not surprise us that this now desolate spot was once deemed to be a holy place and that the faithful journeyed there to leave offerings in the sand long after the city had ceased to be.

Page 349 -- Considered in retrospect, the most remarkable feature in this long prehistoric process is the inverse measure of progression revealed by an analysis of pottery and the architecture respectively. Whereas the painted wares found at the bottom of Eridu are artistically highly developed and elaborate in design, the first buildings are simplicity itself, and many centuries must have lapsed before they began to assume the basic form of ground plan which we associate with Sumerian civilization. Moreover, as the buildings became more elaborate and standardized in plan, the pottery lost its fullness of design, and tended towards repetition and a more mechanical output of relatively limited shapes.

Page 364 -- It is not unlikely that this was a dedication, a burnt sacrifice made when a temple named the 'Cone-mosaic Temple' was dismantled to make way for a ne one, and that a part of the older temple furniture was thus consecrated in perpetuity before being replaced by a new set.

Page 383 -- We may be tempted to see in these Gawra buildings the origin of the Megaron which, at a considerably later period, was to become so characteristic a feature of Anatolia -- at Troy and Beycesultan -- and eventually of the Mycenaean world.

Page 403 -- These caves are still used intermittently by Kurds for a month or two each yer as shelters during the season when they are collecting wild fruit, and also in autumn when they are hunting game: the nearest running stream is now at Havdiyan.

Page 434 -- Already we may discern the beginnings of the terrible population problems that confront us today: the perfect equilibrium between production and consumption is a notion of the golden age which, so far, has existed only within man's imagination, but has never been realized beyond it, however wide the open spaces may have been at the beginnings of prehistory.

Page 448 -- A bone holder for a flint knife from Sialk I represents a male figure with hands and arms reverently folder across the front of the body in an attitude of obeisance which is already astonishingly Persian!

Page 470 -- Animals and humans were buried in the same cemeteries. The bodies of the animals were wrapped in matting and linen, and their graves did not differ from those of humans except in their lack of tomb furniture. The remains found were those of small carnivores, either dog or jackal, cows and sheep. (El-Badari, predyansitc Egypt.)

Page 485 -- Some of the better graves were lined with matting or with wooden planks, which were the ancestors both of wooden coffins and the internal wood paneling of the First Dynasty tombs.

Page 519 -- It is no paradox to attribute to nomads the introduction of pottery and certain other developments; before the establishment of trading on a larger scale, nomads played an important part in the transmission of new ideas and the diffusion of influences.

Page 530 -- The Ghassul-Beersheba culture, which mad its appearance without any preliminaries, disappeared without any sequel.

Page 542 -- From time immemorial industrious Cypriot farmers have built thousands of miles of terrace walls to avert the worst effects of such storms.

Page 562 -- When the Thessalian Plain, and most likely other parts of Greece as well, became inundated, possibly between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, man must have taken to the higher ground of the periphery, perhaps descending again in the several periods of desiccation.

Page 583 -- Made in much the same way were the more numerous clay sling bullets, unbaked or poorly fired, which seem to have been the only weapon of the period.

Page 606 -- Towards the end of the Late Neolithic period one can sense an increase in the movement of peoples into and about the Aegean, possibly a preliminary phase of maritime commercial enterprise such as characterizes the subsequent Early Bronze Age.

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