I hate politics. I refuse to talk politics. One of the quickest ways to get me to stop listening or to make me get up and just plain leave the room is to initiate a political debate with me. Still, as witnessed by the settings and subject matter of the stories I write, I love archaeology and history so the recent happenings in the middle east have held my attention. No fear. This is not one of those laments for the wonderfulness of the bygone eras. Those eras, while very interesting as viewed from the present day, were hardscrabble times for the average person. Even in ancient times, there was a marked divide between classes and most of the ancient societies were ruled as something of a theocracy. (I said I hate politics, not that I don’t know about them.)
Nonetheless, the very areas where people are fighting to overthrow dictators and Rulers-for-Life are the same places the ideas that form the basis of what we think of as modern civilization came into being. Ancient Egypt gave us the Forty-Two Principles of Ma’at, a group of precepts that codified ethical behavior. Some two thousand years after their codification, these rules, also called the Forty-Two Negative Confessions, were distilled into what we know today as the Ten Commandments. Yeah, really. Check out the Wikipedia page for the goddess Ma’at.
Concurrent with the Forty-Two Principles came the Code of Hammurabi. These laws come down to us via a seven-foot tall diorite stele carved in Babylon (Present day Iraq) around 1760 BCE. Because this was so important to the people of the time, we also have many cuneform clay tablets containing all or parts of the code. This collection of laws is based on even earlier ones, all from the same areas of the middle east. Reading the laws, many will sound familiar to modern day people for much the same reason as the Forty-Two Principles. It became the basis for traditional Old Testament law.
Art, literature and mathmatics all took root and flourished in these areas. As noted in a previous entry on this blog, the first known example of animation was found in the Burnt City, an archeological site located in present day Iran. Functional prothetic body parts and fine surgical implements from ancient times have been found, most notably, in Egypt and Iran. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages and lost the knowledge of mathmatics, medicine and a host of other subjects, scholars in the middle eastern cultures preserved them.
The list goes on and on, but I won’t. What it boils dow to is that today, the area that was called the Cradle of Civilization when I was in school is on fire — figuratively and literally. One has to wonder what will rise from the ashes. Until then, the only thing the lovers of history and archaeology can do is nervously watch the conflagrations and hold hope and prayers for the people of today as well as the relics of history