A powerful but polemical tract on behalf of prehistoric culture, intended to show the importance and relatively advanced...



A powerful but polemical tract on behalf of prehistoric culture, intended to show the importance and relatively advanced nature of Stone Age civilization. Rudgley (Stone Age Studies/Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford Univ.) points out that although 95 percent of humanity's time on the planet preceded the dawn of history, prehistory has received 5 percent (or less) of scholarly attention. Here he sets about to rectify things. The author demonstrates at length that the rudiments of civilization, ranging from astronomy, mathematics, and art to pottery, dentistry, and accounting, originated in Neolithic cultures. Writing might be thought of as a unique innovation of civilizations--indeed, history may have begun when people first recorded events in writing--but Rudgley instead argues that proto-hieroglyphics may have existed in Egypt and that Chinese and other writing systems may also be vastly older than has been believed. And he argues, too, that prehistoric beings pioneered both visual art and science. The author's review of prehistoric cultural achievements is erudite and fascinating, especially his discussions of Stone Age language, technology, mining, and religious art. By necessity, his reasoning is sometimes speculative (e.g., he cites the possible existence of Paleolithic science and mathematics from the slenderest of archaeological evidence). Other claims, such as his assertion that an archaic progenitor language existed in prehistory, do not appear to advance his argument for the superiority of prehistoric culture. With some contempt, he decries the myopic attitudes of anthropologists and other social scientists who have disparaged Stone Age cultures as primitive. Rudgley's argument on prehistory's behalf is often forceful. But he's too quick to attribute 20th-century ignorance of the Stone Age's significance to our modern prejudices, when the more persuasive cause may be prehistory's scanty written records and archaeological legacy.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0684862700

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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