How Much Can We Really Know about the Past?

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posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 01:01 AM
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In a thread he started in Ancient & Lost Civilizations this morning, one of our most reliable and distinguished members made the following statement:


The find from Syria lends credence to the idea that man's adoption of agriculture and irrigation led to an increase of disease.

What was the find? A single parasite egg inside the remains of a 6,200-year-old cadaver at a burial site in Syria.

I regard Hanslune as an authority. I have no expertise in archaeology and although I do know a little (general) history, prehistory is not really my department. So if Hans says the discovery is significant in that way, I am prepared to accept what he says.

But there remains a niggling doubt, and it's not about Hans, but about the reliability of statements about the past made by archaeologists and historians. I'm not talking about specific, objective statements, such as 'this female figure is between X and X' years old' or 'This piece of obsidian came from such-and-such a quarry in the Near East.' I'm talking about interpretative conclusions based on such statements, claims such as 'people used this female figure in fertility rituals' or 'there was a well-established trade route between Brittany and the Near East' that are extrapolated from such finds. I don' t necessarily disbelieve such statements, but I often wonder if the evidence on which they are made is really strong enough to support them.

I have lately had to do some historical research in connexion with a book I am writing. One of the things I'm doing in that book is trying to build up a character-portrait of the first bishop appointed by the Anglican Church to the diocese of the city where I was born. I have quite a lot of material on him, but at times I am forced to make guesses based on the best evidence I have. I do not mean to mislead my readers, so of course I present the evidence on which I draw my conclusions to enable them to draw their own; but all the same, I'm often aware that I tread a fine line between fact and conjecture, for there is no way anyone living now could possible know the truth. And the man I'm writing about only died in the 1870s!

I am not promoting any conspiracy theories. I don't believe there has been any concerted effort on the part of authoritative scholars or the 'powers that be' to suppress the truths of history (although there have, obviously, been many individual cases, such as the way information about the Armenian genocide was suppressed in Turkey). I don't believe scholars regularly fake or hide hard evidence (although, again, there have been occasional cases, such as the Indonesian professor in charge of the Flores dig who apparently tried to keep the floresiensis remains to himself for a while). All I am asking is: how well can we really know the things we claim to know?

I have put up this thread in a spirit of genuine, humble and — I think — scholarly inquiry. I hope we can have a quiet, sensible discussion about the subject, without flaring tempers and accusations of conspiracy and bad faith being hurled about.

ETA: could a kind staff member please edit out the useless BBcode tags in my thread title, please?

edit on 3/7/14 by Astyanax because: added request to staff.
edit on 7/3/2014 by bigfatfurrytexan because: Fix title




posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 02:05 AM
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When scholars find a bit of evidence and build a theory around it, that is much different than proposing a theory then searching for evidence to support it. The first does not promote the need to find more evidence as much as the second does.

A good example is finding a chip of a skeleton from some extinct species then going beyond an estimated size of the animal to include diet, saying they were solitary or herd animals, classifying them as new species etc. There were whole species of Triceritops created from juvenile to mature bone samples found, but when the body of evidence began to show they were the same species it was hard for the establishment to accept because they had to unravel their story that was based on early speculation.

Too much speculation from too little evidence fueled by a desire to publish reams of papers on subjects where the evidence only allows for a few sentences.

Peer review should focus on limiting what any evidence can propose so the stories remain unfinished and future evidence can more easily add to the story. Seems peer review is more concerned with limiting the acceptance of actual evidence to minimize impact on overinflated theories.

As far as your reference to the other thread, the parasite is from drinking water with snail waste. Seems any human that took a sip no matter what year it was could get the disease so I see where you are coming from. Extrapolating a date of origin for human agriculture from this seems vague at best.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 02:58 AM
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a reply to: Astyanax

In fairness to ancient times and the archaelogists who try to make sense of what we are finding out about our origins and the absolute minefield these individuals have to face, if their finds deviate from accepted history or religious ideas, you have to understand their positions. You also have to face that they have up till now towed the 'official' line on history as taught in the universities more often than not influenced by a very powerful church and State.

Today our technology has enabled us to see so much more and to examine things far closer with the knowledge of what the implications of what these finds actually tell us.

We know history needs a complete rewriting in parts and we are able to access far more ancient texts which were deliberately hidden or excluded so perhaps we are at a turning point on our knowledge of the past and there are a lot of very good writers and other researchers who are doing a great job, apart from the normal core of archaeologists, who did themselves no favours by castigating fellows who dared to deviate from the official line.

I do agree with the point you raise in that the links some archaelogists make seem almost fanciful or naive when watching them on tv at a field site but I do think today's technology has a lot to offer us archaeologically and I hope that 'vested interested parties' will not be able to buy secrecy so easily as they clerly have in the past. Oned of the biggest employers isn the world is involved here but waving the word faith against fact doesn't seem to have the same effect on people, especially the younger ones today - we want facts and would probably forgive fiction if we must, on the condition it stops when the facts arise. Great times ahead.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 07:47 AM
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a reply to: Shiloh7


In fairness to ancient times and the archaelogists who try to make sense of what we are finding out about our origins and the absolute minefield these individuals have to face, if their finds deviate from accepted history or religious ideas, you have to understand their positions. You also have to face that they have up till now towed the 'official' line on history as taught in the universities more often than not influenced by a very powerful church and State.

I know this is a very commonly expressed sentiment on Above Top Secret, but it is not what this thread is about.

What I want to discuss is the degree of certainty to which claims about historical and prehistorical events can be made, based on the evidence we have for them. In other words, how well founded is the account of history and prehistory we have assembled from physical evidence and documentary sources? Obviously the degree of certainty will vary with individual statements, so it's a broad question, but that's exactly the sort of question that provokes debate; I'm hoping for some.


We know history needs a complete rewriting in parts

Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. As far as I can see, the only way to tell is to sift the evidence and draw what conclusions we can from it. I'm asking how reliable is the process by which we do that.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 08:13 AM
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a reply to: Astyanax

Good idea for a thread.

In archaeology what you will find are only the bare bones (pun intended) of what the actual situation might have been and from that a theory is made saying 'this is the way I think it was', this often is later modified, found to be wrong and discarded or in rare cases found to be spot on.

In the case mentioned I would say a single egg is significant as was the single finger bone that brought us the realization that the Denisovians existed, or various other key discoveries that help us make sense of the pre-historic world.

When you have zero information on a period of time or location one bit of info takes on magnified importance.

In better understood and historic times this is less so. In say the AE world you have millions of points of evidence, thousands of sites, while there is only one Gobekli Tepe or antikythera mechanism.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 08:14 AM
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symbolism and worship...that is something that is mostly unbroken from ancient times to now. An esoteric initiate will typically understand the gist of what is being portrayed. uninitiated folks won't see it. So as far as that goes I suspect it is fairly accurate.

The thread mentioned in the OP...i am about to go read it now. But that kind of stuff is where the grey area comes into play for me. That aside, forensic science has made huge leaps and bounds in the last 20 years.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 08:17 AM
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a reply to: Shiloh7


You may want to start a thread specifically on that idea.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 08:29 AM
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a reply to: Astyanax

I think the biggest issue that stands in the way of really understanding our past is the ability to truly adopt the cultural outlook of other societies. Its next to impossible even today, where someone who has never visited say.. the Middle East, is pretty much incapable of understanding what that constant drone of society forms on newly growing life (kids).

When we start to look further back in history, I think this divide goes even further.

A part of me even thinks that at some point, a highly technologically advanced society could have existed and even evolved so far as to adopt more basic methods. I feel like this is the direction that we are heading right now, so the possibility is there, in my mind.

I feel more like its a type of "google translate" where we can get an idea of past cultures, but never truly understand them or what their way of life truly was.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 08:44 AM
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originally posted by: Serdgiam
a reply to: Astyanax

I think the biggest issue that stands in the way of really understanding our past is the ability to truly adopt the cultural outlook of other societies. Its next to impossible even today, where someone who has never visited say.. the Middle East, is pretty much incapable of understanding what that constant drone of society forms on newly growing life (kids).

I feel more like its a type of "google translate" where we can get an idea of past cultures, but never truly understand them or what their way of life truly was.


Yes this is exactly right, anthropology learned more about HG life from current groups (late 19th to late 20th century) than we would have ever determined from archaeology finds. A great deal was also learned about early man by the Jane Goodall studies.

Even if we can read the language what they meant is often hard to understand. I'm presently 'translating' early 19th century journals, and find I cannot understand what is being said as I lack the context and understanding of the world that a young Ensign going from England to India in 1836 had. And that is less than two centuries.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:04 AM
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originally posted by: Astyanax
a reply to: Shiloh7


You also have to face that they have up till now towed the 'official' line on history as taught in the universities more often than not influenced by a very powerful church and State.

I know this is a very commonly expressed sentiment on Above Top Secret, but it is not what this thread is about.

It's also pure rubbish.

Harte



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:09 AM
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a reply to: Hanslune

I think that even in a single generation there is a disparity that can not be bridged. That doesnt mean we cant have our own take on it, or that we cant work together, or anything like that.. But it does mean that there is an intrinsic "programmed" quality to our psyche that is inescapable and not capable of being changed.

I am not sure that most people have truly explored how much their surrounding environment affects their every day perception as an adult, and I suspect this is the case throughout our history. It begins from the moment we are born, and doesnt stop until we pass away. Its the background to our melody, in a poetic sense.

The most interesting connection, to me, is the link between technological advancement and a "better" society. They dont seem to actually be directly linked, as they are simply just more tools, but we have started to make the assumption that because we have "x" technologies, everything about us is superior in every way. I am not convinced that is the case.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:16 AM
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a reply to: Serdgiam

Yep I was born in Asia and grew up in an Asian influenced society, lived in Europe and spent twenty-five years in the Middle-East, and now find myself in rural America....very different. Today I will be giving a short class at the Uni to the foreign students (Saudis, Brazilians, Japanese and Chinese) on what July 4th means to Americans.

It is very hard to understand ancient writings especially on religious matters.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:19 AM
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a reply to: Hanslune

Id love to listen in on that, is that a possibility?

If not, I think it might be fun to do an audio recording and then start a thread about it here.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:38 AM
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a reply to: Astyanax

As long as people has an agenda, the truth will never prevail, either the agenda is profit, religion or politics. The agenda seems to change over time, but right now the agenda is political driven. We only need to mention the global scientific establishment and the mainstream media around the world. As long as both these 'powers' are owned and controlled by the political establishment, the truth will sadly loose again.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 09:45 AM
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originally posted by: helius
a reply to: Astyanax

As long as people has an agenda, the truth will never prevail, either the agenda is profit, religion or politics. The agenda seems to change over time, but right now the agenda is political driven. We only need to mention the global scientific establishment and the mainstream media around the world. As long as both these 'powers' are owned and controlled by the political establishment, the truth will sadly loose again.


There is another knowledge, and from my estimation that still remains the objective of science. We might go off topic if I asked another question.

Helius may I suggest you start a thread here on the' 'global scientific establishment'.
edit on 3/7/14 by Hanslune because: (no reason given)



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 10:35 AM
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a reply to: helius


As long as people has an agenda, the truth will never prevail

That may be, but it is not what we are discussing in this thread. Do you have any insights to share with us regarding the reliability of conclusions drawn from historical and archaeological evidence?



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 05:13 PM
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a reply to: Serdgiam

Sorry missed seeing your post until I returned, the Uni is actually closed for the holiday and we were just welcoming summertime short term foreign English students off campus.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 05:26 PM
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originally posted by: Hanslune
a reply to: Astyanax

When you have zero information on a period of time or location one bit of info takes on magnified importance.

In better understood and historic times this is less so. In say the AE world you have millions of points of evidence, thousands of sites, while there is only one Gobekli Tepe or antikythera mechanism.



But if you go hogwild and try to tell the whole story from a single point of data, it diminishes the truth that there is great need for more points of data. At some point honesty has to prevail and say these are the limits this evidence presents, anything beyond is highly speculative.

The only thing gained by everybody speculating on one thing is more speculation. Makes for good CGI laced sci-fi shows though.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 05:58 PM
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a reply to: TinfoilTP

Yep at some point the speculation becomes meaningless, however speculation can have a positive effect. It can be used to focus where to dig or research next.

Example: we were searching for a bronze age site in Cyprus that we knew from Egyptians sources and digs had traded with that civ. We speculated that it would be near a source of clay, within a half kilometer of fresh water and a good stretch of beach for a harbor (ships of that time were dragged up on shore). Using British Air Force recce photos from the war we did a search.

Based on that speculation we found 42 possible sites in one summer and in the next summer dropped test pits and finally found the site.



posted on Jul, 3 2014 @ 10:39 PM
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a reply to: Hanslune

That nice detective work and brilliant thinking, but that’s my main concern with archeology in the first place. They are all desperately trying to uncover things (and only those things) that backs and match their own scientific faulty theories and thus they totally ignores other possibilities and what other people claim and speculate in.

Look what happened when H. Schliemann (an amateur) decided to take it upon himself to follow the directions in Greek myths and find the ancient city of Troy. It didn’t go long time before he found Troy exactly where the ancient texts said it would be. Today the scientific establishment never mention this , and they are still trying to ignore it by silencing it to death. According to them myths should remain myths even though they are proven right. What does one do to fight such ignorance?

If only 10% of their resources would have been used to speculate and search for proof that other theories are trying to point out, perhaps we all would benefit. However. If these guys still insist that the Giza pyramid (and other ancient sites) was built by hand power and the use of ancient primitive copper chisel’s , perhaps it’s better to drop it.

If the attitude is not going to change, the work archeologist's do has no real value to anybody but themselves. It’s a stalemate and everybody looses. One can always hope that all those things eventually change though.
edit on 3-7-2014 by helius because: (no reason given)





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