a reply to: shipman
Interesting idea. I suppose one might argue that any civilization that regularly produces over-large buildings is (a) wasting valuable work in
producing monuments to earthly vanities, and/or (b) attempting to support overcrowding (thereby adding to and accelerating that problem). Neither of
which, arguably, are good signs for a society's long-term stability.
But it could be an artifact of the sample, in that civilizations that have collapsed are just more easily detected and analysed if they left large
The example I have in mind here is the imaginatively-named 'Mound Builder' civilization that existed in America at some point before Europeans
arrived. We know absolutely nothing about the mound builders, except they left gargantuan earthworks all over the place, which must have taken decades
it not centuries to construct. Carbon dating identifies them as being built as late as the 11th Century or as early as 300BC, or maybe spanning a
period of five millennia, depending on who you believe.
The consensus today is that the mounds were built by Amerindians, which seems reasonable enough, except the only eyewitness accounts of mound builder
culture are those of a few of the Conquistadors, who quite frankly could easily have made them up. E.g., there's accounts of the mound builders having
plentiful gold artifacts, but no accounts of those artifacts being seized and the people massacred as one might expect.
There's even one extravagant yarn in which they encountered the Queen of the Mound Builders herself and captured her without a struggle (as you do),
but wouldn't you know it, she escaped single-handed in the middle of the night and disappeared. Talk about 'the one that got away'!
If the accounts weren't inventions, the mound builders must have just sort of evaporated and left nothing else behind, not even a folk memory. The
usual explanation is that they were decimated by smallpox or whatever other contagious delicacies the Europeans introduced, but the thing about this
is that to be blunt there aren't any skeletons, which one would naturally assume to have been left lying around.
(N.b., the above is a bit of a mini-rant, a personal take on the facts, and therefore YMMV).
Anyway... the point of all that being that if the mound builders hadn't built mounds, we wouldn't even know they had ever existed.