An address presented at World Archeological Congress 3,
December 4-11, 1994, New Delhi, India
The World Archeological Congress is an international organization that meets every four years in a different city of the world. Nine hundred archeologists and scientists from related disciplines attended the New Delhi meeting, jointly sponsored by the World Archeological Congress and the Archeological Survey of India, with support from the Indian government.
The concept of time used by modern historical scientists, including archeologists, strikingly resembles the traditional Judeo-Christian concept. And it strikingly differs from that of the ancient Greeks and Indians.
This observation is, of course, an extreme generalization. In any culture, the common people may use various concepts of time, linear and cyclical. And among the great thinkers of any period, there may be many competing views of both cyclical and linear time. That was certainly true of the ancient Greeks. It can nevertheless be safely said that the cosmological concepts of several of the most prominent Greek thinkers involved a cyclic or episodic time similar to that found in the Puranic literature of India.
For example, we find in Hesiod's Works and Days a series of ages (gold, silver, bronze, heroic, and iron) similar to the Indian yugas. In both systems the quality of human life gets progressively worse with each passing age. In On Nature Empedocles speaks of cosmic time cycles. In Plato's dialogues there are descriptions of revolving time and recurring catastrophes that destroy or nearly destroy human civilization. Aristotle said in many places in his works that the arts and sciences had been discovered many times in the past. In the teachings of Plato, Pythagoras, and Empedocles on transmigration of souls, the cyclical pattern is extended to individual psychophysical existence.
When Judeo-Christian civilization arose in Europe, another kind of time became prominent time going forward in a straight line. Broadly speaking, this concept of time involves a unique act of cosmic creation, a unique appearance of human beings, and a unique history of salvation, culminating in a unique denouement in the form of a last judgment. The drama occurs only once. Individually, the life of a human being mirrors this process; so, with some exceptions, orthodox Christian theologians rejected transmigration of the soul.
Modern historical sciences share the basic Judeo-Christian assumptions about time. The universe we inhabit is a unique occurrence. Humans have arisen once on this planet. The history of our ancestors followed a unique though unpredestined evolutionary pathway. The future pathway of our species is also unique. Although this pathway is officially unpredictable, the myths of science project a possible overcoming of death by biomedical science and mastery over the entire universe by evolving, space-traveling humans. One group, the Santa Fe Institute, sponsor of several conferences on "artificial life," predicts the transfer of human intelligence into machines and computers displaying the complex symptoms of living things. "Artificial life" thus becomes the ultimate transfiguring salvation of our species. Finally, the collapse of the Big Bang universe will bring everything to a close.
One is tempted to propose that the modern account of human evolution is a Judeo-Christian heresy that covertly retains fundamental structures of Judeo-Christian cosmology, eschatology, and salvation history while overtly dispensing with the scriptural account of divine intervention in the origin of species, including our own. This would be similar to the way Buddhism, while dispensing with the Hindu scriptures and concepts of God, retained basic Hindu cosmological assumptions such as cyclical time, transmigration, and karma.
Another feature the modern human evolutionary account has in common with the earlier Christian account is that humans appear after the other forms of life. In Genesis, God creates the plants, animals, and birds before human beings. For strict literalists, the time interval is short humans are created on the last of six of our present solar days. Others have taken the Genesis days as ages. For example, around the time of Darwin, European scientists with strong Christian leanings proposed that God had gradually brought into existence various species throughout the ages of geological time until the perfected earth was ready to receive human beings. In modern evolutionary accounts, anatomically modern humans retain their position as the most recent major species to occur on this planet, having evolved from previous hominids within the past 100,000 or so years. And despite the attempts of prominent evolutionary theorists and spokespersons to counteract the tendency, even among evolution scientists, to express the appearance of humans as in any way predestined, the idea that humans are the crowning glory of the evolutionary process still has a strong hold on the minds of the public and the scientists. Although anatomically modern humans are given an age of about 100,000 years, modern archeologists and anthropologists, in common with Judeo-Christian accounts, give civilization an age of a few thousand years and, again in common with Judeo-Christian accounts, place its earliest occurrence in the Middle East.
I do not categorically assert a direct causal link between earlier Judeo-Christian ideas and those of the modern historical sciences. To demonstrate that would call for much more careful documentation than has yet been provided. But the many common features of the time concepts of the two systems of knowledge suggest that these causal links do exist and that to trace connections in detail would be fruitful.
I do propose, however, that the tacitly accepted and hence critically unexamined time concepts of the modern human sciences, whether or not causally linked with Judeo-Christian concepts, pose a significant unrecognized influence on interpretation of the archeological and anthropological record. To demonstrate how this might be true, I shall introduce my own experience in evaluating that record from the standpoint of the concepts of cyclical time and the accounts of human origins found in the Puranas andItihasas of India.
My path of learning has led me to take the Vaisnava tradition of India as my primary guide to life and the study of the visible universe and what may lie beyond. For the past century or so, bringing concepts from religious texts directly into the scientific study of nature has been considered quite unreasonable. Indeed, many introductory texts in anthropology and archeology make a clear distinction between "scientific" and "religious" ways of knowing, relegating the latter to the status of unsupported belief, with little or no utility in the objective study of nature. Some texts even go so far as to boast that this view has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, as if the state were the best and final arbiter of intellectual controversy. (See, for example, Philip L. Stein and Bruce M. Rowe, Physical Anthropology, Fifth Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), p. 37.)
But I propose that total hostility to religious views of nature in science is unreasonable, especially for the modern historical sciences. Despite pretensions to objectivity, scientists unconsciously retain or incorporate into their workings many Judeo-Christian cosmological concepts, especially concerning time, and implicitly employ them in their day-to-day work of observation and theory building. In this sense, modern evolutionists share some intellectual territory with their fundamentalist Christian antagonists.
But there are other ways to comprehend historical processes in nature. One can graphically sense this if one performs the mental experiment of looking at the world from a radically different perspective of time the Puranic time concept of India. I am not alone in suggesting this. Gene Sager, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Palomar College in California, wrote in an unpublished review of my book Forbidden Archeology: "As a scholar in the field of comparative religion, I have sometimes challenged scientists by offering a cyclical or spiral model for studying human history, based on the Vedic concept of the kalpa. Few Western scientists are open to the possibility of sorting out the data in terms of such a model. I am not proposing that the Vedic model is true…. However, the question remains, does the relatively short, linear model prove to be adequate? I believe Forbidden Archeology offers a well researched challenge. If we are to meet this challenge, we need to practice open-mindedness and proceed in a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary fashion." The World Archeological Congress provides a suitable forum for such cross-cultural, interdisciplinary dialogue.
The Puranic concept of time involves cycles of yugas. Each yuga cycle is composed of four yugas. The first, Satya-yuga, lasts 1,728,000 years. The second, Treta-yuga, lasts 1,296,000 years. The third, Dvapara-yuga, lasts 864,000 years. And the fourth, Kali-yuga, lasts 432,000 years. This gives a total of 4.32 million years for the entire yuga cycle. One thousand of such cycles 4.32 billion years make up one day of Brahma, the demigod who governs the universe. A day of Brahma is called akalpa. Each of Brahma's nights lasts as long as his day. Life is manifest on earth only during the day of Brahma. With the onset of Brahma's night, the entire universe is devastated and plunged into darkness. When another day of Brahma begins, life again becomes manifest.
Each day of Brahma is divided into 14 manvantara periods, each lasting 71 yuga cycles. Preceding the first and following each manvantara period is a juncture (sandhya) the length of a Satya-yuga (1,728,000) years. Typically, each manvantaraperiod ends with a partial devastation.
According to Puranic accounts, we are now in the twenty-eighth yuga cycle of the seventh manvantara period of the present day of Brahma. This would give the inhabited earth an age of 2.3 billion years. Interestingly enough, the oldest undisputed organisms recognized by paleontologists algae fossils such as those from the Gunflint formation in Canada are just about that old.
Altogether, 453 yuga cycles have elapsed since this day of Brahma began. Each yuga cycle involves a progression from a golden age of peace and spiritual progress to a final age of violence and spiritual degradation. At the end of each Kali-yuga, the earth is practically depopulated.
During the yuga cycles, human species coexist with other humanlike species. For example, in the Bhagavata Purana (9.10.20) we find the divine avatara Ramacandra conquering Ravana's kingdom, Lanka, with the aid of intelligent forest-dwelling monkey-men who, using trees and stones, fought Ravana's well-equipped soldiers. This occurred in the Treta-yuga, about one million years ago.
Given the cycle of yugas, the periodic devastations at the end of each manvantara, and the coexistence of civilized human beings and creatures in some ways resembling the human ancestors of modern evolutionary accounts, what predictions might the Puranic account give regarding the archeological record? Before answering this question, we must also consider the general imperfection of the fossil record. Hominid fossils in particular are extremely rare. Furthermore, only a small fraction of the sedimentary layers deposited during the earth's history have survived erosion and other destructive geological processes.
Taking all this into account, I propose that the Puranic view of time and history would predict a sparse but bewildering mixture of hominid fossils, some anatomically modern and some not, going back tens and even hundreds of millions of years and occurring at locations all over the world. It would also predict a more numerous but similarly bewildering mixture of stone tools and other artifacts, some showing a high level of technical ability and others not. And, given the biases of most workers in the fields of archeology and anthropology over the past 150 years, we might also predict that they would edit this bewildering mixture of fossils and artifacts to conform with a linear, progressive view of human origins.
In fact, when Richard Thompson and I carefully investigated published archeological reports, we found that the evidence supports these predictions. We reported our investigations in our book Forbidden Archeology [See BTG, May/June 1993].
First of all, there is considerable amount of physical evidence for extreme human antiquity, but here we shall only mention a few examples. The evidence falls into several categories.
The first is animal bones that show signs of human work on them. In some cases the signs of work take the form of cut marks made by stone tools. Numerous bones bearing such marks were found by European scientists in formations up to 20 million years old. In some cases the work is more advanced. For example, in 1881, British geologist Henry Stopes reported a shell with a human face carved upon it. The shell was found in deposits over 2 million years old.
A second category is stone tools and other artifacts. Stone tools have been found at various locations around in the world, in formations up to 50 million years old. More advanced objects have also been reported by scientists. For example, in 1844 Sir David Brewster described a nail found in sandstone in England. The sandstone was from the Devonian period, making it at least 360 million years old. Objects taken from coal deposits over 300 million years old include a gold chain, an iron pot, and an artistically carved stone.
A third category is human skeletal remains. Numerous human skeletons have been found in deposits millions of years old, including a complete human skeleton from an Illinois coal deposit over 300 million years old. Human footprints of the same age have also been reported from the state of Kentucky in the United States.
In negotiating a fashionable consensus that anatomically modern humans evolved from less advanced hominids in the Late Pleistocene era, about 100,000 years ago, scientists gradually rendered unfashionable the considerable body of compelling contradictory evidence summarized in our book. That evidence thus became unworthy of discussion in knowing circles. Richard Thompson and I have concluded that scientists muted that evidence by applying a double standard favored evidence was exempted from the severely skeptical scrutiny to which unfavored evidence was subjected.
One example from the many that could be cited to demonstrate the role of linear progressive preconceptions in the editing of the archeological record is the case of the auriferous gravel finds in California. During the days of the California Gold Rush, starting in the 1850s, miners discovered many anatomically modern human bones and advanced stone implements in mine shafts sunk deep into deposits of gold-bearing gravels capped by thick lava flows. According to modern geological reports, the gravels beneath the lava were from 9 to 55 million years old. The mine shaft discoveries were reported to the world of science by J. D. Whitney, state geologist of California, in a monograph published by the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Harvard University. From the evidence he compiled, Whitney came to a nonprogressivist view of human origins the fossil evidence he reported showed that the humans of the distant past were like those of the present.
To this, W. H. Holmes of the Smithsonian Institution replied: "Perhaps if Professor Whitney had fully appreciated the story of human evolution as it is understood today, he would have hesitated to announce the conclusions formulated, notwithstanding the imposing array of testimony with which he was confronted."
This attitude is still prominent today. Stein and Rowe, in their college textbook, assert, "Scientific statements are never considered absolute." But they also make this absolute statement: "Some people have assumed that humans have always been the way they are today. Anthropologists are convinced that human beings … have changed over time in response to changing conditions. So one aim of the anthropologist is to find evidence for evolution and to generate theories about it." Apparently, an anthropologist, by definition, can have no other view or purpose.
One of the things Holmes found especially hard to accept was the similarity of the purportedly very ancient stone implements to those of the modern Native Americans. He wondered how anyone could take seriously the idea that "the implements of a Tertiary race should have been left in the bed of a Tertiary torrent to be brought out as good as new, after the lapse of vast periods of time, into the camp of a modern community using identical forms?"
The similarity could be explained in several ways, but one possible explanation is that in the course of cyclical time humans with particular cultural attributes repeatedly appeared in the same geographical region. The suggestion that such a thing could happen is bound to seem absurd to those who see humans as the recent result of a long and unique series of evolutionary changes in the hominid line so absurd as to prevent them from considering any evidence as potentially supporting a cyclical interpretation of human history.
It is noteworthy, however, that when confronted with the evidence catalogued in my book, a fairly open-minded modern archeologist tried to explain the evidence by bringing up, in a somewhat doubting manner, the possibility of a cyclical interpretation of human history. George F. Carter, noted for his controversial views on early man in North America, wrote to me on January 26, 1994: "If your table on p. 391 were correct, then the minimum age for the artifacts at Table Mountain would be 9 million [years old]. Would you think then of a different creation [one that] disappeared and then a new start? Would it simply replicate the archeology of California 9 million years later? Or the inverse. Would the Californians 9 million years later replicate the materials under Table Mountain?"
That is exactly what I would propose that in the course of cyclic time humans with a culture resembling that of modern Native Americans did in fact appear in California millions of years ago, perhaps several times.
"I find great difficulty with that line of reasoning," confessed Carter. But that difficulty, which encumbers the minds of most archeologists and anthropologists, may be the result of a rarely recognized and even more rarely questioned commitment to a culturally acquired sense that time is linear and progressive.
It would be worthwhile, therefore, to inspect the archeological record through other time lenses, such as the Puranic lens. Many people will take my proposal as a perfect example of what can happen when someone brings subjective religious ideas into the objective study of nature. Jonathan Marks reacted in typical fashion in his review of Forbidden Archeology: "Generally, attempts to reconcile the natural world to religious views end up compromising the natural world."
But until modern anthropology conducts a conscious examination of the effects of its own covert, and arguably religiously derived, assumptions about time and progress, it should put aside its pretensions to universal objectivity and not be so quick to accuse others of bending facts to fit religious dogma.
Michael Cremo (Drutakarma Dasa) is an associate editor of Back to Godhead and a research associate in history and philosophy of science for the Bhaktivedanta Institute. He can be reached at the Bhaktivedanta Institute, P.O. Box 1920, Alachua, Florida 32615.