Saturday, 7 January 2012

So how is Progress?

A few nights ago I watched a reasonably decent BBC documentary on the history of stone age Britain about some newly discovered ruins they have found on the Orkneys. 

Coincidentally some Turkish ruins dating from over 11,000 years ago were recently mentioned over at Jo Nova’s blog.

 The Orkney programmes wasn’t one of the BBC’s best documentaries, I suspect the best of the BBC now also lies in the past. It was a bit dumbed down and it missed answering some important questions, but despite being introduced by Neil Oliver, who annoyed the hell out of me by bringing global warming into every episode of Coast, there wasn’t a mention of climate change to be found.

This 5000 year old site shows clearly that all those years ago there were buildings, specialist artisans, artworks, beliefs, all the features of an organised and enduring society. I suppose life might have been short and brutish by our standards but they managed to get by and obviously took pride and pleasure in their skills.

We all like to think we are very clever nowadays with our digital electronics, instant communications, science, technology, political values, income tax and suchlike. There is a built in arrogance to modern society suggesting that because these old communities had less knowledge than us in the technological areas that we now value they were therefore inferior, primitive and less clever people than us in all ways. 

Yet I sometimes wonder if we are really so much better. After all nobody knows what we may have lost because we can’t see what isn’t here. I wonder if our obsession with technology is really something that will endure and if our descendents  will still be around in 5000 years to dig up our temples to mammon?


  1. I get the impression that most early societies who had graduated to the stage of building things managed to achieve some feats that we would struggle with nowadays. As an example, building the Newgrange Passage Tomb so that the inner room is only illuminated by the sun on the winter solstice - that takes some doing.

    They were also prepared to slog away for years to create things, rather than looking for instant gratification.

  2. How many of us actually understand how our technology works? I have a degree in physics (from a long time ago, admittedly), and I struggle with understanding many of the finer details.

    I know more about how my laptop works than about dry-stone walling or fishing, though. You definitely wouldn't want to be stuck on a desert island with someone like me.

    I do know how to use a watch to find the north/south line, but to build Newgrange or Stonehenge? You'd have to find someone far smarter than me...