What do you think your distant descendants will think of you? I know, it’s literally impossible to project so far into the future. We have no idea what the next big evolution in society will look like. What technology, theology, human interactions and the strain of limited global resources will do to shape and steer our society into what it will become. But what if they had no way of understanding?
Anthropology is defined as the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies of the past and present. There are all sorts of subheadings under anthropology; biological, social, cultural, all looking at different specific pieces of what was and compare them to what is. We as a society do this a lot. Myself I personally love looking at history. Past societies- what was important to them and how they lived their lives.
Everything from cave drawings that may give us a glimpse of what prehistoric life was like, to hieroglyphics left behind by cultures long since extinct. We look at these as chronicles of their lives. A recording of their time in history and try to fill in the gaps to try and make sense of it. Quite often we simply cannot.
There are some images from ancient societies that depict technology sometimes far beyond what we think could have existed during that time.
With dead languages that cannot be translated, many mysteries will forever exist only in the past. But the language wasn’t dead to them, and I would imagine they never fathomed that it would one day be lost forever. What if that happened to us? What if one day society as we know it were to be wiped out or changed in some unforeseeable way? What would we look like to the distant future?
With the English language completely forgotten, what would our chronicles in picture look like? Consider a basic children’s book; Jack and Jill. An 18th century nursery rhyme learned by nearly every English speaking toddler at some point in their early years. There have been thousands of different illustrators over the years that have drawn their interpretation of the 6 simple lines that are already ingrained into most (if not all) of us. But imagine looking at that for the first time, and not being able to interpret the words…
Jack and Jill. Two beings. Some would draw them with blonde hair, some brown. Maybe they are white, maybe they are black. Maybe one of each. What does seeing 2 beings mean? Do we always live in pairs? Do all people look the same?
Go up a hill. Why are they going up that hill? Wouldn’t it be easier to walk around? Are they looking for higher ground because it is safer from predators? Is there something up there of value?
To fetch a pail of water. One image has an empty water pail, the next shows it full. OK so these beings need to climb a hill to attain a resource. Whatever the blue stuff is, it came from that small structure at the top of the hill- are these on the top of every hill? Are all resources found at higher ground? Think of who is illustrated carrying the bucket. If it’s Jack, then do the male members of this society do all the work? Are the female companions simply there for support? Or the opposite?
Jack fell down. Are the male members all clumsy? Is a sacrifice required to attain the blue stuff from the top of the hill? Was he attacked by some unseen predator?
Broke his crown. This is where it could change vastly depending on the illustrator. Was he drawn wearing a crown? Why was he wearing something on his head? What is its purpose? Why is he the only one wearing it? Is this a warning to ensure something that goes on your head is strong enough to survive a fall? If he wasn’t wearing a crown, all you see is the being falling down the hill. Suddenly the interpretation could be completely different.
And Jill came tumbling after. Are the female companions the care takers? Did the blue stuff require the sacrifice of two beings? Was the blue stuff simply impossible to attain? Were these beings unable to survive on higher ground?
If only one copy of Jack and Jill survived the ages, and no other records of our existence were discovered, what would people think of our society? If multiple copies survived done by different illustrators, how would the differences in the two similar “stories” be interpreted? Crown/no crown. Black people/white people. Green hill/brown hill. Without having any words to put the images into context, would you figure out that it was a nursery rhyme?
Think back to the prehistoric caveman drawing on the cave walls. Are these images of great battles in the search for food, drawings of meeting other cultures and the members of their society, or could these be some form of nursery rhyme? A song? A news article? Until the advent of time travel and universal communicators, we will never know- we have to guess. Use our imaginations and see what makes sense.
There are many interpretations of all manner of dead languages found with images from past societies where we simply cannot understand what we see.
There are images of space ships and technologies coming from the skies in the artwork left behind by dead cultures. Are these chronicles of actual contact with beings from space, or are these old science fiction novels?
Greek mythology is a wonderful example of chronicles that have survived, some with mixed translations but we seem to have a fairly good understanding of them. Greek myths have become a huge influence on our current “western societies” but let’s look at a couple specific examples. Zeus and Hercules.
Right now you have a picture in your head of what Zeus and Hercules look like. Be it from the Disney classic, a Hollywood Movie or a book you have read- right now you know who Zeus is and you know who Hercules is. Zeus- the god of sky and thunder, all mankind and all other gods. Immortal father of Hercules, a hero and champion of the people who was mortal. There are countless tales of his heroism as he battled all manner of mythological monster. Minotaur, centaurs and snakes growing from a woman’s head. All images we consider to simply be stories. Bits of fiction that the ancient Greeks told their children. But what if they weren’t?
What if these ridiculous creatures and “gods” truly did exist.
What if all of those stories were 100% true. That unbelievable sea serpents, giants and half men/half horse people really DID exist? Every single legend, story and picture was the true chronicle of their society and since none of that stuff makes any sense to our current society, it must be made up. We don’t have gods that walk among us, having children with us and leaving powerful demigods to live among us. But what if they did? And they were all somehow wiped out, leaving only their chronicles behind for us to eventually find.
Now think of the Bible. Picture God and Jesus. Again- you have an image in your head of what God looks like and what Jesus looks like. To the non-Christian, it’s ridiculous to believe that an all powerful entity that only exists somewhere up in the sky managed to impregnate one of us. A mortal who will give birth to a demi god that will one day become the hero of society, facing many demons and leading his people to glory. Sound familiar? Insert almost any religion and again you will have people that believe it, and those that feel it’s all just made up stories.
The point is whether they are works of fiction, or true chronicles of life at the time- those societies died long ago and we truly have no way of knowing for sure. Fast forward 2000 years and people will examine what remains of our society. Think of Google, Amazon and Siri. Will people one day look back and wonder who these beings were that we spoke to? One day to be looked upon as the gods of our time? We use them for almost everything we do in our “western society”. The demi gods of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and all of their children that existed in the “World of Wide Web”, a realm in between our reality where we store our chronicles, go for entertainment and to watch… stuff.
Hercules, Jesus, King Arthur, Billy the Kid, Stephen Hawking. What may have once been reality eventually turns to myths. Stories. Can you imagine trying to explain Stephen Hawking?!? The greatest mind of our time, may one day be viewed as a god that we worshiped. All other great minds in human history were men. Men who stood. Men who looked as we do. Does Stephen Hawking “look the way we do” without any context?
We have grown up as sentient beings- at least, we like to believe we have.
Modern science, research and proven facts drive our society, as it has for every society before us. We once lived in caves because that was the best form of shelter. We eventually built huts because they offered shelter and we could put them wherever we wanted. We couldn’t imagine better shelter- until we started building houses. What is the next evolution in shelter? Will society one day look back at us and wonder why we didn’t live in something more… flyable?
Space ships that can fly from planet to planet allowing us to visit other worlds. Drop into orbit and land to meet new people- living on their world, primitive as they might be. Live with them, maybe even love some of them. Maybe even teach them how to turn a natural resource on their world to do something they never would have imagined! And then fly away, back up into the sky, leaving them to wonder if we will ever be coming back, and draw pictures of their experiences with us for another distant society to discover and wonder what really happened.