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The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age Paperback – January 25, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Among historians, one of the most widely accepted criteria for a society's being "civilized" is whether it has a writing system, one that permits complex record keeping and allows for an account of the past. By that measure, writes British museologist Richard Rudgley, many societies of the most ancient Stone Age are to be reckoned as civilizations, for new archaeological evidence suggests that the Neolithic writing systems of cultures like Mesopotamia and the Nile valley have their roots in even older systems, some dating back to the time of the Neanderthals. (Just what those writing systems say remains a matter of debate, and Rudgley acknowledges that "if a script cannot be deciphered, then it will always be possible to dismiss it.") Prehistoric sign systems aside, Rudgley urges that the chronology of human cultural evolution be pushed back well into the Paleolithic; "the most fundamental cultural innovations," he suggests, "actually occurred far earlier in the overall sequence [of human development] than is generally realized." He maintains, for instance, that fired pottery, another characteristic of civilized societies, existed among Siberian nomads some 13,000 years ago, and that a knowledge of metallurgy existed in Egypt 35,000 years ago. Any call for a revision in widely accepted chronologies is, of course, sure to be controversial among prehistorians, and Rudgley's book, well reasoned as it is, will provoke debate. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Ever wonder what it was like to be a caveman? Whether you are a dentist, sculptor or accountant, you may have more in common with our Stone Age ancestors than you think. Rudgley, a scholar of Stone Age art, religion and technology at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, takes issue with the standard descriptions of the origins of civilization, arguing that prehistoric peoples were far more accomplished than they are generally thought to have been. Although the title evokes science fiction, Rudgley's analysis elucidates the differences among numerous academic theories on topics as diverse as Venus figurines, Neolithic chewing gum and 300,000-year-old bone markings. Rudgley reinterprets these findings in order to paint a picture of Stone Age culture that rightly deserves to be called "civilization," even though conventional scholarship says that writing and, with it, civilization arose "suddenly" in the Near East around 3000 B.C. and that other written languages were derived from this first script. But Rudgley provides evidence of earlier sign systems, what Marija Gimbutas calls the "alphabet of the metaphysical," that developed independently at sites such as Transylvania, where tablets have been dated to about 4000 B.C. Historical linguists have reconstructed compelling precedents to these written systems, which, when combined with work by archeologists and other scientists, suggest the need to revise our present definition of civilization. Photos not seen by PW. Illustrations. (Feb.) FYI: Rudgley won a British Museum Award for his last book, Essential Substances.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (January 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684862700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862705
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
By bringing together evidence from archaeology, ancient history, linguistics and anthropology, the author convincingly demonstrates that the inventions, achievements and discoveries of prehistoric times have all but been edited out of popular accounts of human history. He describes how stone age explorers discovered all the world's land masses, presents strong evidence for writing before 5000BC and for mathematical, medical and astronomical science as well as tool-making and mining long before the Sumerians. Tracing the human story from the cusp of history back to the earliest known artefacts, he shows that the making of rugs, dental drilling and accountancy among others, were all known in the Neolithic. But not only that - the other "ideological wall" placed at about 40 000BC is also being shown up to be highly dubious as many anomalous cases of earlier symbolic and artistic activities are coming to light. I found the section on language of particular interest and would like to refer interested readers to the work of linguists like Dr. Joseph Greenberg (Language In The Americas, Indo-European and its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family), Merritt Ruhlen (On The Origin Of Languages: Studies In Linguistic Taxonomy), Alan Bomhard (Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis ) and Sydney M. Lamb (Sprung From Some Common Source), all available here on amazon.com. Lost Civilisations Of The Stone Age is lavishly illustrated with figures, plates and a map of language families, and there's an extensive bibliography and index. A well-researched, well-written book that sometimes perhaps goes into too much technical detail for the casual reader, but always remains thought-provoking.
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Format: Hardcover
The best thing you can say about any book is that it seemed worth the time taken to read it. This book passes the test. It told me things about the early use of symbols that I did not know, and told me them in a readable and decently illustrated way (after a slightly pedantic introduction - don't let it put you off). It also achieves its main aim: to prove for those who ever doubted it that the pre-"civilised" world was sometimes capable of accumulating significant bodies of thought and methodology in writing, counting, medical procedures, etc. So far as I know, however, this is not in itself a controversial idea (unlike, for example, a discussion of why pre-"civilised" communities sometimes accumulate pools of ignorance and malevolence...). Irritatingly, the author presents it as such throughout his chapters. Although there is lots of new evidence described here, so far as I can remember the thrust of this book had ceased being controversial by the time I was an undergraduate studying archaeology in Cambridge in the early 1980s! (There was something almost spooky about seeing these old chestnuts presented as millennial thought.) For sure, not everyone will agree with his interpretations of the evidence, but his only truly controversial moments are in deciding what constitutes "writing" and "civilisation". This kind of semantic controversy can be useful, but it needs to be much more clearly defined and argued than is the case in this book. None of this is an argument against buying the book however, as in his useful tour of the evidence the writer gives quite enough qualifications and detail for the reader to make his/her own mind up about the date, likelihood and possible importance of "writing" and other achievements of civilisation in "prehistoric" cultures. Above all, this reader reached the last page...
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Format: Paperback
In her survey work "Plato Prehistorian" Mary Settegast briefly discusses Paleolithic runes, apparently an alphabet, which shares signs with the much later Indus Valley script, western Greek, and Runic or Baltic writing. Barry Fell studied the medieval sources which preserve the many kinds of Ogham writing, which is a sort of line writing on either side of a baseline, and concluded that its basis in groups of five or less indicated an origin in a sort of finger spelling. This presupposes the use of an alphabet. We no longer use Ogham, and the alphabet we use today isn't like this runic system. The daunting part of this tidbit is that alphabetic writing must be at least 12,000 years old, nearly three times as old as the known systems of hieroglyphics and cuneiform, and probably 35,000 years old, with no good reason to believe that it isn't much older than that.
Naturally I wanted to check the Rudgley book to see if Settegast is mentioned. She isn't. Rudgley covers some of the same ground, but his entire book pertains to the literacy of supposedly preliterate cultures.
The Upper Paleolithic character set suggests that some form of writing, perhaps even alphabetic writing, has been part of human activity for over 12,000 years. This isn't to say that we'll someday find a library, but at least if we do we won't be caught unawares. There's a discussion of Linear A, and (page 75) there's a quote from Allan Forbes and Thomas Crowder, source of the Magdalenian character set reproduced by Mary Settegast.
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