History and Historiography

THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING by David Graeber and David Wengrow

By Larry Gambone, Porcupine Blog

One of the few aspects which differentiate humans from other animals is our unending desire to know why things are the way they are. Where any knowledge, let alone scientific knowledge, is missing, we construct narratives to fill that void. These stories we tell ourselves to fill these voids are myths and they come not only in the familiar religious form, but also have secular manifestations. One such was the Hobbsian view of early humanity having a short brutal existence as it wandered around like bears and cougars looking for food. This myth still influences us as shown in our until very recent depiction of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging, inarticulate brutes and of the wandering, grazing Indigenous people.

With the beginnings of paleontology in the 19th Century, came a linear and narrowly compartmentalized view of human development, based on the underlying capitalist ideology of Progress. First the Paleolithic Age, made up of foragers who stumbled about knocking over wooly mammoths and such. Then a transition period called the Mesolithic, and finally the Neolithic. With the Neolithic came the “invention” of agriculture, sedentary life, the processing of food, pottery, elaborate rituals and massive ceremonial sites like New Grange in Ireland.

Sadly, with agriculture comes the Fall of Man, as the surplus so generated – a surplus that could not exist in the Hobbsian world of the Paleolithic – is seized by a minority and so the state and class division are invented, and everything sort of goes to the dogs from there on.

This has been the story up until now. Recent discoveries have been quickly relegating this narrative to the realm of worn-out myth, even some years before the appearance of THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING.


Leave a Reply