Friday April 19, 2024

The stone age

By Mubarak Ali
October 29, 2018

Anthropologists have two different approaches to define civilisation. One approach argues that civilisation passed through an evolutionary process – from savagery and barbarism to maturity.

This theory supported European imperialism to invade, conquer and occupy Asian and African countries, believing that they were in a state of barbarism and it was the Europeans’ responsibility to civilise them.

However, some anthropologists refute the evolutionary theory and point out that each civilisation originated within its own environment and, therefore, there was diversity of civilisations and there were no superior or inferior cultures.

Generally historians that believed in the evolutionary process periodised history as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. This indicated that civilisation moved from backwardness to progress. Consequently, it is recognised that the human past was not civilisationally developed compared to our modern age.

There is a need to understand the human past, and we have to change the concepts of backwardness and progress since each nation has its own definition and measurement to determine the status of its own civilisation. It was a wrong approach to invade other nations in the name of civilisation, and enslave them by using coercive methods.

As far as the Stone Age is concerned, we have to change the concept of history, which portrayed it as uncivilised. New evidence from archaeological excavation provided a different image as Rousseau pointed out that the most peaceful period was when society living in a period of hunting and gathering.

There was no concept of private property, accumulation of resources, no gender discrimination, no lethal weapons, no bloody wars and conflicts. Peoples were living in small bands and migrated from one place to another in search of food. They had a close association with nature and used its resources according to their needs. It appears that this was the happiest period of human history.

It is also wrong to believe that there were no creative activities during this period. The paintings that we found in the caves and rocks displayed their choice of colours which they used in paintings. When Picasso observed them, he was so fascinated that he declared that these paintings reached the height of perfection. These paintings showed keenness of mind, observation of nature and techniques of art.

When historians enthusiastically admired the process of progress, they ignored at what cost the modern age achieved its so-called achievements. There were bloody wars, bloodshed, massacres and genocide in which millions of people lost their lives and died young.

As a result of conflicts, cities and towns were burnt down and wealth and resources were plundered by the conquerors. Brutality and barbarity were fully evident in depriving the weaker nations from their right of existence. Greed made ambitious nations destroy nature, change the environment and overuse natural resources. There was a race among nations to become powerful by inventing new destructive weapons, poisonous gases, and ignoring morality and its values to fulfil their desires.

Keeping in view the present age and its technological advancement, we find that day by day human beings are losing their independence and becoming dependent on technological inventions. Therefore, when we compare it with the Stone Age, we reach the conclusion that during this period, man was free and independent and there was no coercion of state and its institutions and no exploitation by the ruling classes. There was no distinction between the rich and the poor. It was an egalitarian society; those who believe that life was unhappy are wrong.

Once an American diplomat believing in the negative approach threatened to send Pakistan back to the Stone Age. He meant that as a punishment but in fact it would be a blessing in disguise for the Pakistani people to go back to the Stone Age and enjoy a peaceful and pleasant life. It would be a blessing for us to get rid of corruption, lawlessness and exploitation by the powerful ruling classes.

There is a need to change the whole narrative and construction of history. Civilisation was used in the past by European nations to expand their power in the name of helping nations living in the Stone Age or the so-called age of barbarity. As we have discussed above, there are no superior and inferior civilisations; each civilisation has its own character which is created to respond to the challenges of their environment. To destroy this diversity and force to establish the hegemony of one civilisation is very dangerous. It can wipe out the identities of different civilisations which have a very close link to people belonging to their own traditions and values.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.