Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man's First Art, Symbol and Notation

The Roots Of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings Of Man's First Art, Symbol And NotationThe Roots Of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings Of Man's First Art, Symbol And Notation by Alexander Marshack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been quite some time since I've read Marshack's profound work, The Roots of Civilization. I'll have to get a library copy and read it again soon. When I spotted the title on Goodreads, memories flooded my mind. The Roots of Civilization made a deep impression on me when I first picked it up while browsing through the library in San Jacinto, CA. In fact, this book spurred me to minoring in anthropology when I did my undergraduate work a couple of years later. The general argument of the book is that primitive man observed the sky and used artistic representation to symbolize the phases of the moon, seasons, and so forth. The evidence is compelling. Taken largely from carved bone and antlers, along with some rock art, Marshack presents a microscopic analysis (literally examining the evidence with a microscope so as to allow no room for doubt) of what appear to be moon phases being recorded by prehistoric man on bone fragments. This isn't a gimmicky stretch, like one might expect from a Von Daniken. There are no ancient astronauts here. No, this is an anthropological text about how early man communicated what he was seeing through the use of symbols, not a work straddling the line between science fact and science fiction. The next time I read this, I shall have to follow it with one of my favorite non-fiction reads of all time, Hamlet's Mill, which also takes the longue duree approach to the history of cosmology and man's interpretation of his place among the stars.

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