Ive heard a lot about cave men. Were there really people like this who made their way up through a stone age, bronze age, iron age, etc.?
A storm of controversy has raged in the field of anthropology over the last few years. It concerns the Tasadaya small group of people living in tree-shrouded caves of the Philippines. The tribe came to the worlds attention in the early 1970s. Their discoverers hailed them as an isolated remnant of the Stone Age, with few tools and a simple way of life. Some anthropologists seized the opportunity to test their theories of cultural evolution. Others, however, were skeptical of the media hype. They dismissed the Tasaday as a fraud perpetrated on a gullible public (see Bower, 1989).
The debate continues, but it gives outsiders a view of some deep-seated problems in evolutionary anthropology. Let us say, for a moment, that the Tasaday are not an outright fraud. Were they totally isolated? Are they really a vestige of mans alleged primitive past, or did they simply retreat from the advances made by kindred Filipinos?
These questions are hard to answer because anthropology rests on the very shaky assumption: that we can learn about our ancient past by studying so-called primitive groups living today (cf. Lewin, 1988). People like the Tasaday, or the !Kung of southern Africa, are supposed to represent the state of humankind in its infancy. It then is up to the anthropologist to invent evolutionary theories explaining why and how we started farming, building, and otherwise carrying on the business of what we call civilization. But why are some still in the Stone Age while others are in the Space Age?
Perhaps these people are not in the Stone Age because there never was a Stone Age. From Genesis we learn that people always have farmed and kept animals (4:2), established settlements (4:17), played music (4:21), and forged metal (4:22). The mistake we make is to equate intelligence with technology. Yes, technology is evolving, if we use that word in the strict sense of change. What is more remarkable is the way humans have used their brains to wield available technology. Stonehenge was a remarkable engineering feat, but its possible use as an astronomical observatory and center of pagan worship gives us a picture of a very complex society.
Further, it is narrow-minded to imagine that evolution has driven man from stone, to bronze, to iron as reflected in the names of archaeological ages. Numerous cases show that the simple-to-complex view of cultural evolution simply is not true. Several mound-building cultures once populated North America, but most of the Indian societies and technologies encountered by early European settlers were simple by comparison. Similarly, early Tasmanians used bone tools, yet their descendants abandoned them and came to rely almost solely on wood and other plant materials (Diamond, 1993).
So how is it that Genesis 4 can describe metalworking and agriculture, while portions of mankind apparently never used these skills? The most likely answer lies in the incident at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Once again, people had rebelled against God, defying His command to inhabit the whole Earth (Genesis 9:1). Jehovah decided to break the revolt by confusing their language. The listing of Noahs descendants by families, tongues, and nations in Genesis 10 suggests that the resulting division occurred within small groups. Some may have carried specific skills as they migrated to different parts of the world.
However, not every group was adept at farming, building, or metalworking. And as each group moved into a new area, its members would have to find edible plants and suitable game, and seek out new sources of stone and metal. Inevitably, owing to differing skills and resources, groups would attain different levels of sophistication and technology.
The real issue is not whether we think a society is simple or complex. If we look beyond physical appearance and the trappings of our materialistic culture, we will see that the image of God is reflected equally in all men. With that comes individual responsibility to our Creator, so that in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (Acts 10:35).
Bower, Bruce (1989), The Strange Case of the Tasaday, Science News, 135:280-281,283, May 6.
Diamond, Jared (1993), Ten Thousand Years of Solitude, Discover, 14:48-57, March.
Lewin, Roger (1988), New Views Emerge on Hunters and Gatherers, Science, 240:1146-1148, May 27.
Originally published in Reason and Revelation, November 1993, 13:86.
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