“We must be  on our guard here against an illusion which the study of prehistoric man seems naturally to beget.  Prehistoric man, because he is prehistoric, is known to us only by the material things he made–or rather by a chance selection from among the durable things he made.  It is not the fault of archaeologists that they have no better evidence: but this penury constitutes a continual temptation to infer more than we have any right to infer, to assume that the community which made the superior artefacts was superior in all respects.  Everyone can see that the assumption is false; it would lead to the conclusion that the leisured classes of our own time were in all respects superior to those of the Victorian Age.  Clearly, the prehistoric men who made the worst pottery might have made the best poetry and we should never know it.  And the assumption becomes even more absurd when we are comparing prehistoric men with modern savages.  The equal crudity of artefacts here tells you nothing about the intelligence or virtue of the makers.  What is learned by trial and error must begin by being crude, whatever the character of the beginner.  The very same pot which would prove its maker a genius if it were the first pot ever made in the world, would prove its maker a dunce if it came after millenniums of pot-making.  The whole modern estimate of primitive man is based upon that idolatry of artefacts which is a great corporate sin of our own civilisation.  We forget that our prehistoric ancestors made all the most useful discoveries, except that of chloroform, which have ever been made.  To them we owe language, the family, clothing, the use of fire, the domestication of animals, the wheel, the ship, poetry and agriculture.”

(C. S. Lewis, “The Fall of Man,” The Problem of Pain, pp 73-74, 1962)

 

C. S. Lewis on Prehistoric Man and Archaeology

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