How far back do we have documented?

Discussion in 'History' started by Crcata, May 17, 2016.

  1. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    I've attempted to find the answer to this but am so far unsatisfied with the varied findings.

    So how far back have we "directly" and clearly documented history?

    How far back do we have documentation based off of archeological findings (ex: paintings on walls)?

    I ask because there is a lot of "folklore" out there and myths and what not supposedly based on history but yet we seem to not really know.

    Forgive me if you found these answers easily or think i should have but I've found varying answers. I will still continue searching as time allows but perhaps some shortcuts may be left here.
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    What do you consider 'clearly documented'?
    One document? Ten? A hundred? A thousand?
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  5. mathman Valued Senior Member

    Writing was invented (Sumerians) around 3200 B.C.E. Documentation of history clearly started afterwards.
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  7. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    archaeology/cave paintings are usually considered "pre-history"
  8. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    I'm trying to think of how to explain that.

    Perhaps trusted documentation, or documentation widely or unanimously accepted as fact.
  9. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    I'm trying to just establish a widely accepted timeline of history as to cross reference certain questionable versions of history. And on 2nd thought, honestly I'm typing this on my phone at work (I have a very sham position today) and should probably have held off on this thread and did more research of my own before starting this. I'll have it removed.
  10. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Mod Hat ― Inquiry

    Can I persuade you otherwise? It might be enlightening to sketch a working thesis from this point. One of the pressures of innovation seems to be the expectation that one should have a great deal figured out before the community will log on. But this isn't exactly, say, tax code revision, or an election platform; society doesn't risk crisis over the vagaries of where you're coming from.

    For my own part, just as an example, the counterpoint in #2 above↑ is compelling, because I would add a wrinkle by reminding, to the one that "history is a lie agreed upon", to the other that "winners write history", and to the beelbebrox that nonetheless the historical record we have is the historical record we have, and that last counts for something. I'll have to give it some thought in the context of what you've put forth, and give it a whirl in black ink, later, but I don't think the lack of a defined thesis in this case is somehow fatal to the exploration. I would propose we give it a little time while you rebuild your approach and see what people come up with. If where the discussion goes is far enough away, nothing specifically precludes a second thread when your thesis or inquiry is resolved more to your own satisfaction.

    But we have a rough sketch of a potentially fascinating exploration pursuing one of the more obvious obscurities of historical discourse. This thread is not automatically a disaster.
  11. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    Sounds good to me! We can leave it open.

    An example of one of the things I would like to cross reference with our known history is Christianity.

    As a former Christian, it seems to me that there is a looooong history of it involving the crusades and what not. And even entire bible that portions of reference it's own version of history.

    I've moved past the point of really believing in Christianity but now I am very curious as to how it, and other religions with similar claims, came about. Is our history back then so poorly documented as to leave open room for these claims?
  12. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    there ain't much religion in the tanakh, but some good military history.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    We have had religions arise within the past couple of centuries, in the middle of the Great Documentation that was Western Civilization before the modern digito-oral recursion, whose roots we cannot solidly trace and whose origins remain in dispute.

    The Cargo Cults that arose in the Pacific Islands sometime in the neighborhood of WWII, for example.
    Afaik nobody has yet discovered who John Frum was, or even if he was.
  14. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    Ill have to look more into this. Thanks for the info.
  15. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    My impression is that the first actual historians in the West were Greeks, and relatively late (middle first millenium, BCE). The Chinese certainly had an independent historical tradition and it might be earlier.

    But history doesn't really depend on there being historians writing what is recognizable to us as history. As Mathman says, there are Sumerian tablets thousands of years earlier than the Greeks. These weren't historical documents but were most typically business records, inventories and such things. Those kind of records can sometimes give us a better picture of what was going on in a society than historical accounts can.

    If we move on to archaeological remains as opposed to written documents, there's lots of work currently being done on Neolithic settlements from the early days of agriculture. These people were surprisingly advanced, they were the ones who invented textiles, fired pottery, and they even experimented with copper metallurgy. They lived in settlements that in the Middle East looked like Indian pueblos in the American southwest. These dwellings sometimes had more than one storey with stairs connecting the levels, they had furniture and whitewashed or colorfully decorated walls. In Europe they were thatched-roof wooden villages of a sort that continued to be seen until fairly recently.

    I think that a great deal is known by the specialists, it just doesn't make its way into general conversation. I'm very impressed by the journal Antiquity, which I get full-text access to through my library. It specializes in late prehistory and is an absolute treasure trove.
  16. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Sketching Borders

    Brief notes:

    As DaveC's inquiry↑ suggests, there are some vague dimensions about the question. To use Western civilization as an example, we generally trace our history back to Mesopotamia, and among the earliest historical documents we have is the Code of Hammurabi, circa eighteenth century BCE.

    There arises a question of why it matters. This is not compared against an abstraction of worthlessness, but it tells us more about the civilization abstractly than anything else.

    Karen Armstrong, in Fields of Blood (2014), cites fragments of poetry and inscriptions from Uruk suggeting people then were not so foreign to our human sentiments:

    All that we know for certain is that by 3000 BCE there were twelve cities in the Mesopotamian plain, each supported by produce grown by peasants in the surrounding countryside. Theirs was subsistence level living. Each village hat to bring its entire crop to the city it served; officials allocated a portion to feed the local peasants, and the rest was stored for the aristocracy in the city temples. In this way, a few great families with the help of a class of retainers―bureaucrats, soldiers, merchants, and household servants―appropriated between half and two-thirds of the revenue. They used this surplus to live a different sort of life altogether, freed for various pursuits that depend on leisure and wealth. In return, they maintained the irrigation system and preserved a degree of law and order. All premodern states feared anarchy: a single crop failure caused by drought or social unrest could lead to thousands of deaths, so the elite could tell themselves that this system benefited the population as a whole. But robbed of the fruits of their labors, the peasants were little better than slaves: plowing, harvesting, digging irrigation canals, being forced into degradation and penury, their hard labor in the fields draining their lifeblood. If they failed to satisfy their overseers, their oxen were kneecapped and their olive trees chopped down. They left fragmentary records of their distress. "The poor man is better dead than alive," one peasant lamented. "I am a thoroughbred steed," complained another, "but I am hitched to a mule and must draw a cart and carry weeds and stubble."


    But what are we looking for in historical records?

    You know, I'd have to go back and look up the exact issue, but I had this weird experience once having to do with Josephus, proof of Christ, the viable argument that all else aside that part of the document is a post hoc forgery, and then this bizarre twist in which Josephus suddenly became unreliable because something else he had written and now it was important to remind that he was a turncoat Jew, or whatever. And it was just really weird because in one moment Josephus needed to be reliable, in the next unreliable. But I said all else aside; Josephus is not specifically contemporary; his record is what it is. If it is a primary history it is in questions of Christian history a documentation of custom and oral folkore in the latter first century.

    And I'd have to look up the page number―I can't find the book offhand―but in Lies my Teacher Told Me, James Loewen recounts an episode having to do with the Empty Continent proposition. It's kind of obscure today, but there really was a time in which students learned, essentially, that aside from the few tribes the Pilgrims encountered the place was largely empty.

    I would have to search for the specific resource, because it was a chart in the back of a history textbook once upon a time, but European immigrants wiped out as much as ninety-five percent of the indigenous population.

    Nonetheless, it turns out we've "known", the whole time it wasn't true.

    That is to say, once upon a time someone made a record. One day someone found that record. Loewen criticizes a number of specific history textbooks; they were at the time the leading textbooks in the country. In the question of Empty Continent, Loewen points to the record and asks how it was missed. "I didn't know," the textbook author responds.

    The record had been found; somebody wrote an obscure paper; nobody paid attention and the whole thing languished for generations.

    In this case, it matters because we've been teaching people the wrong history. Empty Continent is a dying notion, but there are plenty askew about the historical record; after all, history is written by the champions of human society. In the past humans have even taken to destroying the historical record; it makes even less sense in the twenty-first century, but that's war for you.

    But people include history and tradition in the fashioning of their moral frameworks. And we can say what we want about the Bible, but Pope Francis recently canonized Junipero Serra. How could he, of all Popes, do that?

    He needed a saint. The historical record be damned. And, besides, what do any of us want from it? But there's a moral framework for you.

    The historical record is what it is: This record says this about this.

    What we require of it depends entirely on what we expect of the history itself.


    Armstrong, Karen. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

    Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: New Press, 1995.
  17. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Reconstructing the Record

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    I don't know, it's an example of ... er ... ah ... something.

    The original textual salvaging of the myth of the downfall of the Thamūd takes place in the Qur'ān, where there are no less than twenty-one suras that make reference to the Thamūd as a people. All of these references, however, are built into the comprehensive rhetorical qur'ānic strategy of serving as exempla within the cyclic theonomous, rather than temporal, reappearance of recalcitrant nations, of prophetic stories of intercessions and warnings, and of the unfailing punishment of those nations or of their utter destruction.

    (Stetkevych, 15)

    The book is called, Muhammad and the Golden Bough, the subtitle is, simply, "Reconstructing Arabian Myth". And, yes, this is actually part of an effort to put broken fragments of the historical record back into some sensible narrative order. It's hardly a solution for world peace, but for those inclined, as I am, toward a psychoanalytic meaning of history such dialecitcal analytics offer fascinating temptations.

    Then again, Jaroslav Stetkevych might well be trying to show us a fulcrum for cross-cultural commonality, a cornerstone for building a psychanalytic framework including comparative history, literature, art, psychology, and anthropology. While a genuine semiotic nexus of such magnitude hiding in plain sight would seem rather quite astounding a proposition, it certainly isn't impossible:

    Indeed, the opaqueness of its textually scattered segments almost fails to yield a composite narrative. And yet, defying its opacity and disjointedness is its employ in the Qur'ān as a "clear" exemplum, thus as something whose understanding is postulated on the prior knowledge of some broader framing sphere of an invoked, but not elicited, myth or legend. This myth, or legend, as it is recorded in the various extant texts is, however, no longer easily datable to the age of pure oral lore before the advent of Islam, for it is to be assumed that along the centuries that led up to its collection and redaction it has undergone its own evolution not only as mythopoeia but also as a hermeneutic tool at the service of the qur'ānic text. It is, therefore, only as such, within this vague correlation of textual purposes, that we find embedded the story of the Arabian golden bough hidden anecdotally within a myth. The myth itself is told, once again in a manner that begs for a cumulative retelling, in narrative as well as in exegetic sources such as the Commentary of al-Tabarī, the comprehensive history of "things first and last," that is, The Beginning and the End, of Ibn Kathīr, the encyclopaedic Ultimate Aspiration of al-Nuwayrī (d.732/1332), the hagiographic Stories of the Prophets of al-Tha‘labī, and, likewise, in the Tales of the Prophets of al-Kisā'ī, a not clearly identified author who must have written his work shortly before A.D. 1200.

    The textual puzzle that results from the twin mythic contexts of the Arabian golden bough―externally, Muhammad's discord-ridden march on Tabūk, and, internally as well as necessarily implicitly, the destruction of Thamūd―becomes even more clamant and challenging by the fact, in itself puzzling, that modern scholarship has entirely failed to even mention the Arabian "golden bough."


    Trying to figure out what the historical record actually says can be a messy affair, some days.


    Stetkevych, Jaroslav. Muhammad and the Golden Bough. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  18. Crcata Registered Senior Member

    Appreciate ya Thessaloniki. I'll definitely look more into this when I get home.

    Lol. I mean that phone spell check lolol
    Last edited: May 28, 2016
  19. wellwisher Banned Banned

    It is easy to define history through 20/20 hindsight, but not as easy in real time. For example, if you consider all the expert opinions during the Republican primary season, the experts did not have a clue. They were analyzing history in real time and generating mythology that sold, but was not correct.

    Sometime art based documentation of history will reflect real time analysis. However, it may not reflect what eventually occurs in 20/20 hindsight. For example, if you look at book of Genesis in the bible, it attempts to describe the beginning of modern humans, with expert testimony occurring in real time. It does not correspond with modern 20/20 hindsight. However, this is still history in the sense it tells us about the history of human nature and their state of mind. This is important for giving proper context to history.

    In modern education, we seem to be teaching revisionists history. This is where the present attempts to define the past in terms of the present. This can distort history and make the real recorded history appear wrong. The classic example is slavery in America is taught with revisionist history for political purposes.

    Slavery has been a part of human history since the beginning of civilization. Slavery was never personal, but a part of selective advantage tradition that dates back 1000's of years. The conquered would be slaves, but would also learn the ways of leadership culture, thereby adding new skills to the traditions of the slaves. It also provided skill labor for large public works projects. There will also be cross breeding between slaves and the dominant culture. The Jews learned the ways of the Egyptians and helped build their monuments. When they were freed, they were better off; more advanced.

    Modern revisionist history paints a picture of slavery as something new and targeted to only the blacks, with all things negative. If you buy into that, and look back at real history, then ancient history seems fabricated. If you learned any revisionist history in school you need to forget it and focus on the testimony of those from the past. One has to try to put oneself in the clothes of people at any given time in history One has to interpret recorded information through the eyes of these ancients; real time or 20/20? They did not know what we know today so you need to be more of a history whisperer.
  20. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Can you support this pretense in any manner by which it actually makes sense?

    That is to say, what are you on about?
    joepistole likes this.
  21. mathman Valued Senior Member

    The history of slavery in the western hemisphere was all about blacks. Native Americans did not make good slaves. In colonial America, whites in this situation were indentured servants, so they eventually became free.
  22. Dr_Toad It's green! Valued Senior Member

    It was Farsight.

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    As far as slavery in the western hemisphere goes, it pays to note that most of the African slaves went to South America and the Caribbean, not to the US. Just in case someone wanted to get stupid, y'know?
    PhysBang likes this.
  23. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    John Punch, july 1640.

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