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White Civilizations Were Growing

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



And in these thousands of years during which man was making his way step by step from the barbarism of the heliolithic culture to civilization at these old world centres, what was happening in the rest of the world? To the north of these centres, from the Rhine to the Pacific, the Nordic and Mongolian peoples, as we have told, were also learning the use of metals; but while the civilizations were settling down these men of the great plains were becoming migratory and developing from a slow wandering life towards a complete seasonal nomadism. To the south of the civilized zone, in central and southern Africa, the negro was making a slower progress, and that, it would seem, under the stimulus of invasion by whiter tribes from the Mediterranean regions, bringing with them in succession cultivation and the use of metals. These white men came to the black by two routes: across the Sahara to the west as Berbers and Tuaregs and the like, to mix with the negro and create such quasi-white races as the Fulas ; and also by way of the Nile, where the Baganda (=Gandafolk) of Uganda, for example, may possibly be of remote white origin. The African forests were denser then, and spread eastward and northward from the Upper Nile.

The islands of the East Indies, three thousand years ago, were probably still only inhabited here and there by stranded patches of Pal- aeolithic Australoids, who had wandered thither in those immemorial ages when there was a nearly complete land bridge by way of the East Indies to Australia. The Islands of Oceania were uninhabited. The spreading of the heliolithic peoples by sea-going canoes into the islands of the Pacific came much later in the history of man, at earliest a thousand years B. c. Still later did they reach Madagascar. The beauty of New Zealand also was as yet wasted upon mankind; its highest living creatures were a great ostrich-like bird, the moa, now extinct, and the little kiwi which has feathers like coarse hair and the merest rudiments of wings.

In North America a group of Mongoloid tribes were now cut off altogether from the old world. They were spreading slowly southward, hunting the innumerable bison of the plains. They had still to learn for themselves the secrets of a separate agriculture based on maize, and in South America to tame the lama to their service, and to build up in Mexico and Yucatan and Peru three separate civilizations of a very curious and distinctive type.

When men reached the southern extremity of America, the Megatherium, the giant sloth, and the Glyptodon, the giant armadillo, were still living. These American primitive civilizations may ultimately prove of very great help to our understanding of human development because they seem to have preserved right up to the time of their extinction by the European discoverers at the end of the fifteenth century A. D., ideas and methods that passed out of old world experience five or six thousand years B. C. They never got to the use of iron; their metallurgy was of the simplest kind, and their chief metals, copper and gold, they found native. Their stonework, pottery, and weaving however were at a very high level, and they were extremely skilful dyers. Like the long superseded primitive civilizations of the old world these communities displayed a close association of human sacrifice with the processes of seed time and harvest, but while in the old world these primary social ideas were mitigated and overlaid by many others, in America they were developed to an extraordinary degree of intensity. The serpent was the predominant symbol in religious decoration. These American civilizations seem to have been' essentially priest-ridden countries; their war chiefs and peace leaders were under a rigorous rule of law and interpreted omen.

Their priests carried astronomical science to a very high level of accuracy. They knew their year far better than did the Babylonians. The Yucatan civilization developed a kind of writing, the Maya writing, of the most elaborate character. So far as we have been able to decipher it, it pas used for keeping the complex and accurate calendars upon which the priests expended their intellectual energy. The art of the Maya civilization was particularly well developed. Some of the simpler sculpture of Peru is suggestive of Sumerian work, but the Maya stuff is like nothing the old world has ever produced, and it rises to a very high level of beauty indeed. The nearest resemblances, and they are not very near, are to be found in some south Indian carvings. It astonishes by its great plastic power and its perfection of design, but it perplexes by a grotesqueness, a sort of insane intricacy and conventionality. Many Maya inscriptions resemble a certain sort of elaborate drawing made by lunatics in European asylums more than they do any other old world production. It is as if the Maya mind had developed along a different line from that followed by the old world mind, had acquired a different twist to its ideas, was not indeed. by old world standards a strictly rational mind at all.

This linking of these aberrant American civilizations to the idea of a general mental aberration finds support in their obsession by the thought of shedding human blood. The Aztec (Mexican) civilization in particular ran blood, it offered thousands of human victims yearly. The cutting open of living victims, the tearing out of the still beating heart, was an act that dominated the minds and lives of those strange priesthoods. The public life, the seasonal festivities, all turned on this fantastically horrible fixed idea.

The Maya writing was not only carven on stone but painted and written upon skins. These manuscripts are painted brightly, and have an odd resemblance to the cheap coloured papers which are sold to children in America and Europe today. There is the same repetition of figures with variations, as if a story was being told. In Peru the beginnings of writing were superseded by a curious and complicated method of keeping records by means of knots tied upon strings of various colours and shapes. It is said that even laws and orders could be conveyed by this code. These string bundles were called quipus, but although quipus are still to be found in collections, the art of reading them is altogether lost. The Chinese histories, Mr. L. Y. Chen in-forms us, state that a similar method of record by knots was used in China before the invention of writing there. The Peruvians also got to making maps and the use of counting frames.

When the Spaniards came to America, the Mexicans knew nothing of the Peruvians nor the Peruvians of the Mexicans. Whatever links had ever existed were lost and forgotten. The Mexicans had never heard of the potato which was a. principal article of Peruvian diet. In 5,000 B. C. the Sumerians and Egyptians probably knew as little of one another. America had lagged in fact 6,000 years behind the old world.



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