Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/June 1890/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: Archaeology I
VIII. THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN AND EGYPTOLOGY.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL.D., L.H.D.,
EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
IN the great ranges of investigation which, bear most directly upon the origin of man, there are two in which Science within the last few years has gained final victories.
The significance of these in changing, and ultimately in reversing, one of the greatest currents of theological thought, can hardly be overestimated; not even the tide set in motion by Cusa, Copernicus, and Galileo was so powerful to bring in a new epoch of belief.
The first of these conquests relates to the antiquity of man on the earth.
The fathers of the early Christian Church, receiving all parts of our sacred books as equally inspired, laid little, if any, less stress on the myths, legends, genealogies, and tribal, family, and personal traditions contained in the Old Testament, than upon the most lofty poems, the most instructive apologues, and the most powerful utterances of prophets, psalmists, and apostles. As to the life of man upon our planet, by bringing together indications of elapsing time in the various books of the Bible, early Christian commentators arrived at conclusions varying some-what, but in the main agreeing. Some, like Origen, Eusebius, Lactantius, Clement of Alexandria, and the great fathers generally of the first three centuries, dwelling especially upon the Septuagint version of the Scriptures, thought that man's creation took place about six thousand years before the Christian era. Strong confirmation of this view was found in a simple piece of purely theological reasoning: for, just as the seven candlesticks of the Apocalypse were long held to prove the existence of seven planets revolving about the earth, so it was felt that the six days of creation prefigured six thousand years during which the earth in its first form was to endure; and that, as the first Adam came on the sixth day, Christ, the second Adam, had come at the sixth millennial period. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, in the second century, clinched this argument with the text, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years"; hence the view of the early Church, that the world was then in its last period, and that the seventh day—the great millennium—would arrive about the year 1000 of our era. What striking consequences this belief finally produced all scholars of mediæval history know well.
On the other hand, Eusebius and St. Jerome, dwelling more especially upon the Hebrew text, which we are brought up to revere, thought that man's origin took place at a somewhat shorter period before the Christian era; and St. Jerome's overwhelming authority made this the dominant view throughout western Europe during fifteen centuries.
The simplicity of these great fathers as regards chronology is especially reflected from the tables of Eusebius. In these, Moses, Joshua, and Bacchus—Deborah, Orpheus, and the Amazons—Abimelech, the Sphinx, and Œdipus, appear together as personages equally real, and their positions in chronology equally ascertained.
At times great bitterness was aroused between those holding the longer and the shorter chronology, but, after all, the difference between them, as we now see, was trivial; and it may be broadly stated that in the early Church, "always, and everywhere, and by all," it was held as certain, upon the absolute warrant of Scripture, that man was created from four to six thousand years before the Christian era.
To doubt this, and even much less than this, was to risk damnation. St. Augustine insisted that belief in the antipodes and in the longer duration of the earth than six thousand years were deadly heresies, equally hostile to Scripture. Philastrius, the friend of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, whose fearful catalogue of heresies served as a guide to intolerance throughout the middle ages, condemned with the same holy horror those who expressed doubt as to the orthodox number of years since the beginning of the world, and those who doubted an earthquake to be the literal voice of an angry God, or who questioned the plurality of the heavens, or who gainsaid the statement that God brings out the stars from His treasures and hangs them up in the solid firmament above the earth every night.
About the beginning of the seventh century, Isidore of Seville, the great theologian of his time, took up the subject. He accepted the dominant view, not only of Hebrew but of all other chronology, without anything like real criticism; the childlike faith and simplicity of his system may be* imagined from his summaries which follow. He tells us:
"Joseph lived one hundred and five years. Greece began to cultivate grain.
"The Jews were in slavery in Egypt one hundred and fortyfour years. Atlas discovered astrology.
"Joshua ruled for twenty-seven years. Ericthonius yoked horses together.
"Othniel, forty years. Cadmus introduced letters into Greece.
"Deborah, forty years. Apollo discovered the art of medicine and invented the cithara.
"Gideon, forty years. Mercury invented the lyre and gave it to Orpheus."
Reasoning in this general way, Isidore kept well under the longer date; and the great theological authority of southern Europe having thus spoken, the question was virtually at rest throughout Christendom for nearly a hundred years.
Early in the eighth century the Venerable Bede, the great theological authority of the North, took up the problem. Dwelling especially upon the received Hebrew text of the Old Testament, he soon entangled himself in very serious difficulties; but, in spite of the great fathers of the first three centuries, he reduced the antiquity of man on the earth by nearly a thousand years, and, in spite of mutterings against him as coming dangerously near a limit which made the theological argument from six days to six ages look doubtful, his authority had great weight, and did much to fix western Europe in its allegiance to the general system laid down by Eusebius and Jerome.
In the twelfth century this belief was re-enforced by a tide of thought from a very different quarter. Rabbi Moses Maimonides and other Jewish scholars, by careful study of the Hebrew text, arrived at conclusions diminishing the antiquity of man still further, and thus gave strength to the shorter chronology throughout the middle ages: it was incorporated into the sacred science of Christianity; and Vincent de Beauvais, in his great Speculum Historiale, forming part of that still more enormous work which sums up all the knowledge possessed by the ages of faith, placed the creation of man at about four thousand years before our era.
At the Reformation this view was not disturbed. The same manner of accepting the sacred text which led Luther, Melanchthon, and the great Protestant leaders generally, to oppose the Copernican theory, fixed them firmly in this biblical chronology; the key-note was sounded for them by Luther when he said, "We know, on the authority of Moses, that longer ago than six thousand years the world did not exist." Melanchthon, more exact, fixed the creation of man at 3963 b. c.
But the great Christian scholars continued the old endeavor to make the time of man's origin more precise; there seems to have been a sort of fascination in the subject which developed a long array of chronologists, all weighing the minutest indications in our sacred books, until the Protestant divine, De Vignolles, who had given forty years to the study of biblical chronology, declared that he had gathered no less than two hundred computations based upon Scripture, and no two alike.
As to the Roman Church, about 1580 there was published, by authority of Pope Gregory XIII, the Roman Martyrology, and this, both as originally published and as revised in 1640 under Pope Urban VIII, declared that the creation of man took place 5199 years before Christ.
But of all who gave themselves up to these chronological studies, the man who exerted the most powerful influence upon the dominant nations of Christendom was Archbishop Usher. In 1650 he published his Annals of the Ancient and New Testaments, and it at once became the greatest authority for all English-speaking peoples. Usher was a man of deep and wide theological learning, powerful in controversy; and his careful conclusion, after years of the most profound study of the Hebrew Scriptures, was, that man was created 4004 years before the Christian era. His verdict was widely received as final; his dates were inserted in the margins of the authorized version of the English Bible, and were soon practically regarded as equally inspired with the sacred text itself; to question them seriously was to risk preferment in the Church and reputation in the world at large.
The same adhesion to the Hebrew Scriptures which had influenced Usher, brought leading men of the older Church to the same view; men who would have burned each other at the stake for
their differences on other points, agreed on this: Melanchthon and Tostatus, Lightfoot and Jansen, Salmeron and Scaliger, Petavius and Kepler, inquisitors and reformers,-Jesuits and Jansenists, priests and rabbis, stood together in the belief that the creation of man was proved by Scripture to have taken place between 3900 and 4004 years before Christ.
In spite of the severe pressure of this line of authorities, extending from St. Jerome and Eusebius to Usher and Petavius, all in favor of this scriptural chronology, even devoted Christian scholars, had sometimes felt obliged to revolt. The first great source of difficulty was increased knowledge regarding the Egyptian monuments. As far back as the last years of the sixteenth century, Joseph Scaliger had done what he could to lay the foundations of a more scientific treatment of chronology, insisting especially that the historical indications in Persia, in Babylon, and, above all, in Egypt, should be brought to bear on the question. More than that, he had the boldness to urge that the chronological indications of the Hebrew Scriptures should be fully and critically discussed in the light of Egyptian and other records, without any undue bias from theological considerations. His idea may well be called inspired, yet it had little effect as regards a true view of the antiquity of man, even upon himself, for the theological bias prevailed above all his reasonings, even in his own mind. Well does a brilliant modern writer declare that, "among the multitude of strong men in modern times abdicating their reason at the command of their prejudices, Joseph Scaliger is perhaps the most striking example."
Early in the following century Sir Walter Raleigh, in his History of the World (1603-1616), pointed out the danger of adhering to the old system. He, too, foresaw one of the results of modern investigation, stating it in these words, which have the ring of prophetic inspiration: "For in Abraham's time all the then known parts of the world were developed. . . . Egypt had many magnificent cities, . . . and these not built with sticks, but of hewn stone, . . . which magnificence needed a parent of more antiquity than these other men have supposed." In view of these considerations, Raleigh followed the chronology of the Septuagint version, which enabled him to give to the human race a few more years than were usually allowed.
About the middle of the seventeenth century Isaac Vossius, one of the most eminent scholars of Christendom, attempted to bring the prevailing belief into closer accordance with ascertained facts, but save by a chosen few his efforts were rejected. In some parts of Europe a man was by no means safe from bodily harm in holding new views on chronology. As an example of the extreme pressure exerted by the old theological system at times upon honest scholars, we may take the case of La Peyrère, who, about the middle of the seventeenth century, put forth his book on the Pre-Adamites—an attempt to reconcile sundry well-known difficulties in Scripture by claiming that man existed on earth before the time of Adam. He was taken in hand at once; great theologians rushed forward to attack him from all parts of Europe; within fifty years thirty-six different refutations of his arguments had appeared; the Parliament of Paris burned the book, and the Grand Vicar of the archdiocese of Mechlin threw him into prison and kept him there until he was forced, not only to retract his statements, but to abjure his Protestantism.
But, in spite of warnings like this, we see the new idea cropping out in various parts of Europe. In 1672 Sir John Marsham published a work in which he showed himself bold and honest. After describing the heathen sources of Oriental history, he turns to the Christian writers, and, having used the history of Egypt to show that the great Church authorities were not exact, he ends one important argument with the following words: "Thus the most interesting antiquities of Egypt have been involved in the deepest obscurity by the very interpreters of her chronology, who have jumbled everything up (qui omnia susque deque permiscuerunt), so as to make them match with their own reckonings of Hebrew chronology: truly a very bad example, and quite unworthy of religious writers."
This sturdy protest of Sir John against the dominant system and against the "jumbling" by which Eusebius had endeavored to cut down ancient chronology within safe and sound orthodox limits, had little effect. Though eminent chronologists of the eighteenth century, like Jackson, Hales, and Drummond, gave forth multitudes of ponderous volumes pleading for a period somewhat longer than that generally allowed, and insisting that the received Hebrew text was grossly vitiated as regards chronology, even this poor favor was refused them; the great mass of believers found it more comfortable to hold fast the faith committed to them by Usher, and it remained settled that man was created about four thousand years before our era.
This tide of theological reasoning rolled on through the eighteenth century, swollen by the biblical researches of leading commentators, Catholic and Protestant, until it came in great majesty and force into our own nineteenth century; and it was well received. At the very beginning of our century it gained new strength from various great men in the Church, among whom may be especially named Dr. Adam Clarke, who declared that, "to preclude the possibility of a mistake, the unerring Spirit of God directed Moses in the selection of his facts and the ascertaining of his dates."
All opposition to the received view seemed broken down; and as late as 1835, indeed as late as 1850, came an announcement in the work of one of the most eminent Egyptologists, Sir J. G. Wilkinson, to the effect that he had modified the results he had obtained from Egyptian monuments, in order that his chronology might not interfere with the received date of the Deluge of Noah.
But all investigators were not so docile as Wilkinson, and there soon came a new train of scientific thought which rapidly undermined all this theological chronology. Not to speak of other noted men, we have early in the present century Young, Champollion, and Rosellini, beginning a new epoch in the study of the Egyptian monuments. Nothing could be more cautious than their procedure, but the evidence was soon overwhelming in favor of a vastly longer existence of man in the Nile Valley than could be made to agree with even the longest duration then allowed by theologians.
First of all, in spite of all the suppleness of men like Wilkinson, it became evident that, whatever system of scriptural chronology was adopted, Egypt was the seat of a flourishing civilization at a period before the "Flood of Noah," and that no such flood had ever interrupted it. This was bad, but worse remained behind: it was soon clear that the civilization of Egypt began earlier than the time assigned for the creation of man, even according to the most liberal of the sacred chronologists.
As time went on, this became more and more evident: the long duration assigned to human civilization in the fragments of Manetho, the Egyptian scribe at Thebes in the third century b. c., was discovered to be more accordant with truth than the chronologies of the great theologians; and, as the present century has gone on, scientific results have been reached absolutely fatal to the chronological view based by the universal Church upon Scripture for nearly two thousand years.
As is well known, the first of the Egyptian kings of whom mention is made upon the monuments of the Nile Valley is Mena, or Menes. Manetho had given a statement, according to which Mena must have lived nearly six thousand years before the Christian era; this was looked upon for a long time as utterly inadmissible, since it was so clearly at variance with the chronology of our own sacred books; but, as time went on, large fragments of the original work of Manetho were more carefully studied and distinguished from corrupt transcriptions, the lists of kings at Karnak, Sacquarak, and the two temples at Abydos were brought to light, and the lists of court architects were discovered. Among all these monuments the scholar who visits Egypt is most impressed by the sculptured tablets giving the lists of kings. Each shows the monarch of the period doing homage to the long line of his ancestors. Each of these sculptured monarchs has near him a tablet bearing his name. That great care was always taken to keep these imposing records correct is certain; the loyalty of subjects, the devotion of priests, and the family pride of kings were all combined in this, and how effective this care was is seen in the fact that kings now known to be usurpers are carefully omitted. The lists of court architects, extending over the period from Seti to Darius, throw a flood of light over the other records.
Comparing, then, all these sources, and applying an average from the lengths of the long series of well-known reigns to the reigns preceding, the most careful and cautious scholars have satisfied themselves that the original fragments of Manetho represent the work of a man honest and well informed, and, after making all allowances for discrepancies and the overlapping of reigns, it has become clear that the period known as the reign of Mena must be fixed at about five thousand years B. c. In this the three great Egyptologists of our time concur; Mariette, the eminent French authority, puts the date at 5004 b. c., and with this the foremost English authority, Sayce, agrees; Brugsch, the leading German authority, puts it at about 4500 b. c. We have it, then, as the result of a century of work by the most acute and trained Egyptologists, and with the inscriptions upon the temples and papyri before them, both of which are now read with as much facility as many mediæval manuscripts, that the reign of Mena must be placed close upon seven thousand years ago.
But the significance of this conclusion can not be fully understood until we bring into connection with it some other facts revealed by the Egyptian monuments.
The first of these is that which struck Sir Walter Raleigh—that, even in the time of the first dynasties in the Nile Valley, a high civilization had already been developed. Take, first, man himself: we find sculptured upou the early monuments types of the various races—Egyptians, Israelites, negroes, and Libyans—as clearly distinguishable in these paintings and sculptures of from four to six thousand years ago as the same types are at the present day. No one can look at these sculptures upon the Egyptian monuments, or even the f ac-similes of them, as given by Lepsius or Prisse d'Avennes, without being convinced that they indicate, even at that remote period, a difference of races so great that long previous ages must have been required to produce it.
Take, next, the social condition of Egypt revealed in these early monuments of art: they force us to the same conclusion. Those earliest monuments show that a very complex society had even then been developed. We not only have a separation between the priestly and military orders, but agriculturists, manufacturers, and traders, with a whole series of subdivisions in each of these classes. The early tombs show us sculptured and painted representations of a daily life which even then had been developed into a vast wealth and variety of grades, forms, and usages.
Take, next, the political and military condition: one fact out of many reveals a policy which must have been the result of long experience. Just as now, at the end of the nineteenth century, the British Government, having found that they can not rely upon the native Egyptians for the protection of the country, are drilling the negroes from the interior of Africa as soldiers, so the celebrated inscription of Prince Una, as far back as the sixth dynasty, speaks of the Maksi or negroes levied and drilled by tens of thousands for the Egyptian army.
Take, next, engineering: here we find very early operations in the way of canals, dikes, and great public edifices, so bold in conception and thorough in execution as to fill our greatest engineers of these days with astonishment. The quarrying, conveyance, cutting, jointing, and polishing of the enormous blocks in the interior of the Great Pyramid alone are the marvel of the foremost stone-workers of our century.
As regards architecture, we find not only the pyramids, which date from the very earliest period of Egyptian history, and which are to this hour the wonder of the world for size, for boldness, for exactness, and for skillful contrivance, but also the temples with long ranges of colossal columns wrought in polished granite, with wonderful beauty of ornamentation, with architraves and roofs vast in size and exquisite in adjustment, which by their proportions tax the imagination, and lead the beholder to ask whether all this can be real.
As to sculpture, we have not only the great Sphinx of Gizeh, so wonderful by its boldness and plastic character, dating from the very first period of Egyptian history, but we have ranges of sphinxes, heroic statues, and bas-reliefs, showing that even in the early ages this branch of art had reached an amazing development.
As regards the perfection of these, Lübke, the most eminent German authority on plastic art, referring to the early works in the tombs about Memphis, declares that, "as monuments of the period of the fourth dynasty, they are an evidence of the high perfection to which the sculpture of the Egyptians had attained." Brugsch declares that "every artistic production of those early days, whether picture, writing, or sculpture, bears the stamp of the highest perfection in art." Maspero, the most eminent French authority in this field, while expressing his belief that the Sphinx was sculptured even before the time of Mena, declares that "the art which conceived and carved this prodigious statue was a finished art, an art which had attained self-mastery and was sure of its effects"; and Sir James Fergusson, the highest English authority, declares, "We are startled to find Egyptian art nearly as perfect in the oldest periods as in any of the later."
The evidence as to the high development of Egyptian sculpture in the earlier dynasties becomes every day more overwhelming. What exquisite genius the early Egyptian sculptors showed in their lesser statues is known to those who have seen those most precious specimens in the Boulak Museum at Cairo, which were wrought before the conventional type was adopted in obedience to religious considerations.
Take, next, decorative and especially ceramic art: as early as the fourth and fifth dynasties we have vases, cups, and other vessels showing exquisite beauty of outline and a general sense of form equal to Etruscan and Grecian work of the best periods.
Take, next, astronomy: to say nothing of the other evidences of a long development of thought in this field, we may go back to the very earliest period of Egyptian civilization, and we find that the four sides of the Great Pyramid are adjusted to the cardinal points with the utmost precision. "The day of the equinox can be taken by observing the sun set across the face of the pyramid, and the neighboring Arabs adjust their astronomical dates by its shadow."
The same view is confirmed by philologists. To use words of Max Düncker: "The oldest monuments of Egypt, and they are the oldest, monuments in the world, exhibit the Egyptian in possession of the art of writing." It is found also by the inscriptions of the early dynasties that the Egyptian language had even at. that early time been developed in all essential particulars to the highest point it ever attained. What long periods it must have required for such a development every scholar in philology can imagine.
As regards medical science, we have the Berlin papyrus, which, although of a later period, refers with careful specification to a medical literature of the first dynasty.
So, too, as regards archæology: the earliest known inscriptions point to still earlier events and buildings, indicating a long sequence of previous events.
And, finally, as to all that pertains to the history of civilization, no man of fair and open mind can go into the museums of Boulak or the Louvre or the British Museum and look at the monuments of those earlier dynasties without seeing in them the results of a development in art, science, laws, customs, and language, which must have required a vast period before the time of Mena for their development. And this conclusion is forced upon us all the more invincibly when we consider the slow growth of ideas in the earlier stages of civilization as compared with the later—a slowness of growth which has kept the natives in many parts of the world in that earliest civilization to this hour. To this we must add the fact that Egyptian civilization was especially immobile; its development into castes is but one among many evidences that it was the very opposite of a civilization developed rapidly.
As to the length of the period before the time of Mena, there is, of course, nothing exact. Manetho gives lists of great personages before that first dynasty extending over twenty-four thousand years. Bunsen, one of the most learned of Christian scholars, declares that not less than ten thousand years were necessary for the development of civilization up to the point where we find it in Mena's time. No one can claim precision for either of these statements, but they are valuable as showing the impression of vast antiquity made upon the most competent judges by the careful study of those remains. No unbiased judge can doubt that an immensely long period of years must have been required for the development of civilization up to the state in which we there find it.
The investigations in the bed of the Nile confirm these views. That some unwarranted conclusions have at times been announced is true; but the fact remains that again and again rude pottery and other evidences of early stages of civilization have been found in borings at places so distant from each other, and at depths so great, that for such a range of concurring facts, considered in connection with the rate of earthy deposit by the Nile, there is no adequate explanation save the existence of man in that valley thousands on thousands of years before the longest time admitted by our sacred chronologists.
Nor have these investigations been of a careless character. Between the years 1851 and 1854, Mr. Horner, an extremely cautious English, geologist, sank ninety-six shafts in f our rows at intervals of eight English miles, at right' angles to the Nile, in the neighborhood of Memphis. From these pottery was brought up from various depths, and beneath the statue of Rameses II at Memphis at a depth of thirty-nine feet. At the rate of the Nile deposit a careful estimate has declared this to indicate a period of over eleven thousand years. As eminent a German authority in geography as Peschel characterizes objections to such deductions as groundless. However this may be, the general results of these investigations, taken in connection with the other results of research, are most convincing.
And, finally, as if to make assurance doubly sure, a series of archæologists of the highest standing, French, German, English, and American, have within the past twenty years discovered relics of a savage period, of vastly earlier date than the time of Mena, prevailing throughout Egypt. These relics have been discovered in various parts of the country, from Cairo to Luxor, in great numbers. They are the same sort of prehistoric implements which prove to us the early existence of man in so many other parts of the world at a geological period so remote that the figures given by our sacred chronologists are but trivial. The last and most convincing of these discoveries, that of flint implements in the drift, far down below the tombs of early kings at Thebes, will be referred to later. What such discoveries prove, we shall consider in the next chapter.