Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lost Millenium by Florin Diacu

I am working my way through a book written by Florin Diacu titled ‘The lost Millennium’. It tackles the fairly invisible debate over the accuracy of traditional chronology and the challenges to that orthodoxy. I had heard rumbles that our chronology may be a thousand years too long. I think that we all find that much too hard to swallow, simply because any point in history is described by a cloud of sources, objects, and dating tests that add up to a strong likelihood.

There are unsettling gaps, but we underestimate the difficulty in maintaining records and the existence of a regime interested in keeping records in the first place. We underestimate the loss of language. Can you imagine sitting in a Viking’s hall and taking notes in Latin, then getting a letter from a hundred miles away explaining local intelligence while your host has no ability to read any of it? How paranoid can you get?

Seen that way, any restoration had to take a lot of time.

The problem with gluing together chronology is the gaps, not just in time but in geography. The discovery of the importance of 1159 BCE as the effective end of the European Bronze Age stabilizes a whole group of regional chronologies by putting aside a lot of niggling concerns.

We can now say with assurance that Homer’s world was a couple of generations before 1159 BCE giving enough time for tale to be told and spread throughout the cultural area by sea and to reach Athens. It also puts the Argonauts in the Atlantic and opens the possibility of a completely new and more creditable interpretation. We now have access to the Amazon and the Mississippi as operational locales.

The problem is that we lack other such absolutes in the chronology game. We have far too many maybes.

We have had good global records for perhaps four hundred years. We have had good European and Chinese information for a thousand years. All this means is that records stop been lost outright. Further back, the inevitable gaps pop up and histories are simply missing.

For all of the Americas, we are now recovering fragments of Mayan history, and the same is true for the rest of the old world. It is also easy to get fooled by the depth of evidence of a regime or society. Look at the bible. This is the only extant historical record that survives from the Bronze Age. Other documents take the form of rituals, horoscopes and IOUs. We then must jump hundreds of years to the Greeks and their Roman successors. What happened to those other guys?

The archeological record is disclosing a global striving for civilization everywhere possible throughout the past 5,000 years. Everywhere a local chieftain built a palace and commanded his retainers. This made record keeping a true challenge and it obviously failed most of the time.

Diacu’s book surveys the research undertaken by a number of scholars including the original creators of our present chronology ` regime, and Newton in particular who all struggled with attempting to link written reports with astronomical probabilities. Everyone ever involved has been far too often inconclusive.

Most disconcerting are horoscopes depicting recent times yet associated historically a millennia earlier. If these types of time changes actually held up, history would be in for a massive rewrite.

What motivated the book were the writings of Fomenko and his associates who have argued that a thousand years are missing. Most of what Fomenko says is not too compelling and a lot is clearly wrong also. He does dig up a number of unresolved conflicts and also establishes the existence of a second conflict in historical methodology. That is that practitioners are discarding non conforming evidence. Over time, this bias will strip important evidence and patterns out of the data leaving only a self selected data set. This is not a problem in the physical sciences were replication soon catches up to you. This is a giant problem in history were the data cannot be easily be repeated.

The book is still an interesting read and introduces us to a lot of obscure history. However, I would advise reading the last chapter on consensus first to give you direction.

It is also clear that the issues raised are in the process of been resolved largely by modern carbon dating, that now can be extended to remnants of papyrus.

So we still can rely on our known chronology as long as we keep a weather eye out for unpleasant surprises and learn to ask why there is a lack of evidence when asking historic questions. I have asked this question many times while making a wide range of historic and archeological conjectures. I have then watched the evidence slowly emerge.

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