Do terms we have used in this blog like “Stone Age,” “New Stone Age,” “Pre-Pottery Neolithic,” “Pottery Neolithic,” “Chalcolithic,” “Bronze Age,” “Iron Age” etc. add specificity to a conversation without identifying time and place? Folks in Europe and Western Asia (i.e. Eurasia) appear to have progressed more quickly through these technological ages than elsewhere. I suspect more investment into and prioritization of archaeology in South Asia and East Asia might show them matching the pace. But there can be no doubt that human progress in the Americas, Africa (ex Egypt), and Australia by virtually any measure lagged many millennia behind Eurasia.
The above historic web of premature generalizations is well described in this article on the Three-Age System. However, we cannot deny that we now live in an age where every thought, word, and deed attracts generalizations and premature labels like sweating skin attracts mosquitoes.
None of this hair-splitting matters in 2018, since successive technologies have been sown around the globe by their inventors through Imperialism in one form or another, often exploiting their technology to conquer those who didn’t have it (once steel, now digital weapons).
Over the ages, exporting technology has profited the colonies, other importers, overseas factories, and technology thieves (“global economy”) more than the inventors—for technology is portable (as safe as patented Apple technology in Chinese factories).
Colonizers have found their technology come back against them like a boomerang—a seemingly inexorable rule since the first imperialists exploited their ceramic sling ball technology and marched out of Uruk in Southern Mesopotamia early in the 4th millennium BC. Their sling ball gave them no lasting advantage, for the weapon was easy to use and cheap to replicate, but it was still used millennia later by Rome.
Rome eventually was over-run by those foreign mercenaries it trained in the latest technologies of warfare. Similarly, Japan attacked the U.S. with the A6M airplane, technology invented in the U.S. 38 years earlier, and used recent U.S. and British fighter warplane technology lifted from imported U.S. fighters up to the beginning of World Ward II. As Lenin said, “Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”
As we are now discovering, it is virtually impossible to protect technological (and business and personal) information in today’s digital world. Even more unnerving than leaks is the fact the latest technological knowledge is freely available to any country who can pay the tuition for its citizens to attend universities in Europe and America. Put them in graduate school in the technology you covet. All a country needs to do is fund its best and brightest to attend those universities and bring them home with the cutting edge technology of the subjects they studied.
Ancient technology labelled “ages” generally lasted millennia with a slow spreading of significant improvements. In our digital age, competitive technology has a half-life of a few years, with a few exceptions that require highly complex multi-billion or trillion dollar production facilities, testing programs, and supplier coordination, such as weapons systems and fusion power.
Today’s takeaway is that categorizing, labeling, and pigeonholing is overused in archaeology and related sciences, and is being replaced with meaningfully discriminating technology e.g. C14 testing, photo-luminescence, DNA, ground sounding, 3D imaging, and the like. There are large numbers of ambitious graduate students with finely discriminating digital data that obsoletes old concepts based upon broad labels.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke