Archaeology and the Concept of Progress

Jacquetta Hawkes describes how archaeological discoveries have had a profound effect on modern views of human progress. While archaeology has been helping to build the edifice of materialist and progressive history, at the same time it has been working to undermine its foundations.

Nearly three thousand years ago, Hesiod gave noble expression to the dream of a past state of bliss from which men had fallen through their own fault. In this Golden Age,

“Like Gods they lived, with calm untroubled mind.

Free from the toil and anguish of our kind:”

Later, as their virtue and piety declined, the poet saw our forebears passing through a Silver and a Bronze Age, and then, after a brief recovery, finally plunging into the misery of the Iron Age in which he himself lived and suffered. Ovid retold and popularized this tale, half myth and half remembered history, for the benefit of his Roman countrymen.

Meanwhile, beyond the eastern end of the Mediterranean, the Hebrews were perfecting their Asiatic version of the story of a happy and blessed primal state of mankind. And, as Ovid interpreted the story of the Golden Age among the Romans, so Milton may be said to have brought Adam and Eve and the paradise of Eden to a new life and meaning for the English speaking peoples:

“Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,

Godlike erect, with native honour clad...

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