Oftentimes throughout history people are claimed to have discovered a “new” civilization, a “new” city, a “new” whatever it may be. They are given much credit and are awarded a space in history for stumbling upon these places and things. But why? These places have always been here, it’s not as if they have vanished. These places have been known to other peoples, maybe not by the same name, maybe even only to those who built it and lived there, but still they were known. These places have merely been forgotten, not lost.
This raises a startling and honestly quite terrifying question: How can entire cities, entire civilizations that once held human beings simply be forgotten? It seems nearly impossible that entire cities, temples, and especially entire civilizations could be forgotten as surely they must have interacted with at least one other civilization or peoples who would know of them. Unless competing groups were to have wanted them wiped from the face of the planet, there should be a memory of them. And even if they were wiped out, would the conquering group not want to claim the land for themselves? Perhaps there is another explanation to how these sites “disappeared.” It is possible that perhaps some places were lost in translation, or confused for another place entirely. Every civilization seems to come up with different names for the same place, so it could just be that these places have been labeled with names we have not connected them to yet. Or even yet, the names may have also been confused for other places, leading to people identifying a known place with the name of a forgotten one.
It is also entirely possible that perhaps the lack of a written language, written history, or even the poor preservation of these writings and information are to blame. Were the history of a location not to be recorded, or if a written language was not present, it is certain that the information would then have been passed down through the oral tradition. The problem with the oral tradition is that information often becomes distorted and important details are lost over time as the information is relayed from person to person. It may not be easily done, but an entire group of people or an entire city could be simply forgotten if the information were not relayed by individuals. It could even be so that the information was transformed more into a story instead. Perhaps some of the stories of the gods or even just thrilling stories from the past were built out of the ashes of a fallen civilization.
While we may never know just exactly how these places were forgotten, archaeology provides us with the opportunity to rediscover them so that we do not lose the history of humanity. Without archaeology, places that may have been forgotten may become lost to the concealing shroud that is time.
One thought on “Forgotten, but Not Lost”
I found your blog post very interesting! I have also often wondered how these amazing places are lost throughout history and then rediscovered, as if they hadn’t existed before the discovery. I think it is fascinating, as you said, that an entire population who had interacted with other civilizations, built huge temples, palaces or landmarks, and had a large impact on the natural world around them, could vanish completely from mankind’s knowledge. I agree that the lack of written language was likely a large contributor to this, as well as the altered translations being passed down through oral tradition. It is likely that the history of Machu Picchu was lost this way, as only a few villagers directly below the mountain knew of the mysterious place, and it hadn’t even been touched by looters looking for ancient ruins in the area. It is surprising that the city remained in perfect condition for hundreds of years with no one able to find it.
Thinking about how these important cities and major powers in history could vanish from modern day knowledge, it is sometimes scary to think that this could happen to our modern civilization. With our advanced language, record keeping, and technology, it seems like modern history could never be erased from our knowledge. But if some catastrophe were to occur and destroy most of modern civilization, would our history vanish with it? Hundreds of years from now, could archaeologists be discovering the ruins of New York City or uncovering the Hollywood sign? It is intriguing to think about if this could ever happen, luckily it won’t be in our lifetime!
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