How Will the Future Remember Us?
Virtually every major culture on Earth has at one time or another built monuments or structures that have lasted throughout the ages--and were planned to do so. If you walk down a street in India, intricately-carved rock temples are almost on every street corner.
If we go to Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the south-east Pacific, we see mysterious faces sculpted into enormous hunks of rock, lined up in rows facing into fields or gazing out into the sea.
Though the history of the people themselves is little known, their rock sentinels still stand, giving voice to what was, apparently, a highly-skilled and curious culture.
We could go on and on all day: The pyramids of Egypt; the ancient Mayan temples; the Great Ruins of Zimbabwe; the Roman colosseum; the Stonehenges throughout Europe; the White Pyramid in China; Ollantaytambo in Peru; the underwater pyramid of Japan; the Mesa Verde Cliff Palace of North America; Puma Punka in Bolivia, and so on and so forth.
These stone structures are everywhere, they were built to last--and they have lasted, many for thousands upon thousands of years.
Why Make Things to Last?
It's definitely an open-ended and hypothetical question. Why did so many ancient cultures create these stone structures that they must have known would last for countless ages to come? Many of the answers are speculation, because we just don't know. However, we can imagine that human nature itself hasn't changed much since those times, and can draw conclusions from our knowledge of this fact.
We know that many of these feats were almost super-human, with rocks weighing many, many tons. Workers spent entire lifetimes completing many of them. Why were they built so well? Perhaps these ancient people wanted to be remembered forever; maybe they were merely working with the materials they had available at the time; maybe it was practical that they do the best job possible; and maybe they wanted to communicate to us (the future) about themselves, or about something that was so important that it had to be secured in stone. Stone, of course, would probably survive their demise. Were they thoughtful of us, trying to send us a message, or just doing what they knew how to do at the time?
No matter what the reasons, it is indisputable that these structures have told us much about the people who made them. It's a glimpse into an ancient world: The history of us, where we came from, what went right--and maybe what inevitably went wrong--for the technologies used no longer exist, and often, neither do the cultures who perfected them.
Will the Future Remember Us?
Imagine for a second that everything suddenly "changes." Nuclear or biological warfare is a realistic hypothesis, as is climate change, a coming Ice Age, nuclear meltdown of massive proportions, or another naturally-occurring biological virus that wipes-out much of the world population. Up to 100 million people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, for example. Think about it. What if our knowledge of these gadgets, our knowledge of our modern technology, is completely lost. Gone. Or perhaps little pieces of the puzzle remain, but they are scattered far and wide, and never put back together again. It has happened to countless cultures before us. How can we consider ourselves immune to what has happened so many times in the past?
I often think to myself, "In a few thousand years, what will they know about us?" Everything now, it seems, is slap-dash and ephemeral. Our expertise is no longer preserved in stone for those who come after us. Rather, it's becoming increasingly digital, convenient, commercial, or mass-produced. It is very much a culture of "Now." Sometimes I think it's wonderful! But I can't help but imagine, "But what if all Hell breaks loose; what if something happens and the fabric of our technological society is ripped to shreds; what if everything we've discovered is completely lost!" Maybe I'm being overly dramatic. But think about how amazingly technical, specialized, and interconnected our society is. In the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war, for example, would we be able to pick up all the pieces? You may scoff at the idea, but many of the ancient cultures were killed-off with the use of simpler weapons.
If you think about it, what we know of these ancient cultures is from finding their preserved artifacts. Somehow, much of their knowledge was obliterated, and all we have are small glimpses into what was once possible. Where did all that knowledge go? Into their stonework? Could it be that we are missing the message? Have we learned from their mistakes, or are we just repeating them?
It Can Happen to Us
If it happened once, twice, hundreds of times, can't it happen again? To us? What of the techniques they used to build these stone monuments? We can't comprehend how most of them were made, even now. Might not it be that they had superior, specialized technologies, very much like we do today? Perhaps they thought the knowledge would never be lost! Many of these feats in stone we cannot even begin to accomplish today with all of our "modern" equipment and thousands of years to improve upon their methods. All we have are stones showing the skill and passion that existed back then--the rest is a total mystery. But at least they spent lifetimes building these amazing sculptures. At least we know that they were skilled and capable. (What happened?) We, on the other hand, have not done much to preserve our culture for future examination. What will the future know of us if everything goes south?
We have such a bounty of knowledge these days. We're civilized; we make plans. We have talents; we can make skyscrapers and anything you could ever want is on a store shelf or online. We can fly to Jupiter; we can make nanobots; and we can correct vision using lasers! "What could happen to us ," we might say. And I say that these ancient cultures probably felt the same way, but now they're long gone. Now all we have are their artifacts, bones, and carved stones. We don't know their techniques. We don't know the extent of their knowledge. We don't know how they did the things they did; we just know that they had the capability to do them, and now it's gone and so are they. However, even with our lack of technical understanding of these megaliths, we can look at them in awe and say, "Wow! Maybe our ancestors were not as 'backward' as we had imagined. Maybe there is more to them than we realize. Maybe they were just as technically skilled as we are today (relatively speaking)." And perhaps in the backs of our minds we ask, "Is there a message in these stones? A message about history? About human nature? About hope? About...the transient nature of civilized society?"
Almost everything now is dependent upon the well-greased machine we've built for ourselves--probably not much different from these past civilizations. There is little thought of preservation or the need thereof--why should there be? We're on top of the food chain and the world! But again that niggling thought returns: How would this specialized society survive if the shit hit the fan? We are, the vast majority of us, quite dependent upon everything running smoothly day to day. To clarify this point, think of the enormous electricity blackouts that occur from time to time. Society's smooth workings deteriorate in the blink of an eye. Picture the chaos that occurs when just one small piece of the huge puzzle is lost. Then imagine that all the pieces are scattered, or worse yet, completely gone.
One modern stone structure has been purposely built to survive the ages and convey a clearer message, perhaps, than those that came before it. The Georgia Guidestones mysteriously appeared on a hill "in the middle of nowhere" in rural Georgia (USA) in March 1980. Nobody knows who funded them.
Immense nineteen-foot-high granite tablets are covered with instructions on how to rebuild civilization (just in case.) They're inscribed in the archaic languages of Babylonean cuneiform, Classical Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Sanskrit, in addition to Arabic, Chinese, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili. The enormous tablets have messages like "maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature,” “guide reproduction wisely,” "protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts," and “prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite. Be not a cancer on the earth—leave room for nature—leave room for nature.”
In addition to these thoughts, the guidestones are also very astronomically precise. They track the east-west migration of the sun year-round; allow observers to locate the North Star; allow observers to realize the solstice and equinox; and can pinpoint the exact day of the year every day at noon.
Perhaps this modern monument is enough to allow our distant progeny to realize who we were to some extent, should anything happen. Though everybody may not agree with all of its messages, at least the motivation behind it is obvious to all who come across it. Maybe the messages written on the guidestones will, if nothing else, help them to realize that though we lived a transient lifestyle, still we left something enduring and of worth to them.
No, it doesn't describe our technology or how to use it. No, it doesn't detail who we are or who we were--not in words. It doesn't show much artistic ability. But I suppose there is a deeper message in it than technology or tradition: We are all humans, and you, the future, must try to learn from our mistakes and continue on, just as we continued on from those who came before us.
Maybe the past is meant to remain a mysterious warning.
Maybe history will keep repeating until we get the message right.
© 2011 Kate P