The Myth of the Caveman
In The Holy Science Sri Yukteswar describes a recurring cycle of human development called the cycle of the yugas (ages), caused by influences from outside our solar system that affect the consciousness of all humanity. He explains that as the yugas advance, humanity increasingly manifests its higher potentials and expresses divine virtue more and more completely. The world is now in the ascending half of the cycle, in the second age (Dwapara Yuga), which began in 1900 A.D.
According to Sri Yukteswar’s explanation of the cycle of the yugas, mankind’s consciousness would have been at the peak of enlightenment in 11,500 B.C., even though most people consider this era to be primitive, its people ignorant, superstitious, and nearly savage. There is, however, a significant amount of accepted evidence which indicates man’s development in 11,500 B.C. was very different than is popularly believed. But several well-established misconceptions, including the notion of the “stone-age caveman,” perpetuate the old vision of the ancient past.
The commonly held view is that nomadic bands roamed the world in 10,000 B.C., grunting to communicate, using crude stone tools, wearing furs, while eking out a miserable existence. This image is almost indelible. We see it in natural history museum dioramas, in textbooks, in movies, in literature, in advertising, in comics and cartoons, even in the idioms we use. To say that the notion of the caveman is thoroughly accepted is an understatement. It just doesn’t happen to be true.
What gave birth to the myth?
There were two powerful ideas that gave birth to the idea of the caveman living as recently as ten thousand years ago. The first and most influential was the theory of evolution. Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, established the concept that all species – including man – evolve, thus suggesting that an earlier and more primitive version of man must have existed in the past. The second idea, the importance of which is less appreciated today, had to do with the common opinion, at the time of Darwin, of the age of the earth.
Although today most natural scientists believe the world to be 4.5 billion years old, at the time when Darwin’s theory of evolution was taking hold of Western science in the 1860s and 70s, only a handful of scientists thought the earth was even 50 million years old. In the late 1800s, the average person, even the average scientist, thought the earth was far younger than 50 million years.
Combined with Darwin’s theory of evolution, the assumption of a very young earth is significant, because it led the scientists of the day to the conclusion that if man had in fact evolved from the apes, he must have evolved very recently. Many scientists in the late 1800s speculated that a “missing link” must have existed — a new species that branched off from the apes as recently as 20 to 50 thousand years ago, and which evolved from ape-like man to modern man in the short span of a few thousand years.
If the natural scientists in the late 1800s had had the perspective of a 4.5 billion year old earth, they might have theorized a much longer timeline of human evolution, and assumed a caveman period millions of years ago, rather than thousands of years ago. But because of the state of scientific understanding at the time, the idea of cavemen running around as recently as 10,000 B.C. formed and, unfortunately, still persists in the popular mind today.
The search for “missing links”
In response to Darwin’s theory, a new branch of science began to form in the late 1800s — what is now known as paleontology. Hundreds of mostly amateur scientists went out into the field to find evidence of cavemen and missing links. Not surprisingly — given human nature — they found what they were looking for. The world was spellbound by the discoveries of Neanderthal Man, Cro-Magnon Man, Piltdown Man, Java Man, and many others, all of which seemed to corroborate the theory that modern man evolved from the apes within the last 100,000 years.
However, most of these discoveries have since been discredited or significantly reassessed. The Piltdown Man was proved, famously, to be a deliberate hoax, made up from a modern human skull and the jaw of an orangutan. Java Man was shown to be “put together” from bones found up to 10 meters apart, one of which, many authorities believe, was from an ape, and some of which are now known to be thousands of years apart in age. Neanderthal Man as a species is now believed, based on genetic analysis, to be at least a million years old, and there is growing opinion that he is, in fact, the same species as modern man, rather than an earlier and more primitive one.
Perhaps even more intriguing, from the point of view the yugas provide us, is the reassessment of Cro-Magnon Man. Initially Cro-Magnon Man was considered to be a separate species from modern man and was dated as having existed for only 30,000 years: from 40,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. Current opinion among most paleontologists is that Cro-Magnon man is in fact “early modern human” and the same species as modern man.
Evidence of advanced Stone Age cultures
Nor is it just the examination of ancient bones that makes the idea of primitive stone-age cavemen living in 10,000 B.C. highly unlikely. Over the last 10 to 20 years especially, and in part because of increasingly accurate dating methods and other means of scientific analysis (often called the New Archeology), a great many recent finds demonstrate that intelligent man’s history on earth is much longer than previously assumed.
For example, archeologists have found ancient stores of cultivated grains in Israel, at a site called Ohalo II, a discovery which indicates mankind has been growing and milling grains for at least 23,000 years. Similarly, an archeological dig in Afghanistan shows that horses have been domesticated for at least 15,000 years. Sophisticated settlements such as Göbekli Tepe and Çatal Höyük in Turkey, and Jericho on the West Bank existed as far back in time as 9,500 B.C. Fired pottery has been found in Japan and is attributed to the Jomon culture, which dates back to 12,000 B.C.
In her meticulously researched work, Plato Prehistorian, author Mary Settegast surveys the latest archeological research and findings regarding the time from 10,000 B.C to 5,000 B.C. She concludes that the members of at least some of the old Stone Age cultures were much more advanced than the gatherer-hunter societies of recent times, and were far from the conventional image of “savage creatures.” She notes also that modern-day archeologists are more and more aware of the inadequacy of the common model and are seeking a wholly new vision of man’s past.
Satya Yuga: enlightenment and simple living
What we can conclude from the finds of the New Archeology is that the “footprint” left behind by the so-called stone-age hunter gatherers, now considered to be much more advanced than previously thought, could be the same as the “footprint” left behind by people living in descending Satya Yuga, as we can envision their lifestyle from the description given us by Sri Yukteswar. A small population of spiritually enlightened people, living simply and lightly on the earth, would leave behind the same evidence of their presence in the past — small settlements and simple artifacts — as we associate with early man.
Even if Satya Yuga man did have more advanced capabilities than the new archeologists ascribe to this era, such as metallurgy and the manufacture of textiles, no evidence of it would likely have survived. Items made of fabric, wood, metal, plastic, even concrete, will only last a few thousand years, leaving behind almost no trace of their existence. Even the artifacts of our “mighty” civilization, let alone the simple structures and artifacts of 10,000 B.C., will not withstand the natural forces of disintegration arrayed against them. About the only material that lasts through thousands of years is stone.
The absence of fabric or looms does not conclusively prove that early man wore ragged furs. It is possible that woven cloth and wooden looms did exist and have simply disintegrated with time. The fact that the earliest art works we know of are cave paintings, does not preclude other paintings having been done on materials that have long since turned to dust. The absence of jewelry, or metal tools, does not necessarily mean early man did not know how to work metal; it simply means that none has survived corrosion, oxidation and disintegration, or that they were simply handed down, reused, or re-formed for millennia, as things of value tend to be.
A disinterest in physical possessions
Even if it were the case that the only tools, artifacts, and structures made by Satya Yuga man were made of stone, we need not therefore assume that the people of that time were ignorant and primitive cavemen. During Satya Yuga, the capability to control the environment and to manipulate matter to satisfy simple needs, might have naturally led people to a disinterest in physical possessions and personal comfort; they might have been content to use the simplest of tools when and as they needed them.
It is difficult for us to imagine intelligent people choosing to live in Stone Age conditions – but ours is a time when technology = good and physical comfort = obviously good, and more technology and more comfort = even better. However, in Satya Yuga, peace of mind = good, relaxation = good, simple living = good. Why one would trade a transcendent joy-filled consciousness for stress and toil, so that one could have a big house with the latest conveniences, would be as difficult for the Satya Yuga man to imagine, as it is for Dwapara Yuga man to imagine he could find happiness without them.
Given our current fixation with material prosperity, it is ironic that when people in our day want to take a vacation, they often want to go somewhere well away from the hustle and bustle of our “modern” life, away from telephones and computers — somewhere they can swim, hike, lie in the sun, be in nature, and try to relax and revive their flagging energies and, they hope, find some peace of mind. To a greater or lesser degree, most people know, without always fully understanding why, that true happiness is a state of being, not a state of having.
At the very least, recent finds, and other accumulating evidence from the past, seriously call into question the commonly held view of primitive, stone-age cavemen roaming the world 10,000 years ago. Indeed, more and more evidence points to a far longer history of civilized man than is currently assumed, and to a picture of man in 10,000 B.C. far different from the caveman of popular conception.
The Yugas: Keys to Understanding Man’s Hidden Past, Emerging Present, and Future Enlightenment, Crystal Clarity Publishers. To order click here
Author and lecturer, Joseph Selbie, studied ancient Western cultures at the University of Colorado and ancient Eastern cultures at UC Berkeley. He has had a keen interest in ancient history since grade school. He has taught and lectured on the principles of Eastern philosophy for over thirty years.
He lives with his wife at Ananda Village, a spiritual community in Northern California. Joseph, also known as Puru, is a founding member of Ananda Sangha and has served in many leadership and teaching roles. Joseph is also the founder and CEO of Tristream, a web development, marketing and application design firm.
Co-author, David Steinmetz. David’s background includes forty years of scientific work, including astronomy at the University of Arizona and optics at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Currently, he teaches about the yugas, ancient world cultures, astronomy, and physics at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom. He has been writing and lecturing on the topic of the yugas for more than a decade. David is a teacher at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom and was instrumental in developing a curiculum based on key aspects of the yuga cycle. He lives with his wife at Ananda Village, a spiritual community in Northern California.