BBC Two is currently running a series of programmes on History. Last night kicked off with the first episode of a series called Ancient Worlds, fronted by historian and archaeologist Richard Miles. I thought it was very good. Here’s a Guardian article about Miles and the programme.
I was struck by Miles’ statement in the programme that this was not a story of long-dead civilisations, but that this was “the story of us, then” – his point being that despite living 6,000 years ago, the people were recognisably just like us. He illustrated this by reading a letter (incised on a clay tablet) from a merchant’s wife to her husband, who was working away from home in a city. She was bemoaning the fact that he never sent her enough money to cover her expenses in running the house, and their neighbour had just had a new house built for his wife; why wouldn’t he do that for her?
As I’ve mentioned before, our operating system is still at Homo sapiens version 1.0, despite our strides in technology, so Miles has a point, I believe.
In watching the programme and listening to Miles, I was also reminded of the atmosphere of Samuel R. Delany’s Return to Nevèrÿon series of books. Tales that seem to be set in an ancient civilisation (or possibly in the far future, where much of technology has been once again lost), yet which deal with human themes immediately recognisable to us today. I must reread them again.