In the seventeenth century Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) of the Church of England carefully worked out from data given in the Bible what he believed to be the precise date of the creation of the world by God. It was, he said, 4004 B.C. Adding the sixteen hundred or so years since the birth of Christ, he concluded that the earth was then under six thousand years old. We smile at the generations that accepted Ussher’s views because we now believe that the earth is billions of years old and that organic life may go back several billion years.
The First Civilizations
It may seem strange that our concepts of the distant past are changing much faster than our concepts of the periods closer to us in time. But when we consider the means by which we know about the past, we can quickly see that this is entirely natural.
Within the last fifty years, Archeology has revolutionized what we know about the remote past of our earth and the people who live on it. Discoveries continue at a rapid pace.
In the 1950s and 1960s no one could have made many of the major statements in this page. Soon enough, our successors will have learned enough that is new to dispute what we say here. Archeology is, at the cutting edge of what we know about our past.