2800 BP

If you are reading this it is likely that you have an inquiring mind and like to probe the world around you. If you were transported back 50,000 years you would no doubt experiment to find ways to make life more comfortable and secure. Of course you would not have the benefit of hindsight. Your understanding of the world would only extend to the knowledge of your tribe. Making new discoveries would as always depend upon clever people seeing possibilities or on happy accidents.

In trying to understand why things happened when they did, the key unknown is whether our brains, or maybe our culture, have evolved in subtle ways that explain the huge recent acceleration of development. Humans 50,000 years ago were already very clever, but developments since the start of metallurgy have far outstripped the previous 50,000 years.

The human brain appears to have two key capabilities, the ability to analyse how to creatively improve things you are doing and making, and how to communicate thoughts and ideas to others.

We presumably have always had these capabilities, since the evolution which kicked-off our rapid development 50 or 60 thousand years ago. There is no indication of a major brain evolution in the time since then, so the timescales in which development has happened must be explained by some other factors.

The most notable part of our development is the difference in how long periods of development have taken:
- 10,000 years, maybe 20,000 or so from the point of brain evolution to the artwork in the caves and settlements such as Dolni Vestonice
- another 20,000 years or so to the cities and constructions Graham Hancock has explored under the sea.
- 6000 years from Gobekli Tepe to the first smelting of copper.
- 3000 years to move through the bronze age to the start of the iron age.
- 2000 years to the start of the reformation and the explorations of the alchemists.
- 500 years to the start of the industrial age, with use of steel and machines.
- 150 years to the coming of electricity
- 100 years to the start of computers
- 50 years to the internet.

The overall size of the human population of Earth must have an impact, in that more people brings a greater variety of creative development. Communication must also matter, though that has not delayed dissemination of ideas very much. Trade was happening 40,000 years ago and obsidian became widely known and used. Farming ideas spread pretty rapidly once populations recovered after the younger dryas period. Knowledge of copper smelting and how to make bronze similarly spread fast, all at a time when the only method of communication was physical travel from one place to another.

So the interesting question is what delayed the discovery of copper for the first 50,000 years of modern humans. It seems that as soon as metals were known about rapid development has been pretty much unstoppable.

It could be that it required a chance development to make the original discovery of metals but it feels to me that a society capable of creating Gobekli Tepe, and possibly city civilisations before the Earth’s ice cover melted, would have discovered metals earlier, were there not some other factor inhibiting this.

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