In writing the
history of Ancient Man in Britain, it has been found necessary to investigate
the Continental evidence. When our early ancestors came from somewhere, they
brought something with them, including habits of life and habits of thought.
The story unfolded by British finds is but a part of a larger story; and if this
larger story is to be reconstructed, our investigations must extend even beyond
the continent of Europe. The data afforded by the "Red Man of
Paviland", who was buried with Crô-Magnon rites in a Welsh cave, not only
emphasize that Continental and North African cultural influences reached
Britain when the ice-cap was retreating in Northern Europe, but that from its
very beginnings the history of our civilization cannot be considered apart from
that of the early civilization of the world as a whole. The writer, however,
has not assumed in this connection that in all parts of the world man had of
necessity to pass through the same series of evolutionary stages of progress,
and that the beliefs, customs, crafts, arts, &c., of like character found
in different parts of the world were everywhere of spontaneous generation.
There were inventors and discoverers and explorers in ancient times as there
are at present, and many new contrivances were passed on from people to people.
The man who, for instance, first discovered how to "make fire" by
friction of fire-sticks was undoubtedly a great scientist and a benefactor of
his kind. It is shown that shipbuilding had a definite area of origin.
The "Red Man
of Paviland" also reveals to us minds pre-occupied with the problems of
life and death. It is evident that the corpse of the early explorer was smeared
with red earth and decorated with charms for very definite reasons. That the
people who thus interred xi their dead with ceremony were less intelligent than
the Ancient Egyptians who adopted the custom of mummification, or the Homeric
heroes who practised cremation, we have no justification for assuming.
At the very dawn
of British history, which begins when the earliest representatives of Modern
Man reached our native land, the influences of cultures which had origin in
distant areas of human activity came drifting northward to leave an impress
which does not appear to be yet wholly obliterated. We are the heirs of the
Ages in a profounder sense than has hitherto been supposed.
Egyptian mythology is of highly complex character, and cannot be considered apart from its racial and historical aspects. The Egyptians were, as a Hebrew prophet has declared, a "mingled people", and this view has been confirmed by recent ethnological research: "the process; of racial fusion begun in the Delta at the dawn of history", says Professor Elliot Smith, "spread through the whole land of Egypt". In localities the early Nilotic inhabitants accepted the religious beliefs of settlers, and fused these with their own. They also clung tenaciously to the crude and primitive tribal beliefs of their remote ancestors, and never abandoned an archaic conception even when they acquired new and more enlightened ideas; they accepted myths literally, and regarded with great sanctity ancient ceremonies and usages. They even showed a tendency to multiply rather than to reduce the number of their gods and goddesses, by symbolizing their attributes. As a result, we find it necessary to deal with a bewildering number of deities and a confused mass of beliefs, many of which are obscure and contradictory. But the average Egyptian was never dismayed by inconsistencies in religious matters: he seemed rather to be fascinated by them. There was, strictly speaking, no orthodox creed in Egypt; each provincial centre had its own distinctive theological system, and the religion of an individual appears to have depended mainly on his habits of life. "The Egyptian", as Professor Wiedemann has said, "never attempted to systematize his conceptions of the different divinities into a homogeneous religion. It is open to us to speak of the religious ideas of the Egyptians, but not of an Egyptian religion."Ê