Vere Gordon Childe, 1930
Source: The Frazer Lecture, Liverpool, November 10, 1949. Published by Liverpool University Press, 1950
Transcription and mark-up: by Steve Painter
Representatives of the most diverse disciplines have been honoured by an invitation to deliver these lectures in order, I suppose, to demonstrate the vast range of sciences illumined and enriched by Sir James Frazer’s monumental work. To prehistory his most precious contribution has been perhaps to compel the archaeologist, preoccupied with the prosaic applications of practical science, to realise the pervasive influence of magic on the activity of primitive societies. Not only did his patient industry and stupendous erudition assemble an impressive body of facts, but his penetrating insight and comprehensive sympathy invested those facts with a lively relevance to the reanimation of archaeological fossils to document the story of preliterate humanity while his supreme artistry and urbane wit compelled the antiquaries’ attention.
After all the scientific study of the dumb relics and monuments left by nameless human groups should lead to history, though we may term the result prehistory. Now the late R.G. Collingwood asserted that a historian must “re-enact in his own mind the thoughts and motives of the agent”. Let me say at once that I do not believe that rethinking dead men’s thoughts is the business of the historian at all. I do not believe it really possible even with written documents to disclose the deceased’s avowed intentions. Without such clues it is plainly hopeless to try and recapture the precise emotions and hopes that inspired, for instance, the builders of Stonehenge. The historian, and even the prehistorian, of science might, however, seem to be better placed. The archaeologist can in fact recover in detail the exact processes of preliterate craftsmen, and of course technology is admittedly at least one root of science. We can in fact by observation and experiment discover fairly accurately every essential step in the manufacture of a Solutrean lance head, a neolithic pot or a bronze axe. In so doing we discover what the preliterate flint knapper, potter or coppersmith knew. We can very probably repeat his actual manipulations and movements. Indeed we might claim to be re-enacting in our own persons the agent's realised thoughts. The Golden Bough should shatter any such pretentions.
For the archaeologist who has learned its lesson knows that he cannot by those means conjure up again also the magical precautions and spells that accompanied those necessary and scientific operations of prehistoric craftsmanship which he can legitimately infer and successfully repeat. In imitating the Solutrean lance head, made say forty thousand years ago, he has treated his flint nodule as a piece of dead matter. But only four thousand years ago to a literate Sumerian flint possessed as it were a personality which was expressed precisely in its mode of fracture and which might be evoked by the appropriate address combined of course with the appropriate blow; after all the god Ninurta did address flint as a person and determined his fate. A fortiori should the far earlier Solutrean have confused his practical knowledge with mystical error, if the belief in the efficacy of magic were “the universal faith, the truly catholic creed” that Frazer has depicted.
Just on this very point the late Prof. Malinowski challenged Frazer's position. He asserts: “Science, magic and religion differ by subject matter, mental process, social organisation and pragmatic function. Science is embodied in technology, based on observation and contained in theoretical precepts and later in systems of knowledge; magic is a combination of ritual act and spoken spell ... Primitive humanity was aware of the scientific laws of natural process ... Magic appears in those phases of human action where knowledge fails man.”
It would be impertinent for an archaeologist to embark upon an ethnographic criticism of Malinowski’s criticism of Frazer. It is unnecessary, since it has been effectively done by Malinowski’s pupil and successor, Raymond Firth. But in so far as it concerns the history — and prehistory, of science, archaeology may be able to make some contribution to the debate. In that direction Frazer and Malinowski, and for that matter Collingwood, agree both in their conception of science and in conceding possession of such science to primitive humanity. All would be ready to include under “science” “those simple truths of which men in all ages possessed a store”. The relevant issue is narrowed down to Malinowski's assertion of a “clear-cut division between the well-known set of conditions coped with by knowledge and work” (he means, by science and its applications) and “the domain of unaccountable and adverse influences and fortunate coincidences” to which magic would be confined. For of course neither Frazer nor anyone else have pretended that any “primitive” ever tried to catch a fish or make a pot by simply sitting down and reciting spells or making symbolic gestures. The question is not whether magic was a substitute for the craftsman's technique but rather was it supplementary or only complementary to applied science.
Now when thus stated, it appears at once that Malinowski’s rigid distinction between magic and science involves much more than its author seems to have realised. Actually the whole conception of the evolution of human thought is imperilled. Frazer himself, I confess, made no explicit reference to this conception. Last century evolutionary anthropologists curiously failed to apply the idea of evolution to mental processes. Tylor, like Morgan, appealed to “the uniformity of the human mind” and postulated an universal reason obedient to an unique logic as confidently as Kant or Hegel. Hence the most illustrious of Tylor's heirs naturally presented magic as a coherent system, deduced by the application of this unique logic, however much distorted by a misconception of one of its categories. To him its practitioners were logical in the same sense as the scientists who study their behaviour.
That Levy-Bruhl denied; magic was the product of a “prelogical mentality”, conditioned by an inferior type of mind that did not work according to the rules that described all rational thinking. Durkheim on the contrary, while admitting that the logic behind magical practices differs from that formulated by Aristotle or Hegel and employs categories unrecognised by Kant or Mill, stoutly denied that such practices are therefore illogical or irrational. “The rules of logic, far from being graven from all eternity on the mental constitutions of men, depend upon factors that are historical and consequently social.” Magical practices illustrate a primitive sort of logic and “our logic was born of this primitive logic”. “The explanations of contemporary science do not differ in nature from those that satisfy primitive thought.” In short, habits of thinking have evolved just as much as the physiological structures of organisms or the sociological structures of human communities.
Now this conception, based rather on the practices of magic than on their mythological justifications or explanations, must go by the board if magic be always kept separate from “rational” activity to the extent Malinowski claimed. And incidentally his own convincing account of the origins of verbal magic in infantile experience could be impugned. For it would seem needful to argue that the elaboration of magic rites and multiplication of taboos, actually observed among illiterates today, do not perpetuate primeval practices or beliefs held over from the childhood of humanity, but are perverse innovations, accumulated by societies that have not only failed to evolve, but have on the contrary actually degenerated. Thereby the way would have been opened to a reinstatement of the Fail of Man, as advocated by the Kulturhistorische Schule, or to the fascists’ dogma of the racial inferiority of “natives”.
Thus viewed, the issue is transferred to the domain of history — or rather, since it concerns preliterate societies, of prehistory. Durkheim's account of the evolution of logic, just as much as Tylor's account of the evolution of religion or Morgan's of the evolution of the family, was based upon comparisons between contemporary societies. He is therefore, as much as any other evolutionist, open to the charge of illegitimately converting a logical scheme into a temporal sequence. There is indeed one line of ethnographic argument that would seem exempt from this charge. Archaeologists have at least established that technological progress, the accumulation of knowledge that can be applied in practice, is a historical temporal process. A series of technological stages is also a chronological sequence. Hence an hierarchy of societies, arranged in accordance with technological criteria, can plausibly be regarded as representing an historical succession.
Now in the history of the last five centuries it is patent that the domain of magic has contracted in proportion as the domain of applied science has expanded. That observation is of course a cogent argument in favour of Malinowski's theory of the complementarity of science and magic. But can our recent historical experience be generalised, using technological stages as a substitute for an historical scale? The answer must be in the negative. Metallurgy is notoriously accepted as the differentia of late stages in the technological-archaeological series. But among all illiterate societies today we find metals invested with mystical properties, metalworking accompanied by elaborate taboos and ceremonies, and metalworkers credited with magical powers. Again agriculture, which for the archaeologist distinguishes the New Stone Age from the Old, is universally associated with spells, magic rites and ceremonial taboos. In brief, as Thurnwald puts it: “It is above all in societies where skill in craftsmanship is highly developed that importance is attached to magical precautions and ceremonies.”
This conclusion is not so decisively unfavourable to complementarity as it might at first appear. In the first place the advance in the level of technical skill and multiplication of crafts is normally accompanied, or indeed effected, by increased specialisation. But it is plainly to a specialist’s advantage to make his craft as much a mystery as possible, to claim in addition to manual dexterity esoteric knowledge, to complicate craft lore with spells and taboos and to represent his skill as an innate virtue or mana. In reality, as the same author has remarked, in many illiterate societies the practice of a handicraft usually becomes the secret of a family or clan while the family's success is attributed not to acquired skill but to innate mana. (The latter attitude, by the way, is by no means confined to illiterates; how often have I heard an old lady describe her employee as a “born gardener”). Initiation to the secrets and the acquisition of mana, therefore, involves ceremonial adoption which may be as profitable to the clansmen as the exercise of their craft. Accordingly the observed multiplication of magical precautions and ceremonies with advance up the technological scale could after all be interpreted as a degenerative phenomenon, not necessarily shared by the historical societies that have advanced still further into literacy.
Nevertheless that multiplication is by no means confined to crafts that are in the hands of specialists. In addition to agriculture a very superficial examination of ethnographic literature discloses plenty of cases where the practice of common domestic crafts, like weaving, pottery-manufacture and soapboiling, involves the observance of magical precautions such as abstinence from food and sexual intercourse, while practical skill therein is confused with mystical mana.
Again, technological progress depends not only on an accumulation of useful knowledge, i.e., of science, but also on a multiplication of wants. There are more things an advanced society can do, just because there are more things it wants to do. Hence there is also more scope for magic in such a society. An absolute increase in magic might for this reason alone be expected to go hand in hand with the proliferation of crafts. Its demonstration is accordingly not decisive in determining whether magic were an original supplement to science or a degenerate substitute therefore or addition thereto. So, after all, it is left to the archaeologist to say whether or not magic be as old as science, in other words whether or not magic and science start together, inextricably comingled, as Durkheim's thesis implies. For it is only the archaeologist who can actually observe the actual forerunners and ancestors of civilised societies.
Of course an adherent of the complementarity view could so define magic as to put the archaeologist out of court from the start. Confine the term to those activities in which the practitioner claims to be utilising forces different in kind from those recognised as normal and necessary in everyday life — by the common sense of his society. Then the prehistoric archaeologist will be silenced, as motives and beliefs lie outside his purview. But in practice such a subjective criterion is hard to apply even in ethnography, or, for that matter, in a study of English coal-miners or medical practitioners. For instance, Mr. T.E. Williams who himself studied under Malinowski and who confesses a predilection for psychological interpretations, finds the borderline between magic and common sense (i.e. science) elusive. The “medicines”, wen, administered to their gardens by his Keraki can have only a magical utility. “Yet it may be,” he writes, “that in native estimation their use is almost as much a matter of common sense as, say, erecting a pole to support the yam vine.” Such an ambiguous criterion has plainly no part in a scientific definition. It is safer to follow behaviourist lines and to rely on the overt act rather than its alleged motive. Frazer has amply illustrated the appropriate behaviour patterns. So, whenever we observe people systematically performing acts that in the light of modern knowledge have proved futile and irrelevant to their manifest purpose but which conform to the pattern he has defined, let us frankly call them magical.
Some of these acts should have left traces on the archaeological record. So this definition gives the prehistorian a status in the case. But do not expect too much of him. Too many of the most characteristic manifestations of magic are of a kind that could not be detected archaeologically. A spell, merely uttered, is irrevocably lost. A waxen image, once melted, is no longer recognisable. No doubt we have cellars crammed full of ritual objects and long lists of monuments labelled “ritual”. Too often the label is attached merely to things the classifier failed to understand, things for which you and I can discern no practical use. Others, more legitimately labelled, like stone circles and barrows, may belong rather to the domain of religion than of magic in Frazer's sense. There remains a limited class of archaeological phenomena that seem properly to fall within his definition. An ennumeration of these would be tedious and irrelevant. I shall select a few to document two points — that some sort of magical practices are traceable back as far as the archaeological record is coherent at all and secondly that such were, at least very early, associated with perfectly rational and efficient craft activities.
Cannibalism may be used to illustrate the first point. From the evidence of ethnography and comparative zoology it appears that this practice was indulged in from superstitious rather than economic motives; it was not hunger, but superstition that impelled men to eat one another, but on a priori grounds and on the testimony of recent examples the superstition was more akin to magic than religion. Now Weidenreich has argued very cogently that the very earliest hominids whose homelife and diet are known to us, the Sinanthropus population of Choukou-tien were, though not yet fully human, already cannibals. Bones of Sinanthropus from the cave had certainly been split for the extraction of marrow and otherwise treated just like those of other beasts that Sinanthropus is supposed to have devoured as his normal diet. Skulls were split as headhunters split them today to reach the brain. Yet the evidence is confessedly inconclusive; the bones might have been split and crunched by other carnivores.
A couple of hundred thousand years later there is much better evidence. And after all it is old enough — about a hundred thousand years according to Zeuner — and again refers to creatures who, if more human than Sinanthropus, were still not Wise Men — I mean to Neandertal men. In a small cave, the Grotta Guattari, in Monte Circeo near Rome A.C. Blanc found a Neandertal skull. It lay alone in the centre of the floor of an inner chamber and was surrounded by small boulders arranged to form an oval. A fracture on the right parietal shows that its owner had been dispatched by a deliberate blow with a weapon. The base of the skull had been equally deliberately cut away in just the manner approved by Dayak, Melanesian and other headhunters for the extraction of the brain. Besides the skull, the mandible of a different individual and other animals’ bones were scattered about the floor of the cave. Blanc’s careful observation surely justifies his conclusion: the adult Neandertaler had been sbughtered, his skull detached, the brain extracted and eaten and the empty case then ceremonially deposited in the cave. Hence as soon as the archaeological record begins to throw any light at all on the spiritual life of man — the earliest ceremonial burials belong to the same chronological horizon — it shows him practicing magic or at least it discloses behaviour that today would be attributed to magical superstitions.
Only a few miliennia later, more positive evidence shows magic practiced in direct connection with the chief activity of practical life. The first modern men known in western Europe — the Aurignacians, Gravettians and Magdalenians — were most successful hunters and fishers. Their science sufficed to teach them the habits of the game and the manufacture of efficient devices — spear-throwers, bows, darts, gorges, harpoons — for converting the game into meat. Yet these highly skilled and competent hunters retired into the dark recesses of limestone caverns, many hundreds of yards from the light of day, to cover the rocky walls and ceilings with most accurate representations of animals. Most of these pictures, you know, are found far away from the habitations of the artists. They are often so situated that, to execute them, the artist must have stood on a comrade’s shoulders or maintained himself in some unnatural and awkward position. They can have been barely visible with the illuminants then available, and in fact several pictures are often superimposed one over the other on the same surface. At the same time trial pieces, scratched on loose slabs of stone, reveal how carefully the artists had practised before executing their masterpieces. Most prehistorians have long been convinced that these cave drawings are documents of hunters’ magic, whether to promote the fertility of nature or to ensure success in the chase. No other plausible reason has been adduced to explain why men should worm their way so far undergound to execute with such care and pains designs that no one could ever properly see.
More recently discovered documents of cave art are more explicit still. In addition to paintings and engravings clay models of animals have been found in some caves. One remote gallery at Montespan, for instance, contained life-size models of bears. There are reasons for believing that an actual bear’s skull had been affixed to the model and the whole covered with a bear's skin. In any case the clay is literally covered with gashes, evidently deliberately inflicted on the model. Indeed the studious observer can confidently reconstruct a veritable scene of envoutement, that classic operation of homeopathic magic. The happy chance of its conservation leaves no reasonable doubt that our pleistocene ancestors, 20,000 years ago, though certainly possessing both the knowledge and equipment requisite to ensure success in the chase, yet felt it necessary and possible to supplement these material forces of production by distinctively magical rites. Thus not only can magic practices be traced back to the Old Stone Age, but they were then employed not to compass ends that existing technology was incapable of attaining, but to supplement perfectly efficient practical techniques. Despite its solid core of science based on pooled experience, Magdalenian hunting lore must have been as saturated with magic as that of illiterate hunters today.
So science and magic were already confused by pleistocene savages, or, since we are unlikely to get earlier evidence, may we not say that they were not yet distinguished? Franco-Cantabrian art illustrates a behaviour pattern that is a perfectly rational corollary to an incohate and unformulated philosophy that regards Nature as coterminous with Society and centred round the latter as deduced by Durkheim from ethnographic evidence and inferred by Piaget from the interrogation of young children. Archaeology does not supply such direct and early proof of the infusion of magic into the sciences whose application differentiates the New Stone Age from the Old — I mean the agricultural lore of neolithic peasantry. But it can safely be deduced from the earliest written records and from universal practices of contemporary peasantries, literate and illiterate alike. Hence it will suffice just to mention in passing one piece of evidence that has been recently recognised and that is quite free from any taint of' “religion”. In some early neolithic lake-villages, excavated in Switzerland during the last decade, there have come to light, generally near the presumed doors of houses, rounded pebbles carefully wrapped in birch bark. Now to this day the Bundi, a tribe of neolithic cultivators living round the Bismarck Mountains in New Guinea, wrap up pebbles in bark and bury them in their gardens to ensure the fertility of the crops. Presumably before 2000BC the earliest farmers of Switzerland, for all their well-attested command of an effective agricultural tecnhique, felt bound to supplement this practical science by a magic rite that survives among the backward barbarians in the 20th century AD.
But formerly archaeologists used the ground stone axe or celt as the differentia of the New Stone Age. Undoubtedly this instrument did enormously extend men’s mastery over their environment and contribute substantially to the spread of the new economy. The invention was a very practical application of science, and the axe was used successfully and rationally by peasants and craftsmen. Yet we happen to know that it was then invested with magical properties. For miniature axes were specially made and perforated for wearing as amulets.
Now amulets are confessedly worn for magical ends, and their materials and shapes are dictated by the Frazerian laws of sympathy and contagion. Material, colour or shape invested the amulet with magic virtue or mana, which is just as magically communicated to the wearer. The teeth of animals and shells, including cowries, were already pierced and strung on necklaces by palaeolithic hunters. Amber too, highly prized in neolithic and later times rather for its magical electric property of attracting light objects when rubbed than for any aesthetic reason, was collected by northern savages before the end of the palaeolithic age. Quite early in neolithic times the new craft tool that had proved its practical worth in tree-felling, architecture and boat building was added to the strings of charms that owed their supposed efficacy to material rather than function. Axe amulets — miniature celts perforated for suspension — occur already at Merimde, one of the earliest neolithic sites in Egypt and then in Cyprus, Crete, Malta, the western Mediterranean and France always still in neolithic contexts.
Surely the use of a miniature tool for a magical purpose means that the real tool itself was credited with magical potencies. The power of cleaving wood, conferred on the stone by the grinder’s skill, must have appeared at the same time as an inherent virtue evoked by the friction. If so, the manufacture of an axe would have been not only a practical application of science, but at the same time a performance of magical ritual. The use of this magical tool should likewise have had a ritual aspect without in the least detracting from its real efficacy. There are thus some positive grounds for suspecting that the craft lore of Egyptian carpenters, six thousand years ago, comprised as much magic as that of Polynesian wood-carvers last century! In any case five or six thousand years ago the axe — a tool made by the application of science and employed for perfectly rational ends — was at the same time regarded as magical and used for superstitious purposes. Does not that indicate just the confusion of science and magic that has been denied as a primitive trait?
As early as four thousand years ago a literary text affords some confirmation for the foregoing interpretation of the axeamulets. A cognate tool — a shaft-hole adze or hoe — was popular as an amulet among the Sumerians and Babylonians. The actual tool was made of copper and is well known from Sumerian graves; the amulet was a miniature copy, generally made of fayence, and is found with other amulets in graves. Now a Sumerian poem is extant which extolls the implement’s divine origin and virtues. It had been created by Enki for the building of temples and other more profane works of civilisation and for the destruction of those who rebelled against the gods’ will. Doubtless the interpolation of a divine creator is a late fruit of speculation; “divine” is a sophisticated explanation of “magical”. The relevance of the poem is simply this: the tool’s “divine” properties in no wise impeded its rational use in practical life, and at the same time its virtues did not depend upon its being the symbol of some deity. If some artifacts were accepted as divine symbols and thus acquired virtue at second hand, that is never suggested of our pick-axe. On the contrary its divine virtue is defined precisely as its practical use.
Let us pass over other archaeological indications of the intrusion of magic into the crafts ’ for instance of flint-mining and medicine ’ during the stone age. For the last amulet has brought us to the epoch when written documents first begin to supplement dumb archaeological relics and disclose not only practices that archaeology alone would be powerless to discover but also yield some insight into the motives and beliefs inspiring them. But remember, these are the practices not of retarded tribes who have perhaps been sinking for centuries down blind alleys of cultural degeneration, but of the most civilised peoples of their day; indeed they were our direct cultural ancestors who have bequeathed to us the practical techniques and laid the bases of the pure sciences — mathematics and astronomy — that we have merely elaborated.
Of course the general role of magical beliefs and rites among the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians and even among the Greeks and Romans is now universally familiar. But among the welter of magical spells and prescriptions in the cuneiform scripts few illustrate the role of magic in the practical crafts for the very good reason that hardly any texts refer to craftsmanship at all; artisans were in fact normally illiterate in the Orient. Nevertheless several mutilated tablets from Ashurbanipal’s library deal with the manufacture of glazes or rather perhaps with what we should call synthetic gems. Apparently the content is perfectly good chemistry; a similar prescription has been recently applied with satisfactory results. But this genuine science is mixed up with magical ceremonies and precautions. Meissner’s version includes the following directions:
“When you intend to lay the foundation for the furnace for the (?stone), you should (?choose) an auspicious day in an auspicious month. While one ... the furnace and you are making it, (?count up) the foetus — no stranger must enter nor any unclean thing — and continually pour libations before them ... When you (?lay) stone in the furnace, make offerings before the foetus, set up a censor with cypress, (?pour) intoxicating liquor, light a fire under the furnace ... The wood that is to be kindled under the furnace is thick mulberry ... cut in the month of Ab ...”
The word translated foetus is admittedly obscure and may after all have meant something more prosaic. But the prescription of dates for building the furnace, of the kind of fuel and even of the month in which it must be cut are typically magical.
I cannot leave the ancient literate peoples without citing one example from classical Greece and that from a craft in which the Greeks excelled. On a potter’s kiln, depicted on a black-figured vase of the 6th century, a satyr's mask is affixed. An archaeologist by himself could guess that this was not just an ornament but had a magic function. Luckily a late text confirms the suspicion. Pollux tells us that coppersmiths’ furnaces too were similarly equipped and adds “επι φθσνμο αποτροπη”.
Accordingly, as far as the archaeological evidence goes, magical practices are as old as Homo sapiens or even older, magical procedures were habitually invoked to supplement the conspicuously efficient skill and material equipment of the earliest hunters whose lives are really known to us, craft tools were invested with magical power in the New Stone Age when competent flint miners resorted to magical rites and surgeons acted on the familiar magical theory of disease, and the oldest relevant documents left by our cultural ancestors show the applications of science in craftsmanship hedged about with magical precautions. In other words the available archaeological evidence, exiguous though it inevitably be, suffices to indicate that a belief in magic has been an “universal faith” in a temporal, as well as a spatial, sense. There is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that it was a cancerous growth that at a late stage and among constitutionally inferior races obstructed the natural current of rational science.
Accordingly the prehistorian of science must renounce any pretension of re-enacting in his own mind the thoughts and motives of its preliterate pioneers; for the precise rites, spells and taboos that accompanied their successful activities cannot be revived. There is at any time a finite “and generally quite modest ” number of ways of attaining any attainable result. The number of imaginable ways of attaining the unattainable, is literally infinite. There are for instance some forty or fifty known knots that will not come untied; the multitude of spells and precautions that would prevent anyhody being able to untie those knots is boundless. The chances that you or I shall hit upon just those that were employed by any group of sailors four thousand years ago are therefore minimal!
But if the prehistorian of science may still, as I contend, claim to be an historian, the conclusions reached will be more positive. In the first place the progress of science in the last four centuries has notoriously been not a simple accumulation of fresh knowledge. On the contrary every major addition to knowledge has involved at the same time the negation of some erroneous belief that had previously passed for science. The expurgation of phlogiston from the chemistry books was no less important than the inclusion of oxygen. In the light of the foregoing discussion this dual aspect of progress appears no novelty. Presumably every achievement of technology was followed by some abatement of superstitious accessories; undoubtedly the conversion of craft-lore into true science involved the former’s purification from magic.
Secondly the practice of magic is the outcome and expression of a distinctive pattern of thought or logic. Our preliterate precursors were thinking thoughts that we cannot recapture not so much because they would be expressed in an untranslateable language, in syscan reconstruct the sort of thought pattern into which they would fit thanks to Frazer's collection of illustrative examples. That pattern of thought, that unformulated logic, is contrasted with that implicit in modern science and employs divergent categories. Now magic practices were combined with technical operations even in prehistoric times, and craft-lore had to be purified of magical prescriptions to become science in the full sense. But that purification required also a total transposition of the thought-pattern. Technical and scientific progress meant a development in logic too.
But the progress of science pure and applied meant not only acquisition of fresh skills and accumulation of new truths, but also the correction of errors — purification from magic in fact. So the corresponding development of logic must have involved not only the emergence of new categories and the recognition of new “laws of thought”, but also the transcendance of old categories and the amendment of habits of thinking. In other words, the prehistory of sciences would reveal, not a linear addition, but a dialectic comprising the negation of error just as much as the achievement of truth. But the suggested process would not have been the Hegelian dialectic in which a contradiction within theoretical thinking generated a higher category to reconcile the opposition. On the contrary the generative contradiction would be that between theory and practice, between the reflective thought of cloistered priests or philosophers and the successful activities of farmers, craftsmen and experimentalists.
I might document the argument by showing how today logic is being changed to accommodate an accumulation of emprical data while experimental practice is modifying such categories as space, time and causality. That would take me too far from archaeology and from Frazer. Archaeology’s contribution is to suggest that this process is as old as thought itself. But it could only do that as a result of Frazer's achievement in a very different field.
1. The idea of history, Oxford, 1946, 215
2. S. Geller, “Die sumer-assyrische Serie Lugal-e ud me-lam-bi nir-gal” (Altoriental. Text herausgeben von B. Meissner, I) Leiden, 1917, 308ff. For the interpretation here adopted see Jacobsen in Frankfort, Before Philosophy, London, 1949, p. 143.
3. The Magic Art, 1922, p. 235
4. “Sir James Frazer, a biographical appreciation”, in A Scientific Theory of Culture, (1944), pp. 201, 196, 198.
5. e.g. in Primitive Polynesian Economies, 1939, pp. 89ff., 169ff
6. Frazer, The Magic Art; cf. Malinowski, in Needham, Magic, Science and Religion, 1925, p. 35 “If by Science be understood a body of rules and conceptions, based on experience and derived from it by logical inference, embodied in material achievements and carried on by some sort of social organisation — then even the lowest savages have the beginnings of science.”; and Collingwood, The New Leviathan, Oxford, 1939, 36, 32: “The sort of natural science which is inseparable from an intelligent exploitation of the natural world, means watching, and remembering and handing down from father to son things which it is useful to know ...”
7. In Needham, op. cit., p. 31
8. Les Fonctions mentales dans les societes inferieures, 192I
9. Elementary Forms of Religious Life, pp. 13, 238
10. Malinowski, Coral Gardens and their Magic, II, 63.
11. The Indian evidence with much comparative material from ethnography and folklore has been recently collected by Elwin, The Agaria, Calcutta, 1942, 130-169
12. Economics in Primitive Communities, Oxford, 1932, p. 3.
13. ibid., p. 134
14. e.g., ibid, pp. 71, 133 — weaving in Polynesia; potting and soap-boiling among the Ewe in Africa; it would be easy to multiply examples
15. The Papuans of the Trans-Fly, 1936, p. 315
16. Weidenreich, “Did Sinanthropus Practice Cannibalism?” Bull, Geological Society of China, Peiping XIX, 1939, 49-63
17. “I Paleantropi di Saccopastore e del Circeo”, Quartar, IV, 1942, 11-13
18. Begouen in Antiquity , III, 1929, 5-19. Trombe and Dubuc, “Le Centre prehistorique de Ganties-Montespan” Archives de l' Institut de Paleontologie humaine, Memoire 22, 1947
19. La Representation du monde chez l'enfant, Paris, 1947
20. Jahresbericht der schweiz. Gesell. f Urgeschichite, 1944, 124ff
21. Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East, 1937, p. 61 (Merimde, Egypt); Dawn of European Civilisation, 1947, 17 (Crete), 229 (Sicily), 248 (Malta), 253 (Sardinia), 267 (Spain), 303 (Seine basin), 309 (Brittany); Dikaios in Report of Dept. of Antiquities, Cyprus, 1936, part 1, p.54 (Erimi). The use of this amulet was not universal and is not attested at least in a neolithic context in Hither Asia or the Balkan peninsula.
22. Cf. Beck in Archaeologia, 77, p.31 (his type XXVIII,B,2); I know no specimen reliably dated before 2000BC.
23. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Mem. XXI, American Philosophical Society, Ann Arbor, 1944), pp. 51-3
24. Iraq, x (1942), 26-33; cf. ib. (III, 87-96 for the full text
25. Babylonien und Assyrien, II, 1924, 383-4
26. Richter, The Craft of Athenian Pottery, 1923, 65, 95-69
27. Onomastikon, VII, 108
28. A.L. Armstrong described to the British Association in 1939 how a lump of chalk resembling an obese female statuette and a chalk phallos had been set up in one gallery at Grime's Graves.
29. This is a fair deduction from the excessive number of cases of trephining; far more neolithic skulls from France had been submitted to this operation than could be accounted for by the normal incidence of injuries that would benefit by the treatment.