Man is irrepressibly inquisitive, and about nothing is he more inquisitive than his own past. For millennia, his ability to probe the past in order to discover his own origins was restricted by lack of information. Apart from the physical evidence of earthworks and masonry which survived from earlier generations, he had to rely on the oral traditions passed on in his own kinship group, or upon the traditions of other groups with which he came in contact. Such traditions could be reliable guides to events within the previous two or three lifetimes, but beyond this time-barrier they merged into the legends of great heroes and the myths which poets and prophets had devised in an attempt to explain the mysteries of the past and of the natural world. In such folklore, the past was invariably foreshortened, the primeval act of creation itself being envisaged as within a short time-scale of human generations, and the great events of the past — and, in some cases, its heroes — were considered to be still active agents in present and future events. Even the physical evidence which was easily available was interpreted as proof of the existence of gods or Cyclopean beings whose magical powers exceeded those of contemporary human beings.
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