Ancient Peoples Could Probably See Blue, But Cognitive Archaeology is Still Awesome

According to Richard Carrier, the proud holder of a PhD in ancient history, the speculations that ancient peoples couldn’t see blue is nonsense.

He points out that descriptions of blue-eyed barbarians can be found in the memoirs of Julius Caesar, that not only did ancient Greek have words distinguishing blue from green but roots for those words can be found all the back in Proto Indo-European, that blue “cobalt” glass was a hot commodity for thousands of years, and that blue objects are frequently depicted in classical art.

This discussion, however, is a great excuse to introduce the phrase-of-the-day: “Cognitive Archaeology“.

Cognitive archaeology is exactly what it sounds like: a field which harnesses various branches of science along with linguistics and psychology to try and piece together the unique worldview of a group of people from whatever cultural fragments remain.

For the intellectually adventurous, the most extreme cognitive archaeology I’m aware of is to be found in Julian Jayne’s surreal volume “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind“. He posits that ancient peoples were not conscious in the way we are today, and then makes a surprisingly difficult-to-dismiss case for this thesis.

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