Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/526

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ONE of the peculiar features of modern historical study is that it is to a very large extent dependent upon the examination of the monuments which the people of the past have left and the articles of use and ornament that are found among their ruins. When the nations constituting objects of research were civilized and had writing, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the information afforded by these relics is extremely valuable, and furnishes records of events and illustrations of the life of the peoples more definite and accurate than can be obtained from books. The accounts and pictures they bear were a part of the contemporary life, and have such a relation to written history as in the eye of law courts the evidence of the res gesta has to a minute made up after the event. With peoples who had not writing and arts, the relics give hardly any evidence respecting events, and only scanty and incoherent testimony of the conditions of their life. The further back we go in the investigation the less satisfactory does the knowledge imparted by them become. But they are all that we have by which to inform ourselves respecting the life of primitive man.

Relics of human life antedating all written monuments have been found in nearly all countries where the search has been carried on by excavation, and often occur superficially where they can be seen without particular search. The investigation of such relics has been made most systematically in the Scandinavian countries, and it was there that the division of prehistoric times into three periods was first made. Thus in Sweden the use of iron was universal in the ninth century A.D., and had been so for a long time. Investigation of the antiquities of the country has shown that previous to the Iron age there was another long time when iron was not known, and weapons and tools were made of bronze; and that before the beginning of the "Bronze age" the country had been inhabited by people who had not the use of metals, and were obliged to employ such materials as stone, horn, bone, and wood. This was the "Stone age." We can conceive, says the Rev. F. Woods, how incomplete is the evidence respecting the primitive life afforded by these relics of stone and bronze, by reflecting that while furniture, stuffs, and clothes made out of such perishable materials as wood, bone, leather, cloth, etc., formed incomparably the greater part of the belongings of the heathen Northmen, it is "only by an exceptional conjunction of specially favorable conditions" that such materials have been able to survive.