Ms. Geek Speaks: What Does the Word Ancient Mean?

What is ancient?  You can call people of your grandparents’ generation ancient. You might say the cellphone you had two years ago or your first computer ancient. When you refer to a country or a culture and its history just what does it mean?

According to Merriam Webster, ancient is:

1: having had an existence of many years
2: of or relating to a remote period, to a time early in history, or to those living in such a period or time; especially : of or relating to the historical period beginning with the earliest known civilizations and extending to the fall of the western Roman Empire in a.d. 476
3: having the qualities of age or long existence: as
a : venerable
b : old-fashioned, antique

Further, ancient history is:

1:  the history of ancient times

2:  knowledge or information that is widespread and has lost its initial freshness or importance :  common knowledge

According to the website Brittanica, Ancient Britain is before the Neolithic Period. Before the time when the large stone circles (henges) appeared, the most famous of which is now known as Stonehenge. This would also be before the Roman invasions in 43 CE. as well as the building of Hadrian‘s Wall (c. 120 CE) and the Antonine Wall (142 -155 CE).

More is actually known about Ancient Japan than Ancient Britain and historically, Ancient Japan is divided into three periods: Jōmon (14,000 BC to 300 BC), Yayoi 300 BC to 300 AD and Kofun (250 to 538 AD).

Listening and reading about “Kubo and the Two Strings,” I realized that Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece do not necessarily mean the same thing as Ancient Japan or Ancient Islam.

Consider the article about cupping on BigThink.com, “Behind Olympic Cupping, a Story Rooted in Ancient Religions” (10 August 2016). The story mentions Traditional Chinese Medicine, Egyptians and Islam. “Yet turning back to millennium-old hadith or a system that believes tiger penis offers aphrodisiac powers with no consistent evidence is equally boggling.”

TCM isn’t a religious system. The ancient Egyptians weren’t Muslim. Muhammad was born 570 CE. The practice was also found in Greece and Persia and was mentioned by the Greek physician Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC). The practice predates Islam and Christianity.

Similarly, an article about a library in Techly.com.au states, “Dating all the way back to 859, the oldest library in continuous use was in fact opened by a woman – which flies in the face of conventional understandings of the contribution of women to ancient Islam.” This was part of the founding of the first university by Fatima Al-Fihri.

By that time, Christianity was over eight centuries old. In China, the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was nearly its end. The first university in England (Oxford) would not be founded until sometime before 1167.

Japan was in the Heian Period (794-1185). During this time, a woman wrote the world’s first novel, “Genji Monogatari” (Tale of Genji).

A druid from ancient England, refers to a period before Christianity became the dominant religion. The Celtic pagan religion that was suppressed and banned by the Romans. The Iron Age  in Ancient England which is still prehistory and ends when writing begins.

That’s an Ancient England that was visited by Jesus Christ  in “The song, whose words are by mystical 18th-century poet William Blake, vows to transform a country of “dark satanic mills” into a “green and pleasant land” like the ancient England that, legend says, was once visited by Jesus Christ.” This ancient England would be several hundred years before the ancient Islam period of Fatima Al-Fihri.

Buddha, however, lived before Christ, born 563 or 480 B.C. and dying about 483 or 400 B.C. Buddhism came to Japan in 552 A.D. according to the “Nihon Shoki.”

If one was speaking about Ancient or Archaic Greece, that would be the time period between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.  That would correspond with the Jōmon period (14,000-300 B.C.) in Japan.

According to the production notes, in “Kubo and the Two Strings,” Heian Period (794 to 1185) and Tokugawa Period (1603-1868) dress were used as reference. That might seem goth or steampunk-ish if the animated feature had been set in England since Tokugawa encompasses both the end of Elizabethan (1558–1603) and part of Victorian period (1837–1901). Heian Period coincides with invasion by Norman the Conqueror in England (1066).

Hokusai lived from 1760 to 1849 and was a painter and woodblock printer of the Edo period as was Hiroshige (1797-1858).  To put this in perspective, Queen Victoria’s father, King George III was born in 1738. Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and died in 1901. Hiroshige and Hokusai died before the United States entered the Civil War (1860-1865). The Edo period was from 1603 to 1868, and began the same year that Queen Elizabeth I of England died (24 March) and ended the same year the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution and Ulysses S. Grant won the presidential election.

Yet going back to the dictionary, let’s consider that what is ancient is what is common knowledge. And what is common knowledge is often governed by ethnocentric education. Knowledge of non-European countries or non-Christian cultures isn’t common. For that reason, in some cases,  ignorance dictates what one calls “ancient” and chronological order does not.

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One comment

  1. Interesting how history is international and touches many parts of the world, in general. Normally, when I think of history in regards to internationalism, I think of the modern era. But it’s always been international, to an extent.

    Like

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