Stones and bones talk to us
On a thread on the ICC website, and other threads, L. Bird makes a fairly definite rejection of science; "stones don't talk to us", he says as part of his argument, an argument that I have a great deal of trouble in following. I can understand that a future, communist society, should we ever get there, would necessarily consign a great deal of our ignorance to the dustbin of history and open up untold, unknown parameters as it develops - I don't see communism as a static ideal where everything is voted on once and for all.
Marx saw science in its social function and was greatly nuanced about the question, never rejecting it out of hand but, on the contrary, using it as a tool. He saw it like the law, art and religion, as a superstructural element from the infrastructure each of which acted upon and affected elements of themselves, each other and the base. In the Communist Manifesto he was clear about the corrupting effect of capitalist society on science: "The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet and the scientist into wage labourers." Marx, like many revolutionaries working from their insight from proletarian methodology never rejected science and his work reflects it .We know this from Marx's various works about the relationship of humanity to nature, the Ethnological Notes and his profound approach to issues of ecology are fundamental to his thoughts and attitude towards both science and communism. Material only published a few years ago, as expounded by Martin Hundt, "The connection of the Mind and Nature: Marx's 1878 notebooks on geology", not yet translated into English I think, show that Marx was engaged in an extensive study of geology while writing Capital. He had hundreds of pages of notes, diagrams and statistical calculations that, in part, served to underline elements of geological formations with the economic formations of society. There have been frequent references about Marx being "diverted" from finishing Capital by branching off to investigate this or that phenomenon. But Capital was always going to be an unfinished symphony and Marx's "diversions" were part of his vital research as he realised the connection of everything to everything else and the effects that they can have on each other. In Capital itself there are many references to geology both directly and as analogies to the development of class society and capitalism. The stones talked to Marx, just like they will talk to anyone who will listen.
So we have the positive impact of, in this case, the science of geology, on the proletariat and its developing theory as well as the noxious effects that developments of science in capitalist society can have on humanity but the latter mustn't force us to reject the former. Like all superstructural developments the science of geology affects itself by its own movement as well as affecting other superstructural elements close to and far distant from it. One could cite the effect that geology had on evolution by confirming Darwin, Marx, etc. on the descent of life and humanity, as well as its later applications to astrophysics and sub-atomic physics.
The argument isn't really about stones but about what I consider to be a reactionary rejection of science, a real throwing out of the baby with the bathwater. But stones, because of their very nature, because of their prime position in the mediation of humanity and nature, have a great deal to do with the argument. And here we've also got to include bones and other body parts (Marx was also interested in physiology) because these calcified remains also present a scientific challenge and scientific information in themselves. From remains in Herto, Ethiopia we are now reasonably clear, if only until the next discovery, that Anatomically Modern Humans existed in Africa nearly 200,000 years ago (University of Utah), tens of thousands of years before previously thought. Dates are always being put back from the study of stones and bones, particularly as more efficient scientific methods of measurement are developed. Teeth from a recently discovered cave in China has shown that AMH reached Asia around a hundred thousand years ago (Nature, 14.10. 2015), tens of thousands of years before previously validated. And around twenty-thousand years earlier than previously thought, a re-examination of the Kakadu rock shelter, shows AMH living in Australia sixty-five thousand years ago. The site has sophisticated rock art depicting the myths and magic of that time. Because of the time-scale the discovery also further debunks the generally social darwinist idea, a real inversion of science applied by the bourgeoisie throughout the world, that the arrival of humans wiped out the Australian megafauna.
Stone and stones and their use are vital elements in the defence and success of our species. They tell us a great deal of that history, which for a large part was a developing form of primitive communism. Stretching from Clacton in Britain to Asia and Africa, the Acheulean hand-axe was the tool of choice. There were other adaptions, not least bamboo, but the Acheulean axe predominated and with labour became the central means of production. Hundreds of them have been found piled up unused but as worked tool they are versatile and reflecting its mediating role between nature and labour, it became a beautiful piece of art into its million-and-a-half years' existence. Stone, paint and carvings have a great deal to tell us about mankind's further development: there are the graphic stories and images painted on the cave walls of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe, Asia and Australia, With the stone and the images intertwining these elements to give access to the cosmos and the other worlds that were part of this society's daily life. Further along some millennia, we probably see one of the beginnings of agriculture in the stone temples of Gobleki Tepe, Nevali Cori, 'Ain Ghazal in west Asia where the carved stones in recreated man-made caves not only carry the carved narratives of the belief system but themselves appear like human figures. In the temples of 'Ain Ghazal there is compelling evidence of human sacrifice where ritual stone bowls have been used. Evidence of human sacrifice is often ambiguous, given that the disarticulation of bones of the dead was a ritual event in part celebrating the ancestors, but 'Ain Ghazal, like the fantastic stone structures of the emerging civilisations of South America connecting the earth to the sky, looks to have used it.
As a superstructural element belief systems, with remarkably similar concepts around the globe as evidenced by stone and on stone and also in the burying and use of particular stone in the great Neolithic "temples", acted as a cohering factor in society. I don't think that we can understand the line of thought and how that was applied in the Palaeolithic or even the Neolithic but the concept of the ancestors and the tiered cosmos spans both periods. As we enter the Neolithic and the enormous change towards class society, then no longer are animals carved on stone but geometric shapes based on and developed from universal mental concepts. Some stone has clear "special" qualities that are closely related to the spiritual world. Quartz, called "the semen of the Gods" by one South American tribe, was used extensively in European Neolithic buildings and further, ritual "decorations";; flint is closely related to the way in which it was mined (often, the hardest route to get to it was deliberately taken), showing its spiritual quality and the rituals involved in mining it point to a descent to a nether world where labour and spirituality were not separate and the world was multi-dimensional. The bluestones of Stonehenge and Avebury transported over miles point to a specific recognised quality.
If, as expressed by the stones, the belief systems depicted were a factor in the coherence of society, then we already see in the Upper Palaeolithic, strains and tensions emerging in cave art. By the Neolithic, in general, there are further developed antagonisms that are clearly expressed in the stories of the stones. One clear example, due to extensive research and scientific analysis, is the 5000 year-old megalithic structures of the Bend in the Boyne (Ireland), the Scottish islands and parts of the mainland, Anglesey (Wales) and Wiltshire (England). There are of course the megalithic structures right across Europe (particularly Brittany) and the Middle East but the "British Isles" structures show evidence of a new, related polity that is beginning to use the ubiquitous belief system(s) in order to develop its own distinctions, its place as a ruling elite and, very possibly, the beginnings of class society (in this area of the world at least). Old ancestor based systems expressed on stone carvings are defaced and anthromorphic, carved stones of the "old religion" are literally turned upside-down (sometimes making a comeback) emphasising a new order. Like the South American structures to the Gods, the ritual areas become more restrictive and open only to the few which, along with other developments, begin to manipulate belief systems to its own advantage..
These are just a few elements, of a few significant areas where stones talk to us. It's not crystal clear what they are saying and probably will never be given the specific level of the development of consciousness in those areas. But contrary to L. Bird and his rejection of science, stones do talk to us. And from the magic of the stones came the science of ceramics and metallurgy which represented further advances for humanity and further elements that reinforced the tendencies to class society.