“I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow.” This inscription in Tutankhamun’s tomb summarizes The Fifth Beginning. Here, archaeologist Robert L. Kelly explains how the study of our cultural past can predict the future of humanity.
In an eminently readable style, Kelly identifies four key pivot points in the six-million-year history of human development: the emergence of technology, culture, agriculture, and the state. In each example, the author examines the long-term processes that resulted in a definitive, no-turning-back change for the organization of society. Kelly then looks ahead, giving us evidence for what he calls a fifth beginning, one that started about AD 1500. Some might call it “globalization,” but the author places it in its larger context: a five-thousand-year arms race, capitalism’s global reach, and the cultural effects of a worldwide communication network.
Kelly predicts that the emergent phenomena of this fifth beginning will include the end of war as a viable way to resolve disputes, the end of capitalism as we know it, the widespread shift toward world citizenship, and the rise of forms of cooperation that will end the near-sacred status of nation-states. It’s the end of life as we have known it. However, the author is cautiously optimistic: he dwells not on the coming chaos, but on humanity’s great potential.
About the Author
Robert L. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming. He is a past president of the Society for American Archaeology, current editor of American Antiquity, author of The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers, and coauthor of two popular textbooks, Archaeology and Archaeology: Down to Earth. He has conducted archaeological research throughout the western United States for more than forty years.
"This closely argued and beautifully written book is a brilliant statement as to why archaeology, and an archaeological perspective, are of central importance in today’s world. . . . It’s a cliché these days to remark that a book belongs on everyone’s bookshelves, but in this case it’s the truth. Everyone interested in the past and the future will find this a wonderful starting point for their thinking. Above all, it talks about archaeology in fluent and jargon-free language that will appeal to a very broad audience indeed. This isn’t a book about the romance of archaeology or spectacular discoveries. It’s, quite simply, the best essay on archaeology I’ve ever read. I hope it becomes a classic."
— Brian Fagan