- Exaggerating AntiquityBy P John Crowe
It has long been recognised that there has always been a desire within learned man to exaggerate the antiquity of their ancestry. As a Venetian scholar, Giambattista Vico (c1700AD) put it, 'This false opinion of their great antiquity was caused among the Egyptians by a property of the human mind -- that of being indefinite -- by which it is often led to believe that the things it does not know are vastly greater than in fact they are.' Evidence for man's interest in antiquity, and his innate desire to exaggerate it, can be traced back to the earliest legends and the first writings. For example, when the Babylonian king Nabonidus (c560), who was one of the first known antiquarians, found a foundation tablet of an ancient temple inscribed by Naram-Sin, the grandson of the great Sargon of Akkad, he wrote that it had lain there unseen for 3200 years. He was thus claiming that the first great Akkadian Empire started as early as 3600, as compared with today's estimates of nearer 2000BC. A century later the famous Greek historian Herodotus wrote that he was told Egyptian recorded history stretched back over 382 generations to some 11,000yr before his time. By our calendar that would be around 13,500BC, but Egyptologists today struggle to find writing which goes back much before 3000BC.
As we shall see, this desire to exaggerate antiquity has remained unabated over the intervening centuries. Before contrary evidence came to light, Nabonidus' date for the dynasty of Akkad was believed, and only a hundred years ago the British Museum, that bastion of the chronological establishment, was proudly displaying an Assyrian cuneiform tablet dated 4,500BC. This is over 2000yr earlier than is accepted today. At the end of the Victorian era, Petrie  was dating the first Egyptian dynasty to before 5000BC, as against c3000BC as we are told today. Even Woolley  in the 1930's was still using Nabonidus dates for the early Mesopotamian dynasties to show that these predated those of ancient Egypt.
The glamour of antiquity may be the reason for one of the key pieces of dogma that underpins the ancient chronologies of Egypt and Mesopotamia. This is the general assumption that all ancient king lists should be read as a sequential list of rulers who presided over the whole of their country. This assumption ignores the fact that we know in very early times kings often shared their inheritance equally with all their sons, so the country was subsequently ruled by many kings of small city states. It also ignores the real life problems of multiple 'queens', succession disputes, usurpers, and the need for co-regents when a king became too old, unwell, or unsuited to carry out his many duties. So to take an old 'king list' passed down to us by ancient historians without any knowledge as to the authenticity of the sources or accompanying explanatory notes, and assume the kings were all sole rulers over the whole country, is bound to make such civilisations appear much too old. Archaeology, when interpreted with eyes unclouded by such dogma, consistently fails to support these early dates. Sir Isaac Newton, in the recently published 'The Original of Monarchies'  gives a convincing explanation of how many ancient monarchies were formed, that one day may help us towards a more sensible interpretation of the ancient king lists of Egypt and Mesopotamia.