Talk:Prehistory

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WP:BIASED racism through false classification based on OR and SYNTH[edit]

This is my first ever visit on this article. I arrived here after feeling discomfort when this largely uncited article was mentioned on the talkpage of another article to give legitimacy to the classification of history of indigenous people in a dubious manner. I do not belong to any indigenous or colonial culture, i.e. no WP:COI). As an independent third party, I felt pained for the new world cultures and was alarmed for the perpetuation/application of this classification to the new world cultures.

Numerous (unrelated to each other) editors have raised this issue above, here1, here2, here3, here4, here5, here6, here7, here8, here9, here10, here11, here12, here13, here14, here15. Most of these concerns were not even replied to. Wherever replied to, the concern has not been resolved sufficiently. Some of these similar concerns were raised here almost 10 years ago. The problem still persists. This article is also being used to introduce this systematically biased classification across large number of "indigenous history" articles on wikipedia. For these multiple reasons, I am struggling to assume the WP:GOODFAITH for such edits to this article.

It might all be totally unintentional. Application of such classification to non-old world cultures come across as the colonial bias or racism (WP:BIASED). The article has semantics and large uncited "key" claims based on original research and synthesis, specially pertaining to the definition of prehistory. Take for example, this uncited original research in the definition section,

"Human prehistory differs from history not only in terms of its chronology but in the way it deals with the activities of archaeological cultures rather than named nations or individuals. Restricted to material processes, remains and artifacts rather than written records, prehistory is anonymous."  

Next steps:"

  1. Please stop applying these classifications to the new world.
  2. Please add a section, that makes it clear in the article and in the lede itself that these must not be applied to the new world cultures (becomes too contentious, hence not worth the pain for the editors involved and the target cultures).
  3. Please remove the OR, synthesis and uncited text.

Thanks. 202.156.182.84 (talk) 10:59, 6 April 2018 (UTC)


As discussed elsewhere, the term "prehistory" is only in common or standard use for some parts of the world - essentially Eurasia. The article therefore concentrates on these, but too much from a European perspective. For example, the concepts of Paleolithic and Neolithic are useful and used in Chinese archaeology, but Mesolithic apparently far less so these days. All this needs to be explained better. But I don't think accounts of the history of areas where the term is rarely used by local archaeologists are needed here. Johnbod (talk) 12:57, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
I thank you for deepening our knowledge. I did not know this before. It immediately resolves the issue for me. I request you to please suggest a way to include a solution in the article so that this classification does not get applied to the new world cultures. If you have time, please go ahead and directly edit the article and lede. You have the better knowledge than me on this, so better be left to the expert. Thanks. 202.156.182.84 (talk) 14:36, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
The periodisation of prehistory varies between the Old World and the New, as it does across Eurasia (there is no Mesolithic in Southwest Asia either, for example, though it otherwise follows the classic Northern European scheme), but prehistory itself is a globally applicable term, referring to the entire period in the earth's past on which we have no written records.
Our coverage of prehistoric chronology in general is poor and Eurocentric, but @202.156.182.84: the fact that you were apparently hitherto ignorant of this whole field of study does not mean the field itself is flawed. We write articles based on reliable sources. Can you provide any that support the "rules" you are handing down to us above? – Joe (talk) 20:42, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
I probably overstated the case, but you yourself pointed out today that "I agree that describing the recent ancestors of living people as "prehistoric" is extremely problematic, regardless of whether it's technically correct" (at Talk:Prehistory_of_Australia). In theoretical contexts "prehistory" is of course entirely global, but it is none the less more useful and comfortable in Eurasia than other parts of the world. In the Americas it doesn't work well, as writing comes and goes etc, and has been very largely replaced by "Pre-Columbian" or "Preconquest". You must also have noticed that it has also been largely coopted by paleontologists and the like (most illogically - of course dinosaurs can't write!). You point to searches on "prehistoric Australia", but the top 3 gbooks I get are: "Prehistoric Mammals of Australia and New Guinea: One Hundred Million Years ..."; "PREHISTORIC AUSTRALIA includes more dinosaurs than you can poke a stick at, a full-colour comic strip, illustrations throughout, brainbuster puzzles, dinosaur quizzes, maps, amazing facts and more!"; "Prehistoric Australia: 4000 Million Years of Evolution in Australia". But down the page there are books on human prehistory. There "pre-contact" is also used, as for many islands, or even "pre-invasion". Perhaps there are other terms I don't know about. Johnbod (talk) 01:29, 7 April 2018 (UTC)
Compare those results to a search for "Australian Prehistory" or "Prehistory of Australia", though.
Of course there are other terms: Pre-Columbian, Preconquest, Predynastic, and so on. Some of these have their own problems: should indigenous history be defined in relation to when their colonisers arrived?
However I do still think you will find that prehistory is a general term that is used everywhere; the Americas probably less than anywhere else, because human prehistory there is so short, but they still do. People even talk about the Prehistory of New Zealand, which spans less than 1000 years. And Australia has one of the longest prehistoric sequences outside of Africa. It should be possible to {{globalise}} this article to reflect that. – Joe (talk) 08:29, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
The Americas also have a history/prehistory distinction, with historical records going back to the earliest Maya inscriptions in the 3rd century. ·maunus · snunɐɯ· 08:33, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
But then stopping again, greatly reducing the utility of a neat Prehistory/history scheme, which generally works pretty well in Eurasia, which was my point above. Which is one of the reasons why Pre-Columbian is the usual term. Johnbod (talk) 11:42, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
I don't actually think the distinction has ever been very neat anywhere, it also has its share of complications in Eurasia.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 12:40, 8 April 2018 (UTC)


Taking this back to what should be done with the article[edit]

Taking this back to what should be done with the article: at the moment we start with 2 general sections, but then the bulk of the article is taken up with long text accounts and timelines of the 3 ages. Until I started to add little globalizing bits this week, this was I think entirely Old World once the Paleolithic is passed, and with a heavy bias towards Europe & the Middle East. This is what the complaining editor here was talking about (and all the others in earlier posts here, which Joe has now archived although most are still relevant). This is clearly unacceptable, so what to do? The choices seem to be either a) write up the rest of the world at an equivalent level of coverage or b) move off most of the article to be a summary of EME/Old World prehistory, leaving very short global/regional summaries. Option a) seems well beyond the capacity of the current WP archaeological work force, given the dire quality of most big-topic articles, and would probably result in an over-long article. So some form of b) seems required. Thoughts? Johnbod (talk) 11:42, 8 April 2018 (UTC)

I am completely with you there. I looked through the article this morning, and came away wondering, what should this article be about? History doesn't set out to summarise the entirety of world history, for obvious reasons, yet this is essentially what this article is trying to do (badly). I think it would be better to refocus this article on prehistory as a concept and as a field of study, with, as you suggest, only very brief summaries of chronology and key topics in each region.
As a side note, I also completely agree that the quality of our overview articles in archaeology is dire. I don't think this is because we don't have good archaeology editors – we have many. But we tend to focus on more manageable topics, so you get the paradoxical situation that our coverage of relatively peripheral individual sites, periods, etc. is better than articles on core topics like this. Maybe this would be worth bringing up at WT:ARCHAEO. – Joe (talk) 12:15, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
This is entirely typical of WP, and known to some as Johnbod's Second Law! Imagine my surprise this morning to find we have an expert on the Epipaleolithic on hand - and an article on that which until 2 days ago had begun for ages by explaining that it was "the final period of the Upper Palaeolithic, occurring at the end of the last glacial period, and leading without interruption into the Mesolithic"! Johnbod (talk) 12:52, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
  • I think the article should basically be on the history and usage of the concept "prehistory" (including the controversies or challenges of applying it in contexts other than those for which it was developed), describing the age-models as part of this history - but not having them as topics in themselves which suggests that they part of some universally established notion of prehistory. I think the article could ideally be quite short - covering only the literature about prehistory as a concept, not prehistory as a period of time.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 12:40, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
Well, we all seem to be broadly agreed. Will anyone volunteer, and what should we do with the scrap text? Johnbod (talk) 12:49, 8 April 2018 (UTC)


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