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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Erasing the Past

Erasing the Past

Two news articles caught my interest last week. The first was about the discovery of a pair of lost cities in the Honduras jungle. The other was about ISIS bulldozing and smashing artifacts in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

  • One case of obsessed extremists deliberately attempting to erase a country’s history and cultural past.
  • One case that proves how easy it is for a country’s history and culture to disappear.


El Dorado MapIn the year 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Orellana undertook a journey down the Amazon River with a Dominican friar named Gaspar de Carvajal. Carvajal chronicled their expedition, reporting numerous advanced civilizations in the jungle all along the river. The banks of the Amazon were “thickly populated,” according to Carvajal. There were wide roads and marketplaces where one could buy bread, wine with a taste like beer, all manner of fruits and vegetables, and plates made of the finest porcelain he had ever seen. The friar wrote that the cities “glistened in white” against a backdrop of terraced farmland.

By the Victorian age of exploration, Carvajal’s account was written off as a fanciful fabrication. There were no cities in the Amazonian jungle and never had been. In fact, the jungle environment was incapable of sustaining any kind of population and certainly could never be farmed. History was re-written to discount any Amazonian civilizations. Female warriors (who supposedly put an arrow in Carvajal) and the Lost City of Z (or El Dorado, if you prefer) were reduced to legends and myths.

Then, in 2010, satellite technology discovered earthworks in the Amazon basin near the Brazil/Bolivian border. And now ruins of two ancient cities have been found by archeaologists in Honduras. (The latter would not have been along the path explored by Orellana and Carvajal, but it does support their claim that jungle-based cities existed.)

What does it take to erase history? Religious extremists with bulldozers and sledgehammers? Conquistadors? Aggressive jungle plant growth? The sacking of an ancient library? How about ordering specially-written revisionist history texts for school children?

What have we irretrievably lost? What might we lose in the future? They say anything you put on the internet will be around forever, but that pre-supposes access to (and the existence of) technology that can read electronic information. You might laugh at the idea that the human race could lose the technology we have. But there are blocks of stone in the ruins of ancient cities high in the Andes mountains that were carved with laser-like precision, structures that look like runways, and earthworks shaped like pictures that can only be viewed from the air.

Consider ISIS.

What if people like that have already re-written earth’s history? What if it can happen again?


14 Responses to Erasing the Past

  1. mshatch says:

    I love reading stories about lost cities found, and I’ll bet there’s many more waiting, buried in time. As for Isis and destroying artifacts from the past, all I can say is, what bunch of idiots. How galactically shortsighted and thoughtless. Why do people like this even have to exist?

  2. I’m fascinated by lost cities, lost stories, even lost houses. I love learning what life was life in different time periods. Not the historical facts, which aren’t always accurate depending on the teller. I mean the boring day to day stuff. What life was really like. The fact that there are people out there who willfully erase those lives and their lifestyles, horrifies me.

  3. It’s sad to see artifacts being destroyed. Just plain sad.

  4. Tiana Smith says:

    Have you read Janette Rallison’s Erasing Time? It has so many misunderstandings about our past because that technology is no longer available (like how the future people think we worship Santa Claus, etc.) It’s a fun read, I recommend it 🙂

  5. Robin says:

    We think history is set. Instead, it is fluid. It is written by whoever is left to survive it. It changes as latter survivors dictate. It is taught by whoever is in power and gives the message those folks want to impart. My mother said that Eisenhower insisted on pictures of The Holocaust, because without them no one would believe it in the future. That seems crazy, but is true. Even now, it’s being erased from text books and fictionalized. Since that happened less than 100 years ago, just imagine what happens to ANCIENT history. Lots of food for thought here. Just imagine what a person with an imagination could do with this stuffs!!!!

  6. Sia McKye says:

    For as small as the world has become there really are many places relatively unknown and unexplored. Abandoned places–simply forgotten by time and people.

    People think it would be hard for technology like the internet to go away but it’s just a matter of certain circumstances coming into play. Right now computers run the world but if they ceased to function, it wouldn’t take long for the world and life as we know it to shift backward. There would be places abandoned new place created.

    People tend to drift back to the land and carve out places to sustain life and it’s easier to take care of basic needs doing that. Life cycles would again change and shift around a simpler life but not necessarily a poor life as we tend to enrich life where ever we live. Don’t know that it would necessarily be a bad thing.

    I do think about what would happen if life as we know it today ceased to function. I know older people would be precious because they are the last generation who did things without technology. Their knowledge would be invaluable. I also think the first few generations without that technology would be focused on survivial (providing a roof over their heads, food, safety, medicines) and not particularly seeking their prior history. Any foraging out would be due to seeking things for survival. Who knows what would become hidden during the first 100 years. The earth would again be a vast place.

    One thing is for sure. The earth would have time to heal without all that technology although parts of it would take hundreds of years, or more, to do so.

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  7. Relying on the Internet to hold all of our valuable information is a setup for disaster.
    What we’ve lost. What about Atlantis? Was it real then?
    And a friend today posted a picture of him by a statue in Nimrud that is now no longer there thanks to ISIS.

  8. J E Oneil says:

    Yeah, the revisionist text books really don’t help. It’s not about preserving history. It’s about preserving the story we want people to know. But maybe the internet really is forever.

  9. It amazes me that there are still things like this to find. And, like you, it amazes me that places can be forgotten. Even what we’ve built might be lost in time.

  10. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – fascinating to read about the found cities – ISIS is dreadful and worse. We could lose our technology .. in fact they’re now re-creating the older technological products -so that we don’t lose things.

    With technology we’re still uncovering ancient sites here in the UK – rewriting history in the process … estimating/guessing it .. but certainly finding out new things.

    I won’t say more … thanks for the informative post and ideas – cheers Hilary

  11. Amymak says:

    SO important to keep journals – “history belongs to those who write it down.” If ISIS were in charge of history? That’s a horrific thought.

  12. Tonja Drecker says:

    I love forgotten history like this…and there are so many things it’s amazing! The idea of preserving anything on the internet (or only digital) is silly, and it’s sad when history is outright destroyed. I’m not sure we can remember or keep everything. Things do get lost or wiped out or forgotten. And other things are rediscovered or continue to develop. I guess that’s part of history too. A constant flux and change.

  13. I’m not sure what to say about this, only that it’s incredibly sad to consider how much we’ve lost, and even more so how much was deliberately destroyed or written out. I do think it’s up to everyone to preserve it, but there are so many people with extremist agendas out there who are trying to make the world be the way they think it should be. Gah. >_<

  14. Lots of good food for thought here, Dianne. There’s so much we don’t know about our planet’s past, so discoveries of those “lost” cities and artifacts aren’t just fascinating; they’re vitally important for providing additional pieces to our puzzle. That anyone would deliberately destroy magnificent monuments, structures, and artwork from ancient days is unfathomable. Such a horrifying waste.

    Maybe historians are going the way of journalists? “The facts” don’t seem to be as important as they once were.