The Antiquity of Man, Part 3

Posted: April 12, 2009 in Archaeology

The Three Ages of Man


We are often treated by Darwinists to sneering accounts of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Archbishop James Ussher.  Wilberforce may have been guilty of a facetious quip about ancestry at the British Association meeting, and opened himself up to Huxley’s innuendo, but aside from the impolite quip, his argument against Darwinism was based on scholarly grounds.  What convinced many of Darwinism was not Huxley’s retort to Wilberforce, which was hardly heard, but Joseph Hooker’s arguments on behalf of Darwinism.[1]


Ussher is vilified for dating the age of the earth to 4004 BC.   Here is what he wrote:


“The beginning of time, according to our chronology, happened at the start of the evening preceding the 23rd day of October (on the Julian calendar), 4004 BC….”[2]


Now, Ussher was a learned scholar, and used several sources for his conclusions, the Bible’s record of the passing of years, Chaldean history, the astronomical canon, and astronomical tables.  Most of his book is actually a record of secular history.  He was adopting Joseph Scaliger’s approach, who first expanded the writing of ancient history to include more than just the Greek or Roman periods, but also Jewish, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian history.  In no way could Ussher be described as an ignorant and narrow prelate, but was in fact liberal (in the good sense) for his time.  In fact, despite political differences, he was esteemed by both King James I and by Oliver Cromwell, no small accomplishment.


Ussher’s date for creation was not uncommon, and similar dates were given by Lightfoot, Scaliger, and Kepler.  Darwinists are picking up on the overly precise nature of Ussher’s date, so that by ridiculing it, they can also ridicule Christians.  Our view is that Ussher should not have attempted such precision, and should also have recognized the possibility of textual loss, meaning that more years may have passed than was calculated under his chronology.  But biblical chronology cannot be stretched too far, and for those who still believe the Bible, creation cannot have been too far removed from Ussher’s date.  The same could be said for the Flood.


Ussher’s book on history also followed the traditional “six ages” division of history, adopted since St. Augustine’s day.  It would seem at first glance that this is a stage theory of history, whereby man progresses through different stages or ages.  This concept of stages in history has certainly been abused (e.g., Hegel, Marx, and others).  Nevertheless, Reformed philosopher Cornelius Van Til points out that Christian theism does not necessarily reject stage theories of history.  What is rejected is the evolutionary conception in which “men think they can find the origin of religion in history.”[3]  Man is seen as gradually, over time, evolving into a moral or religious being, moving up from primitive stages into more advanced (superior) stages.  Van Til describes the consequences of this view: “And what is true of religion in particular is true of all the intellectual categories of man in general.  The idea that there is an absolute truth has itself appeared only gradually.”[4]


Christian stage theories of history can be simple, as in the stages of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, while others might be more complex, creating more divisions within these periods.  For instance, the division between the Old Testament and the New Testament is a stage concept.  In Christian thought, the New Testament succeeds and replaces the Old Testament.  Geerhardus Vos’s theory of development is more complex and involves different stages of revelation.  These are the Mosaic Epoch of Revelation (divided into pre-redemptive special revelation, etc.), the Prophetic Epoch of Revelation, and the New Testament revelation.  Vos says he wants to study the “actual self-disclosures of God in time and space.”[5]  This is not meant in the Hegelian sense of the unfolding of the Mind of God in history since Vos does not identify the Mind of God with history.  Rather the unfolding of the mind of God is through special revelation, i.e., the Bible.  


Such progressive revelation also presupposes stages of historical development.  Vos calls them epochs but we can just as well call them ages.  Thus, the issue regarding stage theories of history is not whether history can be so divided, but that it be done so correctly.  Unfortunately, some Christians, in their writing on creation and Flood issues, have failed to do justice to the evidence of stages in historical development.  This is especially true of the three age concept.


The three age concept is a stage theory of history which involves the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.  This system was not originally designed as an evolutionary classification, but rather as a museum classification.  It was a reasonable assumption that technology would begin with stone, then move forward into metals.  In addition, another reasonable assumption was that people who used metal weapons would hardly go back to using stone.  Even if poverty forced metal-using people to subsequently put aside their metal productions and resort to stone, this would only affect local cases.  But the “ages” of stone or metal are defined in terms of generality of use, i.e., when the stone or metal was in widespread use.


The epoch of stone tools and weapons was regarded as the first age of man, while the metal ages (bronze & iron) were regarded as the second age, and so on.  This was a good idea but not many accepted it until later excavations demonstrated its reality.  Some Christians still have not been able to provide a proper interpretation of these ages in light of the Bible.  As an example, Michael Oard has developed a theory of man’s history during the Ice Age that almost completely ignores the three age system, as well as archaeology.[6]


Oard rightly rejects the evolutionary view that the Ice Age was a time when man was supposedly evolving through a series of missing links, but then he says, “Biblical history records events during or soon after the Ice Age.  This epoch includes the Book of Job and the life and times of the Jewish patriarchs.”[7]


On Oard’s theory, man never left the Middle East until after the Tower of Babel incident.  This means that all of the Paleolithic through the Neolithic cultures must be viewed as post-Babel.  The reason why men supposedly lived exclusively in the Middle East is that they “chose to not spread out from there in disobedience to God.”[8]  Oard believes that some of the people who left Babel spread south while others spread northwest.  Those who went south encountered the Sahara while it was still teeming with life, while others journeyed as far away as New Zealand or Australia. Those who went north encountered the Scandinavian ice sheet, but endured the cold of the Ice Age because of plentiful game.  Some entered the land of the woolly mammoths while others chose to live in caves.


Oard believes these travelers were Neanderthal men and later Cro-Magnon men.  Of these men he says, “They, along with the Neanderthals, used stone tools, probably because any metal tools they possessed upon leaving Babel had worn out.”[9]  Some tribes of Paleolithic and Neolithic men also left the Tigris-Euphrates Valley going east and northeast, moving into Siberia, or crossing the Bering Strait into North America.


There are some problems with Oard’s theory.   First, it is based on an incorrect interpretation of the Bible.  Second, it suffers from a failure to properly locate the Tower of Babel incident in the archaeological levels of Mesopotamia and Southwest Asia.  Third, there is very little interaction with the three age system, or with archaeology.


In the first case, the Bible doesn’t say that all men disobeyed the command to fill the earth.  It only refers to those men who migrated to southern Mesopotamia, viz. men who journeyed from the East and settled in the plain of Shinar.  And it wasn’t their migration that was the problem, but rather their attempt to find unity on an irreligious basis.  They were scattered for their religious sins, not for their geographical preferences.  There is then no need to restrict human migration in the post-Flood era only to the Middle East or to the Fertile Crescent region.  This means that Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic populations can be post-Flood but also pre-Babel.


Second, Oard has not taken the time to study issues regarding the proper chronology of the Bible in relation to ancient near eastern archaeology.  He does not seem to be aware of Courville’s theory that the Tower of Babel incident should be located at the Jemdet Nasr level, or the New Courville theory that it should be located at the end of the Late Uruk phase.  In our opinion, this latter point in the archaeological record is about the only place the incident could have occurred.  In terms of archaeology, the Paleolithic through Neolithic levels occur prior to the Later Uruk level, and even prior to the Ubaid level.  In fact, in Mesopotamia, the Neolithic corresponds to the Hassunah culture, which is followed by the Halaf period.  Neither of these periods shows any settlements in southern Mesopotamia.[10]


This in itself would rule out Oard’s placement of Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples after the Tower of Babel incident.  Since the Tower of Babel incident happened in southern Mesopotamia, it could only have happened after the Hassunah and Halaf periods.  In addition, the Ubaid period that follows these two shows settlement in both the north and south of Mesopotamia, thus making it unlikely that the Ubaid people were the men who migrated from the East and settled in the plain of Shinar (southern Mesopotamia).  The only cultural level that makes sense is the Uruk level (which is confined to the south), and only the Late Uruk level shows evidence of city-state unity under a powerful political leader (Nimrod in our opinion), and a subsequent dispersion into the surrounding lands.[11]


The third problem regards Oard’s almost complete disregard of the three age system, which means an almost complete disregard of archaeology.  Oard shares this failing with other Christians who write on this subject.  For instance, Kurt Wise says, “Preserved in post-Flood sediments older than any Neanderthals and Hobbits are Homo erectus fossils.  Aside from the skull, Homo erectus skeletons are virtually indistinguishable from modern humans, so the evidence indicates they are human.  And, since humans did not disperse across the world until after Babel, the distribution of Homo erectus across the Old World (Java, China, Africa) suggests they not only date from after the Flood, they also date from after Babel.”[12]


Since Homo erectus fossils are regarded as coming before Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon fossils, Wise’s theory would suffer from the same problem that Oard’s suffers from, namely, that there was no settlement in southern Mesopotamia until at least the Ubaid levels, which are certainly later than Paleolithic levels.


For the New Courville theory, the Tower of Babel incident took place at the end of the Late Uruk period in southern Mesopotamia, just before the beginning of the Bronze Age.  Hence, Paleolithic and Neolithic levels must be placed before the Tower of Babel since they are at lower (earlier) levels than the Late Uruk.  It follows that Homo erectus people, Neanderthal people, and Cro-Magnon people must have spread out from the Fertile Crescent some time before Babel, not after.  We have also come to accept the view that the Paleolithic levels are post-Flood.  This would put us at odds with Classic Courville, which sees the post-Flood period as starting with the Mesolithic culture.  We will have to save a discussion of the post-Flood boundary to a later point.  Right now, we need to discuss the three age system, for it is important that Flood theorists get a handle on it. 


As we said, the three ages were not originally conceived as an evolutionary scheme.  The stone tools and artifacts were not associated with any “fossil men” or “hominids” until much later.  There is then nothing preventing us from the view that the makers of these tools were early descendants of Noah, who migrated to Asia and Europe and other places, and found themselves having to cope with glacial and interglacial conditions in the north.


To be continued



[1] For a discussion of some of the myths surrounding the Huxley-Wilberforce exchange, see: J. R. Lucas, “Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter,” at

[2] James Ussher, The Annals of the World, 1658; 2003 edition by Larry & Marion Pierce.

[3] Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion, 1976, p. 82.

[4] Idem.

[5] G. Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, 1948, p. 5.

[6] Michael Oard, Frozen in Time, 2004, pp. 127ff.

[7] Oard, p. 127.

[8] Idem.

[9] Ibid., p. 129.

[10] See Ann Perkins, The Comparative Archaeology of Early Mesopotamia, 1949, p. 46.

[11] For further discussion, see our essays on the ShallowTime Blog, “The Tower of Babel.”

[12] Kurt Wise, “Lucy Was Buried First: Babel Helps Explain the Sequence of Ape and Human Fossils,” Answers in Genesis website, February 13, 2008.

  1. Ok then Vern when or at what date did the palaeolithic Mesolithic and Neolithic periods start if as you say they were sequential before Babel and would your same dates apply to Britain and Northwest Europe. Please tell me whenthey started. John

  2. Hi Vern I see that you support Ussher’s chronology and that is to be commended. However I would like you please to give me a chronology for the palaeolithic the mesolithic neolithic Bronze and iron ages or if you like “industries”. one in mesopotamia and two in Britain and Northwest Europe. John

  3. You talk about the three age system Vern and “Shallow time yet that time is very limmited is’nt it? How can you get a three age system into so limmited a space of time. You have still not answered my questions on chronology which I asked you for. When on your timeline did the ice age start assuming 2347 BC and when did it finnish?

    Again I will ask you when did the Palaeolithic Mesolithic Neolithic Chalcolithic/Bronze and Iron ages start and finnish in Britain and North West Europe and the Middle East? I would be greatfull if you can give me a straight answer to my question on chronology Vern. John

  4. Hi Verne I’ve looked at part 4 0f Antiquity of Man but you still do not give a chronology . I would very much appreciate it if you can give me the chronology I asked for on the Three Age System. Could you please do that for me Vern? John

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