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Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

by Robert L Kelly University of California Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 168 pages
AU$52.99 NZ$54.77
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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“I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow.” This inscription in Tutankhamen’s tomb summarizes The Fifth Beginning. Here, archeologist Robert Kelly explains how the study of our cultural past can predict the future of humanity.   


In an eminently readable style, Kelly singles out 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 began about AD 1500. Some might call it “globalization”, but the author places it in its larger context: a 5,000-year arms race, capitalism’s global reach, and the cultural effects of a worldwide communication network.   


Kelly predicts 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 appearance of world citizenship, and forms of cooperation that end nation-states’ near-sacred status. It’s the end of life, as we have known it. However, this book and the author are cautiously optimistic: it dwells not on the coming chaos but on humanity’s great potential.    


1. The End of the World as We Know It
2. How Archaeologists Think
3. Sticks and Stones: The Beginning of Technology
4. Beads and Stories: The Beginning of Culture
5. Bread and Beer: The Beginning of Agriculture
6. Kings and Chains: The Beginning of the State
7. Nothing Lasts Forever: The Fifth Beginning


"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."
Robert Kelly is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Wyoming. He is a past president of the Society for American Archaeology and past secretary of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association.