Let me ask you something: how many ancient civilizations have we actually discovered remains from who have had technology beyond what we had when we found it? And then what are the odds it would still work?
So far, we haven't seen anything beyond what we already had—at least, that worked. Stonehenge and other mysterious artifacts and structures are around, but we don't know what they were meant for and we certainly don't know how to work them as they were intended. You can try and debate tall tales of magical things from the past, but until I see hard proof, I'm going to keep my healthy dose of cynicism.
I'm not talking about grading technologies as superior or inferior; I'm looking more at the knowledge base required to provide an artifact that we can discover and use today that supplies something we don't already know or have the capability to do.
On a logical level, people come across major artifacts before they're ancient, and cultural groups rarely just up and disappear from their homes. If there's something “cool” around, it's rare that other people don't adopt it in some way. Look at all the changes in battle and warfare via weapons and metallurgy in the Mediterranean and Northern Africa way back when. People are inquisitive, and want the advantages that something new can give them. On top of all that, it takes luck and a lot of hard work and research to figure out the past. There are a lot of discoveries that archaeologists have branded as religious or ceremonial simply because they don't understand what an object was used for. And do we know how the pyramids were built? I sure don't.
There's an awful lot we don't know, and an awful lot that we aren't equipped to find out. The past gets buried over time unless we seek it out. If we're using archaeological digs to discover information from two or three centuries ago, should we expect that thousands of years won't cover up ruins?
I happen to think that if an Ancient Civilization was that awesome, a writer had better have a good reason for why it collapsed and why no one knows about it. They also need to know why it's not a pile of dust or buried if it's still standing thousands of years later. I don't exactly walk down the street and around the corner to some dilapidated ruins--my city was built on top of them because they were in a good spot. There aren't magical abandoned cities hanging around with which to produce the odd deus ex machina to solve our moral battles with other societies.
We do, however, write stories about them. And we do romanticise them (see also: Donovan's Atlantis).
My question, then, becomes why do we look to the past to provide for the future? What is it that we expect, or more importantly hope, to find?
If you don't know the history you're doomed to repeat it is an idea that gets drilled in somewhere in junior high. History and our shared past is important. Humans want to know their stories, and people want to get on with things, so to speak. It's a nice thought that someone out there did all the work for us, and all we have to do is stumble upon the deus ex ruins for a solution.
But what does this really say about us?
Sara J. normally blogs on Jumpdrives & Cantrips.