To start with, our ancestors believed that man was not evolving upward so much as spiralling downward from a more godlike state; what we call progress is more of a recovery to previous levels we had once reached than an outright venture into uncharted realms of research.
Every so often someone finds an object which violently clashes with established theories on the history and prehistory of the world. Ivan T. Sanderson, a zoologist who wrote several books about unexplained phenomena, called these strange discoveries "out-of-place artefacts"--ooparts for short. They are called that because they are artificial objects found in rocks supposedly older than the human race, or from people supposedly too primitive to make them. They are too authentic to dismiss as frauds, yet to accept them would overturn the idea that man evolved from the stone-age to become what he is now. They first gained popular attention in the 1960s and 70s, when Erich Von Daniken wrote a series of sensationalist books (Chariots of the Gods? Gods From Outer Space, etc.), which claimed that early man could not possibly make them; therefore aliens from another planet must have visited Earth and left them here.
Noorbergen argued that this is selling our ancestors short. In Secrets of the Lost Races and subsequent books, he presented an alternative view which I consider more believable: humans with advanced technology made the ooparts, thousands of years ago, and the ooparts are the only artefacts we have from the antediluvian (pre-Flood) age. The handiwork behind the ooparts often requires a technology as advanced as ours, and in a few cases it looks like our ancestors were even more advanced than us! Although I do not consider Noorbergen a Christian (he also wrote books on Jean Dixon and Nostradamus), I feel he is dead right on this issue.
Among the ooparts there is little, if any, evidence that writing was used before the Flood. Is it possible our earliest ancestors did not need it? Sometimes it seems so. You may have heard doctors declare that we only use ten per cent of our brains; perhaps when we lived more than 900 years we used the other ninety per cent, too. And while Noah may have needed an inventory to keep track of supplies and animals, and instructions for the care and feeding of the latter, he may have had no trouble committing to memory his family history for the previous nine generations.
The ancient Egyptians had a myth which declared the invention of writing to be a step backward, rather than forward. In his book Phaedrus the Greek philosopher Plato tells how the Egyptians believed their hieroglyphics were invented by Thoth, the god of learning. Thoth took his invention to the pharaoh of the day, a certain Thamus, and claimed that it would help wisdom. Instead the king replied that just the opposite would be true. Writing, he judged, would encourage forgetfulness, because the educated would no longer need to remember as much--all they would have to do is keep their books nearby. Students would know the appearance but not the reality of wisdom, learning and reciting words without knowing their true meaning. With the Egyptians, this indeed happened; many of the religious texts in what we call the Book of the Dead are so old that as early as 2300 B.C. the scribes seem to have trouble understanding what they were copying.
Despite King Thamus' objections, writing caught on. It helped some, but it also had a limitation: storehouses of books now became more important than personal memory for the preservation of knowledge. This concentrated knowledge in the hands of those who could afford libraries (usually kings and temples), with a privileged few as the custodians of this knowledge. Often when a war took place, those libraries became innocent victims in the destruction. Much of our heritage was lost every time it happened. "The famous collection of Pisastratus [Pisander] in Athens (sixth century B.C.) was ravaged. Fortunately the poems of Homer somehow survived. The papyri of the library of the Temple of Ptah in Memphis were totally destroyed. The same fate befell 200,000 volumes in the library of Pergamum in Asia Minor. The city of Carthage, razed by the Romans in a seven-day fire in 146 B.C., is said to have possessed a library of half a million volumes. But the greatest blow to history was the burning of the Alexandrian library in the Egyptian campaign of Julius Caesar, during which 700,000 priceless scrolls were irretrievably lost."(17) One might think that the generals of the ancient world belonged to a "book-burning-of-the-month" club!
The Alexandria library recovered, only to fall victim to three more burnings. One was done in 273 A.D., when the Roman emperor Aurelian reconquered Egypt, while putting down the rebellion of Zenobia. The next happened under the direction of another emperor, Theodosius I, around 391 A.D.; in his day Christianity was made the official religion of the empire, so he decreed the destruction of all pagan temples, and/or their conversion into churches. This included the famous Serapeum at Saqqara, which had surplus books from the Alexandria library. Apparently the great library was heavily damaged, too, when a mob came to destroy the library's occult literature, and the fire they started burned more than just books on necromancy and witchcraft. The last burning followed the Arab conquest of the city in 642 A.D.; for six months the scrolls were used to heat the city's bath water. Caliph Omar, the Arab leader, decreed: "The contents of these books are in conformity with the Koran or they are not. If they are, the Koran is sufficient without them; if they are not, they are pernicious. Let them therefore be destroyed."
The fate of libraries in other times and places was hardly better. China's first emperor, Shi Huangdi, ordered the burning of most Chinese books in 212 B.C. Emperor Leo III sent 300,000 books to the furnaces of Constantinople during the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth century. "The number of manuscripts annihilated by the Inquisition . . . in the middle Ages can hardly be estimated. Because of these tragedies we have to depend on disconnected fragments, casual passages, and meagre accounts. . . . The history of science would appear totally different were the book collection of Alexandria intact today."