**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


by [?]

But this idea of a mere passage of highly concentrated energy from one point to another was far too abstract, of course, for primitive man, and is far too abstract even now for nine out of ten of our fellow-creatures. Those who don’t still believe in the bodily thunderbolt, a fearsome aerial weapon which buries itself deep in the bosom of the earth, look upon lightning as at least an embodiment of the electric fluid, a long spout or line of molten fire, which is usually conceived of as striking the ground and then proceeding to hide itself under the roots of a tree or beneath the foundations of a tottering house. Primitive man naturally took to the grosser and more material conception. He figured to himself the thunderbolt as a barbed arrowhead; and the forked zigzag character of the visible flash, as it darts rapidly from point to point, seemed almost inevitably to suggest to him the barbs, as one sees them represented on all the Greek and Roman gems, in the red right hand of the angry Jupiter.

The thunderbolt being thus an accepted fact, it followed naturally that whenever any dart-like object of unknown origin was dug up out of the ground, it was at once set down as being a thunderbolt; and, on the other hand, the frequent occurrence of such dart-like objects, precisely where one might expect to find them in accordance with the theory, necessarily strengthened the belief itself. So commonly are thunderbolts picked up to the present day that to disbelieve in them seems to many country people a piece of ridiculous and stubborn scepticism. Why, they’ve ploughed up dozens of them themselves in their time, and just about the very place where the thunderbolt struck the old elm-tree two years ago, too.

The most favourite form of thunderbolt is the polished stone hatchet or ‘celt’ of the newer stone age men. I have never heard the very rude chipped and unpolished axes of the older drift men or cave men described as thunderbolts: they are too rough and shapeless ever to attract attention from any except professed archaeologists. Indeed, the wicked have been known to scoff at them freely as mere accidental lumps of broken flint, and to deride the notion of their being due in any way to deliberate human handicraft. These are the sort of people who would regard a grand piano as a fortuitous concourse of atoms. But the shapely stone hatchet of the later neolithic farmer and herdsman is usually a beautifully polished wedge-shaped piece of solid greenstone; and its edge has been ground to such a delicate smoothness that it seems rather like a bit of nature’s exquisite workmanship than a simple relic of prehistoric man. There is something very fascinating about the naif belief that the neolithic axe is a genuine unadulterated thunderbolt. You dig it up in the ground exactly where you would expect a thunderbolt (if there were such things) to be. It is heavy, smooth, well shaped, and neatly pointed at one end. If it could really descend in a red-hot state from the depths of the sky, launched forth like a cannon-ball by some fierce discharge of heavenly artillery, it would certainly prove a very formidable weapon indeed; and one could easily imagine it scoring the bark of some aged oak, or tearing off the tiles from a projecting turret, exactly as the lightning is so well known to do in this prosaic workaday world of ours. In short, there is really nothing on earth against the theory of the stone axe being a true thunderbolt, except the fact that it unfortunately happens to be a neolithic hatchet.

But the course of reasoning by which we discover the true nature of the stone axe is not one that would in any case appeal strongly to the fancy or the intelligence of the British farmer. It is no use telling him that whenever one opens a barrow of the stone age one is pretty sure to find a neolithic axe and a few broken pieces of pottery beside the mouldering skeleton of the old nameless chief who lies there buried. The British farmer will doubtless stolidly retort that thunderbolts often strike the tops of hills, which are just the places where barrows and tumuli (tumps, he calls them) most do congregate; and that as to the skeleton, isn’t it just as likely that the man was killed by the thunderbolt as that the thunderbolt was made by a man? Ay, and a sight likelier, too.