The Hyborian Age

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

The flavor of Robert E. Howard’s pseudo-history is a lot more realistic than the picture of the human past academics preferred over the past few decades, Gregory Cochran says:

In Conan’s world, it’s never surprising to find a people that once mixed with some ancient prehuman race. Happens all the time. Until very recently, the vast majority of workers in human genetics and paleontology were sure that this never occurred — and only changed their minds when presented with evidence that was both strong (ancient DNA) and too mathematically sophisticated for them to understand or challenge (D-statistics).

Conan’s history was shaped by the occasional catastrophe. Most academics (particularly geologists) don’t like catastrophes, but they have grudgingly come to admit their importance — things like the Thera and Toba eruptions, or the K/T asteroid strike and the Permo-Triassic crisis.

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, evolution seems to have run pretty briskly, but without any pronounced direction. Men devolved into ape-men when the environment pushed in that direction (Flores?) and shifted right back when the environment favored speech and tools. Culture shaped evolution, and evolution shaped culture. An endogamous caste of snake-worshiping priests evolved in a strange direction. Although their IQs were considerably higher than average, they remained surprisingly vulnerable to sword-bearing barbarians.

In this world, evolution could happen on a time scale of thousands of years, and there was no magic rule that ensured that the outcome would be the same in every group. It may not be PC to say it, but Cimmerians were smarter than Picts.

Above all, people in Conan’s world fought. They migrated: they invaded. There was war before, during, and after civilization. Völkerwanderungs were a dime a dozen. Conquerors spread. Sometimes they mixed with the locals, sometimes they replaced them — as when the once dominant Hyborians, overrun by Picts, vanished from the earth, leaving scarcely a trace of their blood in the veins of their conquerors. They must have been U5b.

To be fair, real physical anthropologists in Howard’s day thought that there had been significant population movements and replacements in Europe, judging from changes in skeletons and skulls that accompanied archeological shifts, as when people turned taller, heavier boned , and brachycephalic just as the Bell-Beaker artifacts show up. But those physical anthropologists lost out to people like Boas — liars.

Given the chance (sufficient lack of information), American anthropologists assumed that the Mayans were peaceful astronomers. Howard would have assumed that they were just another blood-drenched snake cult: who came closer?


  1. Kent says:

    I simply must find a context where I can say “just another blood-drenched snake cult.”

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