Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Deep Time: The Realms of Discovery

By Harrigan, Anthony | Modern Age, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Deep Time: The Realms of Discovery

Harrigan, Anthony, Modern Age

STEPHEN JAY GOULD, writing in An Urchin in the Storm (1987), used the term "deep time" to describe the vastness of geologic time. But the term is applicable to other depths of time experienced by human beings. The human mind envisions time at all its levels, psychological as well as that evidenced in layers of rock.

We may look back on the life of a half century past and regard that period as deep time. We may so regard the time of early settlement in North America, ten or a dozen generations past, in a similar manner. Or we may treat the eleventh century, the dawn of a new millennium, as true deep time in our civilization. Again, we may regard the beginning of the Christian era, as authentic deep time.

Others may regard the time in which Stonehenge was built as the deepest time in prehistory. Finally, the archaeologist may regard the age of cave painting in France and Spain--20,000 years ago--as the greatest depth of time we can conceive of, with man in a creative mode, that is. Of course, we are able to hold these various concepts in our mind at the same time, shifting our personal, historical or prehistorical emphasis according to our need to explore and ponder what lies beyond our current functioning in what some style real time.

Many people live in a single dimension of time, the present. Millions, however, give thought to the past, whether personal or historical. They measure current events and experiences against what has gone before. They search the past for understanding and reconciliation with the perplexities and hardships of the present. Each searcher of the past seeks a particular level of time, depending on what he or she wants to discover. And, at various times, different levels of time are sought out for exploration. We know that this has been practiced in our civilization for at least 2,500 years.

Herodotus, for instance, sought to understand how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. During much of history, life was short and brutal, and we cannot be sure to what extent ordinary people, the poor and illiterate, gave any thought at all to the past--beyond, let us say, their fathers' time. The habit of speculation about deeper levels of time surely was largely restricted to the educated and privileged. In our own technocratic age, the tendency is for the technically "educated" to be absorbed in strictly current matters of information.

Bringing past time to life has been a major activity of the human mind since the dawn of history. The classical world thirsted for the discovery of deep time as evidenced in the works of Homer and later, the formal historical works of Herodotus and Thucydides. The Romans were very mindful of the tracing of their roots into deep time.

From this stemmed the historical consciousness of Western Europe. The Renaissance sought deep time at the level of the newly rediscovered classical world. And with Napoleon's adventures in Egypt came the fascination with Egypt and Egyptology, which continued well into the twentieth century. The new century also brought with it a fascination with the neolithic world, the world of the megaliths and stone circles, and all the mysteries associated with these.

Then, about the time of the Second World War, came epochal discoveries of the vast decorated caves of southern Europe and a realization that people, once considered to be almost hairy apes, were people of extraordinary artistic accomplishments. As a result of this, moderns are able to identify with human beings who lived 600 to 700 generations ago.

As archaeological work continues and the world of 50,000 years ago comes alive in our imaginations, the process of human identification most probably will be extended to even this vastly lower level.

There is so much to learn at every level of time. To cite only one short period in human history, the period of the Black Plague in Europe in the fourteenth century, we begin to understand today that we know very little of the vast ramifications of the plague, which killed perhaps one third of the European population.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Deep Time: The Realms of Discovery


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.