Chance, as Conrad liked to call it -- luck, or even fate, as others prefer to think -- plays its part as much in shaping the destinies of races as of individuals, dispensing vicissitudes or boons alike upon the lone figure and the composite group. Of the vicissitudes the saddest, though assuredly not the most dire, is that by which the dead are relegated to oblivion. It is perhaps a subconscious awareness of this hazard that so often directs the steps of an indolent walker to an old churchyard, leading him to pause by a decayed tombstone, to wonder as he gazes at its perished and illegible inscription as to what manner of man was laid beneath the enigmatic slab, to speculate upon his way of life, and to regret that all traces of this once vital and alert being -- even to the record of his name and life span -- have now forever faded from the notice of mankind.
Antiquarians are often assailed by somewhat similar thoughts, especially those of them who are attracted by the less well documented pages of ancient history. Amongst the most meagre of such passages, but also amongst the most absorbing, are those dealing with the Scythian nomads, who, in the last millenium of the pre-Christian era, roamed the vast, almost crescent-shaped steppe which stretches from the confines of China to the banks of the Danube. Today, practically the whole immense expanse of natural grassland belongs to the USSR, but in early prehistoric times numerous tribes succeeded each other in this enormous plain. In the north-eastern section many of these peoples often displayed a tendency, which became more marked with the passing centuries, to migrate to the west or south-west of their starting point, a tendency which was doubtless fostered by the existence on their other borders of . . .