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Looking Back on 2020

January 2nd, 2021 by dk

History puts things in perspective. Nothing was as good or as bad as it seemed at the time. With the benefit of time, we can look back on the year 2020 for its contributions. Those who survived it witnessed changes no one would have predicted.

To cite just a few examples, a new mode of communication was devised in 2020, giving people faster and easier communication than ever before. Religious leaders and craftspeople expressed their resolve in ways unmatched for millennia. A new sense of hope took hold in the Middle East.

Human societies around the globe recognized that the current era was nearing its end, though nobody knew exactly what might replace it. A slow-moving war between two dynasties was at roughly its midpoint, creating uncertainty for many but creativity for a few. All in all,  it was a good time to be alive — considering the alternative.

Historians will argue about which of these things took place during the calendar year of 2020, because that’s what historians do. It’s always a challenge to know exactly when something happened. It’s even harder to know when something began. History is not unlike a simmering marital spat. There’s always an antecedent that contributed to the present.

Did the Bronze Age end in 2020? No, not exactly. It hung on for almost another millennium, but the downward slope had begun by then. The Twin Dynasty Wars continued for another decade or two, but Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, which some consider the apex of Egyptian hegemony, came in its place.

We know some of this because of a new-fangled use for a material that always had been around. It’s only the new use that made it into a new medium. Papyrus was so much easier to write on, and it packed much more easily than stone tablets. Word had always gotten around, but now it could get around faster.

Papyrus probably didn’t speed Abraham’s effort to make peace with a singular God around this time (or maybe quite a bit later — those historians!) But papyrus almost certainly helped the legend of Abraham’s effort grow faster and wider.

It was during this general time period — maybe even in the year 2020 — that the first libraries appeared in Egypt. Babylon was writing creation myths and domesticating chickens. The bow and arrow was being perfected for warfare. Potter’s wheels and kilns were being used in Mesopotamia. China calculated annual solstices and equinoxes.

And there was Seahenge. You can look it up.

Locals thought nothing of the 55 split oak trunks submerged in eastern England. It was only “discovered” when amateur archeologist John Lorimer and his brother-in-law found a Bronze Age axe head in the Norfolk County silt in 1998. They called a friend with a metal detector. Together, they found 50 Bronze Era axe heads. Experts debate the ceremonial purpose of the trunks’ arrangement. Local wags coined the name “Seahenge,” hoping to drum up tourism.

Lesson: Notable accomplishments we’ve witnessed this year may be discovered by a future hobbyist with a metal detector, but it could take 4000 years.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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