The Age of Myth – Chapter Four

Cro-Magnon, the first anatomically modern man, began to move into Europe about 40,000 years ago, with the skeletal remains of one of its population, found in the cave Pestera Cu Oase, in Romania, and radiocarbon dated to 37,800 years ago. They had broken away from the main group of Homo sapien survivors of the eruption of Mt Toba, 30,000 years previous, who had come out of the Ethiopian highlands and had replaced survivors of the earlier species, Homo erectus, throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And though they had also made their way to Australia and the Far East, the majority of the Cro-Magnon population lived around the lakes of the Mediterranean basin, which was not a sea yet, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Eastern Mediterranean. They had become highly specialized hunters and gatherers and had developed speech, and soon, their own languages, while the environment of wherever they had ended up on the planet would dictate the race of human they would become, with random mutations in our DNA providing the basis of variation.

Moving north Cro-Magnon began to run into the Neanderthal, who would eventually be pushed to the edge of their world, with the last few Neanderthal tribes’ remnants found in Western Spain and Gibraltar. Before Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal population was perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 individuals, living between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains and though the Neanderthal species would perish, it was not their complete extinction, for many were undoubtedly assimilated into the newer species. Some theories suggest the contributing factor in the Neanderthals demise was simply, “when limitless imagination replaced robust physiques.”

Just recently, Swedish archeological geneticist Svante Paabo completed mapping the DNA of the Neanderthal and found that many people today, except for most all African descendents, have about 3 to 5 per cent of their DNA in common with Neanderthals. Interestingly, but then considering the harsh environment in which the Neanderthal lived, the genes we share with them are all in the parts that make up our immune system.

With the demise of Neanderthal, the Upper Palaeolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 years ago) began and represented a gigantic step forward in our species consciousness and abilities.

Illustration by Zdenek Burian Early modern-humanCro-Magnons were taller than other Homo sapiens and the earlier species, with a more erect posture, prominent nose and chin, lower brow ridges and unlike the Neanderthal and Erectus’ backward sloping skulls, had a rounder skull, with a more vertical forehead. Thus a bigger brain, which was crucial, considering being stupid usually got you killed, while ingenuity and intellect was needed for survival. And with a higher forehead, more muscles formed in the face, with more control of eyebrows and forehead skin, which aided in communication.

They wore clothes of softened leather sewn with bone needles and thread from an animal’s gut and wore lots of necklaces, bracelets, and amulets made from shells, flowers, teeth, and bones. Their quilts were animal pelts and they often lived in pit-huts, similar to North American natives’ tepees. During the winters they would live in semi-permanent settlements, usually in narrow valley bottoms or caves, while over the summers, and using lightweight, portable tents, they would follow the herds of their prey. Their campsites contained oil lamps and hearths that were very complex in themselves, with much forethought made every time they camped. For instance, each tent would typically face the east, to catch the morning sun’s warmth. They had developed many tools which could work bone, antler and hides. They had darts, harpoons, fish hooks, rope, eyed needles, and hunted with spears and javelins. Unable to store or keep food they were typical hunters and gatherers, constantly on the move.

Over time, family size groups of these earliest modern humans, perhaps ten to twelve individuals, would grow to thirty to forty people. With the group replenished most often with arriving males from other tribes. Eventually leaders would arise within these larger groups and were either dominant males and females or elders who held wisdom in the form of the collective memories of the group. Their basic, isolated way of primitive life began to change and would evolve into the hierarchy system, and because the populations of many areas had grown, for the first time groups started coming into closer contact with each other, intruding on each other. But at the same time the increased interaction between groups also meant the sharing of ideas and exchange of raw materials.

A leader and other strong members of the group would become the most active in protecting their particular group, as well as settling any squabbles within their own group and between others. This is the time many believe early man began to fight each other. Mostly for two reasons, to establish dominance in a group or to establish territorial rights over a particular piece of ground. But if fighting ever did break out, very rarely did anyone die.

As to the individuals with psychopathic natures, which does not necessarily mean violent, but individuals who would attempt to steal, cheat or bully were suppressed by a consensus process amongst the tribe, which had the power to ostracize, banish or even kill. Any psychotic behaviour had to be controlled, because to survive, the cohesion and stability of the group needed cooperation amongst its members to exist. Only after farming was developed, thousands of years later, would psychopaths no longer be held in check and would rise in power, right up to the present day.

Though over time the whole life of a tribe would revolve around its leader, these earlier humans had become more co-operative hunters, and the leaders of these ever growing groups found out that often times dominant authority had to be curtailed somewhat to retain the loyalty of the group. Each member was just as strong as the next, with the dumb, weak and frail rarely surviving into adulthood. Even the children, who of course were not passively entertained by video games, television, their phone and movies, would spend their waking hours actively doing something, such as talking, playing, learning to hunt, and helping out in gathering. Constant interaction with nature and each other, they had much more childhood stimulation and activity than most children today, which promoted mental development, confidence and better health.

Having to get along with more and more people within the group, as well as with other groups, a leader could not be feared so much anymore and instead, had to get everyone on his or her side by getting them to want to help him or her. Eventually as the populations grew, with everyone having their say, leaders had to become just another member of the group, because they could no longer command unquestioning support, obedience and/or influence. But with the groups growing into ever larger populations there was still needed an all powerful figure who could keep the group under control and over time there came the invention of a god.

Early modern man did not fear nature or feel helpless against it, but instead made the forces of nature into things with whom they could associate with and even regard as equal. They all thought very independently and yet were never intimidated by each other’s intellect, and did not feel submissive to anyone or anything. There were few illusions and most all instinctual impulses they would have, never disregarded the relationship of any other individual to them. These early peoples focussed more on living in equilibrium with their environment. Assured that their existence in the world was the same in the past, and would be unchanged in the future.

Symbolic behaviour would become ever the more prominent and was linked to animism, humanity’s oldest belief system, the belief that natural objects were conscious forms of life, and that they affect humanity. They viewed the forests, mountains, oceans, even the wind, as spiritual forces, and displayed a reverence for the natural environment. They believed a soul or spirit existed in every object, living, as well as inanimate and that in a future state, an object’s soul exists as part of an immaterial and universal soul. These early beliefs were based on instinct, emotion and intuition. Most tribal religions, even today, are different in form and ritual, but all seek to explain the mystery of life by insisting that nature is animated by spirits. Though these early peoples began to have supernatural beliefs, they did not serve to justify any central authority, transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. Nature and humans were to be respected equally and would live in complete harmony with one another. Humans at this time did not feel separate from nature that belief would arise later with the first civilizations.

But the ego was rapidly developing, along with language, the first signs of abstract thought, finely made tools, the concept of fishing, and the understanding of bartering. Anthropologists, through ethnographic research studies of hunter-gatherer societies suggest that with some tribes, individual status was based on how generous a person was who has acquired wealth, while other groups remained egalitarian and non-hierarchical societies, sharing their food and materials. Art and jewellery also became prevalent, as did game playing, music and ceremonies for their dearly departed.

Besides the development of more complex hunting strategies, sophisticated planning, and social structure, certain aspects of a human’s life became more sacred, such as births, deaths and the passage to adulthood. Symbols and rituals became more elaborate. And as projectile points, engraving tools, knife blades and drilling tools evolved, so did art, with the first signs of art appearing in fossil records, 50,000 years ago, in Africa. The earliest known cave paintings, found in France, are dated 34,000 years ago and picture rhino, bison and horses, done in black charcoal and red ochre. A lion-headed figurine carved out of a mammoth tusk found in Germany, is from the same time. In Czechoslovakia, fired clay figurines and woven baskets have been found dating back 27,000 years, and proving music was also evolving, a bird-bone flute found in France is 23,000 years old.

These early peoples lived in an age with no reason, and relied on their feelings to make any decisions. With much of what they thought about each day driven by their emotions. Any problems were dealt with instinctively, thus quickly. Other problems would evolve when, much later, humans would first start experiencing reason. Reason was still thousands of years in the future and really did not last very long when it did arrive, since today we have already abandoned it and replaced it with ideology. Besides, when we cut off our feelings and ignore our gut feelings, only then does decision making become difficult. And as we have now come to realize, life is all about decision making, in fact, to somewhat prove the point, though our brains only makes up about 2 per cent of our body weight, the electrochemistry within it, when working hard on making a decision, will burn up a fifth of the food and oxygen we consume.

What was also evolving was our social behaviour. Most humans were still intimately connected to the rhythms and signals of the natural world and lived and responded instinctively. Life was still a routine of searching for food, getting along with our band members and accepting levels of power to the physically stronger, the more attuned or the group as a whole. Whatever accepted hierarchy, the constant tragedies, challenges, and difficulties of daily life were without reflection. With no ego, there was no jealousy or greed, or temper tantrum because something didn’t go one’s way. But over the next hundreds of millennia, certain individuals began to grow restless with the challenging daily routines of life. When someone died, they began to ask why and then wonder how the death could be avoided in the future. More and more individuals began stepping back from their automatic responses and started examining the full scope of existence and looking at the big picture. Aware that life endured through cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons, lifestyle, food sharing, division of labour, and cooperation became more important to one’s daily life. Where once the tribes were relaxed in their daily lives and everyone knew their place, they began to be afflicted with the concept, which we are still trying to figure out today, of simply how to get along with our neighbours. It was the birth of self awareness, and lead humans to understand the important need, not only of physical survival, but of the need for psychological survival as well. To be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated within social worlds which would became incredible more complex.

As mentioned earlier, the first signs of art appear in fossil records dated 50,000 years ago, in Africa. By 30,000 years ago, when art was becoming more prolific and we began to decorate things more, there was the rather sudden appearance of a symbol set painted on the cave walls throughout Europe. Whether it was developed somewhere else or was a local phenomenon but used materials that did not survive over the millennia, or we simple haven’t found yet, we do not know.

Anthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found that, while surviving examples of the earliest art was of animal and human imagery, by 30,000 years ago a core set of 19 symbols, with distinct shapes began to appear in Europe and eventually outnumber any imagery of either animals or humans. These geometric signs would be repeated over the next 20,000 years, with the same symbols moving across the earth with the expansion of humans. The same symbols would also be found in Australia, first inhabited by humans 50,000 years ago. Over the next millennia these original symbols would rise to 26 distinct shapes, the same as the English alphabet.

The numerous evidences of fertility figurines, cave painting and petro-glyphs shows the importance symbolism became in human development, especially with language and writing. Symbolism allows the mind to see intuitively – to see what is not directly visible in the material world. It is what engages the right side of the human brain, while the left side of our brains is bound by rational or linear thought, like language and writing. And this is why the first written languages were developed out of hieroglyphs, which is basically art that is inseparable from the script that goes along with it.

No matter where hieroglyphs have been found, they are all very similar, even the Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs in particular, though separated by an ocean. In most of these places the script was used for inscriptions covering tombs, temples, obelisks, and sculpture, then would eventually be written on papyrus, bark, or paper, for ritual and sacred text. The first written language would be developed by the Sumerians, more than 5,000 years ago, to keep track of goods and materials.

These Middle Eastern and Egyptian scripts were eventually replaced with a new form of hieroglyphs, known as “popular script.” The Phoenicians would then spread these first written languages, which included signs for the consonants, all over the Mediterranean, where they would eventually be adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Over the next couple of centuries, the script would evolve with Greek letters to write the Egyptian language, and then during the Roman era, a Greek-based alphabet called “Coptic” appeared, and would become the dominant alphabet of Europe. Though hieroglyphs would remain the most widely used scripts until 392 A.D., at which time the Holy Roman Church would ban all non-Christian worship, and hieroglyphs immediately began to disappear.

The oldest language known is the Khoisan, in Southeast Africa, which is made up of clicking sounds, and is probably more than 50,000 years old. Up to this day the Niger-Congo region has more than fourteen hundred languages, 25% of the languages in the entire world. Cautious estimates suggest that more than 10,000 languages eventually existed globally. While over half of the six thousand languages currently spoken, are unlikely to survive the next 100 years. The Pueblo natives of North America believe different languages were created “so it wouldn’t be easy for humans to quarrel.”

The Upper Palaeolithic period also represents the birth of modern man, and specifically his mind. Physically, a Cro-Magnon standing in a crowd today and dressed, you would be hard pressed to pick them out. Same build, same mind, which is why symbolism was as important then as it still is today. Because, though we hate to admit it, humans are a biological species, being operated by a large brain, which has separate right and left hemispheres in the cerebral cortex, which we call today, right brain and left brain. We have possessed such a brain for over 40,000 years, yet today we apparently use only about 10% of our brains. As to the other 90%, is it that we have forgotten how to access it or is it the parts we haven’t yet reached?

In fact, the biochemical processes of the mind are also closely linked to our health, emotionally and physically. Mentioned in both, Eastern philosophy and the Old Testament, is how important the brain is to our immune system, and that the spleen, thymus, bone marrow, glands, liver, lungs, kidney, and heart are all connected, with much control of the brain resting with the organs. It is why there are intense, emotional and spiritual aspects of serious illnesses, and why if you grow up believing showing emotion is a sign of weakness you are sick a lot and have a shorter lifespan. It shows that besides the importance of being honest with others, we must also be honest with how we feel ourselves.

The right brain is totally in the present, and is voiceless, speaking through symbolism, instinct, and dreams. It deals with spatial and abstract relationships, and the subconscious. It cares about compassion, integrity context, peace, love and being supportive. It focuses on our similarities and the big picture that all humans are connected. While the left brain talks a lot, and which is what we have become.

We mange from the left, because it is logical, thinks linearly and literally, and is where our intelligence lies. It judges, punishes and deceives, living in the past and the present. It focuses on our differences and is critical of those unlike ourselves, thus is the root of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar. Today it keeps us busy in our day to day lives, yet no matter what awards of our society it achieves, it never makes anyone truly happy or satisfied. It loves routine and running on automatic, dreading having to shift gears. The left brain defines our boundaries of who we are and understands language but has a problem with its limitations, compared to the gut feelings and intuition of the right, which remember has no voice. And this is the trouble we find ourselves in today, because the reality of life is it is not just logical, it is also emotional, with symbols, words, texting and tweeting, too often holding us back in describing what we should instead be sensing and feeling.

The peoples of the Upper Palaeolithic period minds evolved gradually as did all things human, especially their social worlds and day to day living, though it was undoubtedly hardly felt by each generation, for it was a naturally slow process. Unlike today where instead of natural progressions lasting thousands of years, they now speed by seemingly on a weekly basis. It’s no wonder why mental illness has become the number one affliction of our species, with day to day living becoming all about simply being a good consumer and how to afford it, and that we are much more than just a biological species. Far from it we boast, unbelieving.

However, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology have taught us that organisms, which we are one, do not and cannot evolve because they need or want to, that natural selection cannot create mutants to serve its purposes, and that inheritable variation is random, with any genetic variation arising or not arising strictly by chance. Before the advent of modern transportation, not so long ago, human populations were scattered all over the planet and had very little contact with each other, thus we rarely exchanged genes. Over the course of human history, through random changes in the genome and natural selection, our species has developed many different traits, such as skin color, eye shape and immune systems. And even though such genetic diversity differentiates each individual from every other person in the world, most of our genes are not segregated among the traditional races of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. Thus our shared genetic heritage unites us all as one species.

Meanwhile, humanity slowly made their way through their ever evolving lives, still believing they were a part of nature, which genetics proves they were, and not above it as we believe we are. While at the same time the earth was also naturally progressing and forever changing, not caring about whom or what lives on its mantel.

After taking tens of thousands of years to cool down, peak glaciations of the last great ice age was reached about 18,000 years ago. Much of Europe, Asia – down to the Himalayans, and North America –  down to approximately the mid point of America, was covered in glaciers more than 3 km high, while Antarctica had crept northward and brushed upon South America. The temperatures near the ice sheets had fallen by at least 15.5 degrees C (60 F) and between 21 and 27 C (36 – 48F) in the tropics. The sea levels had dropped to 130 m (425 ft) below modern levels, exposing thousands upon thousands of square miles of the continental shelves of all the continents. In some areas these gently sloping gradients would have had our present shorelines, dozens of miles out to sea, while the edges of these shelves drop off very quickly, in fact the edges of the continental shelves are the highest and most extensive escarpments known on earth, with their average drop being 3657 m (12,000 ft) and in some cases, 9140 m (30,000 ft), straight down. The Bering Sea was a dry land, the Mediterranean’s basin a group of lakes, the English Channel a vast dry valley, and the Indonesian Galapagos united in one vast land of mountains and valleys. Today’s Venice, Italy, was about 200 miles from the nearest shoreline, while the Atlantic shoreline of North America was at least 60 miles to the east of where it presently is today. But then the glaciers began to retreat, the ice began to melt and the temperatures began to climb.

According to the latest research, and the most distinguished geneticist, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, human gene frequencies; the gradual change of a character or phenotype in a species over a particular geographical area, show that there were three areas of human expansion during the Upper Palaeolithic era. One was centered on the Sea of Japan and its archipelagos and expanded out along the shorelines, and by boat to the western coast of North America, starting from the Solomon Island group, then out over the Pacific Islands. Eventually becoming the ancestors of many west coast North American native peoples, most notably the Haida Gweii. They also migrated back into Southeast Asia.

Another group was centered over Northern Eurasia and Siberia. This group migrated south and to the east over the Bering land bridge into North America. They would be the ancestors of the Clovis and all the other peoples who would eventually inhabit North and South America.

The third expansion came out of Arabia and the Middle East area and moved into Europe, the Mediterranean and northeast Africa. There is debate over whether Cro-Magnon had expanded along the ice age shoreline of Europe, Greenland and then south along the North American east coast.

Many of these migrations would soon cease though as the ice continued to melt, and would have left many groups of peoples isolated. Within 5,000 years after peak glaciations the world’s sea levels rose 20 m (66ft). The great glacial lakes in North America, which were once massive sheets of ice, began to flood off the continent and about 11,500 years ago, according to fossil remains of coral beds, there was an abrupt rise in sea levels of another 24 m (79 ft) and once again the earth’s surface was changed, and all the species upon its surface would have to adapt along with it to survive, with many sites of human habitat flooded over, as the Mediterranean continued to fill and the shorelines of most of the continents were disappearing beneath the water. More and more, groups of people had to move to higher ground, leaving behind what culture they did have, to the rising seas. Though these transitions often times took generations, in the northern regions, changes were more drastic, in that from a glacial environment it was becoming forest, the land being exposed by the retreating glaciers would have been compressed flat by the immense weight of the ice as it slowly crept northward, and had ripped out huge gouges in the earth, which today, are the fjords of northern Europe, Hudsons Bay and North America The ice melting also would have exposed seasonal rivers and lakes, with great forests arising over the now barren lands. By 13,000 years ago the tundra-glacial hunters were being replaced by Mesolithic forest and coastal hunters and gatherers. And with new technologies such as the bow and arrow, they began to devastate any big game still remaining.

In North America much of the north and central regions became grass land. And with a north-south corridor opening up through the melting ice sheets, and the Bering land bridge slowly disappearing, another wave of peoples began to fan out over the continent. They would become known as the Clovis people.

The North American natives, the Northern Paiute, of present day California, Nevada, and Oregon have an interesting legend, about their ancestors who had come from the north, “Ice had formed ahead of them, and it reached all the way to the sky. The people could not cross it . . .  A Raven flew up and struck the ice and cracked it. Coyote said, “These small people can’t get across the ice.”  Another Raven flew up again and cracked the ice again. Coyote said, “Try again. Try again.” Raven flew up again, broke the ice, and the people ran across.

The first wave of humans had migrated down the western coastline earlier, as far south as Santa Rosa Island, off the Californian coast. The bones and remains of “Arlington Springs Man” were found there, and are dated to 13,000 years ago. At peak glaciations 18,000 years ago, the four Channel Islands, that lay up to 26m (42km) off the state of California was one big island called Santa Rosae, and was only five miles off the coast, not so isolated as they are today, separately. The earliest documented settlement on the Queen Charlotte Islands of Canada’s west coast, has been found to have been used more than 11,000 years ago. Coinciding with sites found on the east coast of North America dated to about the same time.

Though they were not the first, nor the last humans to reach North America, the Clovis people thrived from about 14,000 years ago. North America before this time was much the same as Africa as far as mega-fauna (large mammals) goes, with many species. From herds of mammoths and horses, to lions, cheetahs, camels, and great grand sloths, North American Llamas, musk ox, giant beaver, short-faced bears (bigger than grizzlies), American mastodon, giant bison, and saber-tooth tigers roamed the landscape. But after peak glaciations many of the bigger mammals weighing more than 40kg (88 lbs) began to die out. Though the ice age itself was the cause of thousands of extinctions of creatures, humans entering the scene would have a profound impact on these animals.

Over the last 50,000 years, thirty-three of the largest mammals in North America have become extinct. Many of these species, as well as the Clovis peoples themselves, would soon disappear and become extinct 12,900 years ago. Some scientific evidence has suggested that a swarm of comets roared through the atmosphere at that time and broke up into hundreds of fragments, hitting North America like the pellets out of a sawed-off shotgun. The effect on the climate was sudden, as a huge dust cloud expanded outwards. In less than two years the temperature dropped -7 C (18 F). And within a couple of a hundred years after the devastation from the initial impact, changes in the environment and the hunting capabilities of the Clovis people, fifteen species of the largest mammals could not adapt or survive, and soon went the way of the dinosaur, and were no more.

More recent and perhaps more accurate data suggests that indeed the earth cooled at this time in what has been named the Younger Dryas, though it was not due to a meteorite but actually a cooling period caused by an abrupt change in the complex of the global climate. The same thing was happening in Europe and by 15,000 years ago the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, European Hippo, Irish elk, cave lion, European Jaguar, cave bear, hyena, steppe bison and the interesting elasmotherium, which were similar to a Rhino but with longer legs, all became extinct. The elasmotherium 2 m (6 ft) high and over 6 m (20ft) long and upwards of five tonnes, had a single two meters long horn, was a fast runner and had teeth similar to a horse. But soon the hunting prowess of humans alone decimated most all these animals and with most of the larger game gone, smaller forest animals, such as deer would replace them.

Meanwhile the Indonesian landmass was becoming a group of separate islands once more, with New Guinea even more isolated, and the Australian continent was turning into a desert, with most all of the big game once there already driven to extinction 20,000 – 30,000 years previously by the first archaic inhabitants. The descendants of these first inhabitants of Australia would find themselves ever more isolated in a barren land, nearly devoid of animal life.

The people of the Japanese archipelago would become perhaps the first sedentary people in the world, with the Jomon period starting at least 16,000 years ago. They seemed to have been very skilled coastal and deep water fishermen. Pottery found in Japanese archaeology sites have been dated to about 15,000 years ago. There are theories that these seafaring people had made their way around and along the edge of the glaciers that protruded down from the Bering land bridge, before it had melted back northwards, and had extensively explored down the west coast of the North American continent.

All this expansion of populations of humans covering the earth’s landmasses would have a profound effect on the future of all living things. Population would become an issue, as well as the un-evolving needs of food and water, and the new primary quandary of our species, how do we get along.

 

 

Image – An artist’s conception of an early modern human. Credit: Illustration by Zdenek Burian.

http://www.stoneageinstitute.org/

 

 

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