Ancient myths about the origin of man

The problem of human origin invariably attracts the attention of the public. In a number of countries, this issue falls into the “top” of problems, according to which the discrepancies between scientific and mass representations are the most significant

The share of consonants with the fact that a person has descended from pre-existing primate species varies from less than 40% (Turkey and the USA) to more than 70% in different countries (Sweden, Denmark, Iceland). The rest hold different views or are not at all interested in such a question.

Among other versions of the widely known biblical, according to which man was created by the creator of the dust of the ground. Moreover, even the majority of believers do not deny that the living nature evolves, but for an individual an exception is made. Sometimes you have to deal with the allegations that a person is sent to Earth by aliens whose origins and goals are worthy of a thriller or comedy. It is clear that the stories about the newcomers appeared only in the 20th century, together with the growing popularity of fantasy novels and the beginning of space exploration.

Modern ideas about the evolution of the living and human world as a part of it are also of relatively recent origin, although ancient philosophers also talked about the possibility of evolution. The statement that a man came from a monkey was formulated in the 18th century by Scottish lawyer and researcher James Burnett, a friend of Robert Burns and opponent of George Buffon. About the great apes, as well as the inhabitants of other continents at that time knew little. Therefore, some believed that chimps are simply wild people, while others, even from different races, were considered different species. Charles Darwin in the book “The Origin of Man and Sexual Selection” (1871) wrote the origin of man from ancient anthropoid apes and believed that the origin of man was the African continent

If the history of scientific thought is studied quite well, then the time of the appearance of ideas about the creation of man by God is unknown. The oldest surviving written sources in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages, which describe the creation of people from clay, belong to the Old Babylonian period (XX-XVI centuries BC). One of the texts tells of the god Enki and the goddess Ninmah (she is Ninto). It says that the tired of the work of the gods decided to create people, so that they worked in their place. Enki sculpts people from clay, and Ninmah determines their fate. People are defective, but everyone has an application – the blind person suits singers, the bow-legged can be a jeweler, etc. It is possible that Enki added his own blood to the clay, as in the Akkadian version, which directly refers to the blood mixed with clay.

The Ancient Histories

To date, ethnographers, linguists, folklorists, and earlier travelers and missionaries have recorded hundreds of thousands of texts of legends, myths and fairy tales of different peoples of the world. The vast majority of records are made in the 19-20 centuries. and only a small (though, of course, very valuable) part is contained in medieval and ancient written monuments. The earliest Sumerian and Egyptian texts that convey the content of myths refer to the III millennium BC, Semitic texts – to the II millennium BC, Greek and Chinese – to the 1st millennium BC. However, early written sources knowingly do not contain information about all the folklore subjects of the respective epochs – their authors simply did not have such a goal, and only fragments of the oldest texts reached us. Simultaneously with the Egyptians and Greeks on earth lived thousands of other tribes and peoples, whose folklore no one recorded. What do we know about the folklore and mythology of the Slavs of the VI. AD, when they began to settle in the Balkans and Eastern Europe? Almost nothing. Moreover, compared with the history of mankind or even with the time that has passed since the end of the last glaciation, two, three or even four thousand years – the time is not so long.

Does this mean that the folklore-mythological heritage of humanity is almost completely lost? Not really, although the concrete texts of the ancestors of the Slavs, Celts or Albanians can hardly be reconstructed. But you can roughly determine the time of the distribution of certain mythological subjects, as well as the territory for which they were characteristic. Using only the folklore material itself, this can not be done, but if you apply the areas of distribution of certain mythological episodes and images to a geographical map, and then compare this information with the data of geneticists and archaeologists about the ways and time of migration of ancient people, then some assumptions can be made.

Such work was carried out on the basis of the “Analytical Catalog of Mythological Motives”, which includes repetitive elements of folklore (narrative episodes and images), isolated from more than 50,000 texts written in different languages among the peoples of the Old and New Worlds. Although the catalog does not include all the records (as already said, hundreds of thousands, if not millions) of records, it contains a fairly representative sample of data and, what is extremely important, reflects the folklore traditions of all continents approximately equally.

If the regions in which this or that mythological plot was recorded lie in the way of known migrations, and in other regions this plot does not occur or is encountered singly, it can be assumed that it was during these migrations that the plot spread. The time for the release of modern man from Africa and the settlement of the New World are key to assessing the time of the distribution of folklore episodes and images. According to archaeologists and geneticists, our ancestors penetrated from Africa to Eurasia 50-70 thousand years ago. The settlement of America began 15-17 thousand years ago and continued actively until 12-14 thousand years ago. Later, certain groups of people from Siberia penetrated only Alaska and the American Arctic. The first groups of migrants to America moved, most likely, along the ocean coast, and when the Canadian and Alaskan glaciers began to melt, those who lived in continental Siberia also went to the New World. Dating of the type 15 or 50 thousand years ago is approximate, they will still be specified, but the sequence of processes and their epochal affiliation are established fairly reliably.

The area of distribution of several mythological plots coincides with the ways of settling people from the African ancestral home along the coast of Asia and then America. Most of these stories describe the origin of death and explain why people have lost the ability to live forever or why not people, and snakes (or lizards, spiders, etc.) have become immortal. The most common stories about the origin of death include the story of the change of skin (earlier people, like snakes, changed skin and rejuvenated or the ability to change skin had to go to people, but for different reasons it got to other creatures). It is also widespread that the mortal people are opposed to an immortal, eternally resurgent month. There are other subjects – rarer, but common in the same territories, i.e. in Africa, Southeast and in part South and East Asia, Australia, Melanesia, America. So, according to one of them, the character threw chips in the water and said that as chips splash in the water, so people will be reborn after death. However, another character threw a stone and as he drowned, people became mortal. To the same set of ancient motifs is the identification of the rainbow with the snake and, possibly, the origin of the fire. In any case, only in Africa and in the Indo-Pacific world is the notion that, before people got fire, they cooked food in the sun or warmed it under their arms. In the same regions it is often believed that the original owner of the fire was a certain woman. In continental Eurasia, such ideas are not fixed. Here is a woman, but also often a man is a spirit of fire, the fire itself.

The fact that the first topic that attracted the attention of our ancestors was the death rate of people, it is quite logical – is there anything more mysterious and more important? The mastery of fire was the oldest and most important step in the development of technology, and therefore everything is natural here.

We emphasize once again: the age of the corresponding myths is evidenced by their presence in the territories, contacts between which took place only in the remote past, and then for a long time were interrupted. Myths about human mortality have not only penetrated the New World, but are recorded mainly in South America, where the cultural heritage of the earliest migrants is better preserved than in the North. As for the parallels between Africa and the Indo-Pacific outskirts of Asia and Australia, they prove the appearance of such myths earlier than 50 thousand years ago. According to genetic data, the flow of the first African migrants went primarily along the southern coasts of Asia and further to Australia. People who settled continental Eurasia also left Africa, but their culture was to undergo much greater changes than the culture of those who headed east along the coast of the Indian Ocean – after all, the “northern Eurasians” came from the tropics to cold forests and tundra steppes. In addition, a significant part of these early settlers became extinct in the era of the glacial maximum (18-24 thousand years ago). As a result, little of the African cultural roots in continental Eurasia remain, and in the Indo-Pacific Asia, the oldest African heritage has remained relatively well.

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