Lesson 1: Early Humans and Man's Search for Origins


Terms in this set (...)

Learning Outcomes
1. Understand the main theories of human origins.

2. Explain the significance of the creation stories of various civilizations.

3. Describe the shift from hunter/gatherer to settle agriculture and explain the spread of agriculture.

4. Describe the early social organization of agricultural societies.
James Harvey Robinson
A history professor at Columbia University, argued that students should be exposed to long duration of human experience.

He suggested the students should study the "total history" (Burke) of humankind.

Professional historians rely primarily on the written record, the bulk of human history falls outside the scope of most history books.
Prehistory/ Prehistoric Period
Period before the advent of written records.
Creation Stories and Human Origins
Stories about how humans came to be can be found in the oral and written traditions of most cultures on earth.

These stories were passed on from generation to generation before they were finally recorded.

No one could say if any of these stories were true because they referred to a period prior to human existence—they became a matter of faith, part of the spiritual and religious traditions of the various cultures that formed them.
Genesis Chapters 1 & 2
Hebrew account of creation.

In Genesis, God created the world from unorganized matter in only a few days—what is meant by a day has been a matter of discussion for scholars of religion for centuries.

Mankind was God's final creation and marked the greatest aspect of the creative process.

Accordingly, mankind holds an exalted position in creation.
Enuma Elish
Mesopotamia account of creation.

The record of this account is older than the Genesis story.

In the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian story found in the supplemental readings for this lesson, a great war in heaven ensues. The battle is fierce. Following the war in heaven, the gods create the world and finally the god Marduk creates mankind to worship the gods.
Concerns the birth of the gods and the creation of the universe and human beings.

In the beginning there was only undifferentiated water swirling in chaos. Out of this swirl, the waters divided into sweet, fresh water, known as the god Apsu, and salty bitter water, the goddess Tiamat. Once differentiated, the union of these two entities gave birth to the younger gods.

These young gods, however, were extremely loud, troubling the sleep of Apsu at night and distracting him from his work by day. Upon the advice of his Vizier, Mummu, Apsu decides to kill the younger gods.

Tiamat, hearing of their plan, warns her eldest son, Enki (sometimes Ea) and he puts Apsu to sleep and kills him. From Apsu's remains, Enki creates his home. Tiamat, once the supporter of the younger gods, now is enraged that they have killed her mate.

She consults with the god, Quingu, who advises her to make war on the younger gods. Tiamat rewards Quingu with the Tablets of Destiny, which legitimize the rule of a god and control the fates, and he wears them proudly as a breastplate. With Quingu as her champion, Tiamat summons the forces of chaos and creates eleven horrible monsters to destroy her children.

Ea, Enki, and the younger gods fight against Tiamat futilely until, from among them, emerges the champion Marduk who swears he will defeat Tiamat. Marduk defeats Quingu and kills Tiamat by shooting her with an arrow which splits her in two; from her eyes flow the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Out of Tiamat's corpse, Marduk creates the heavens and the earth, he appoints gods to various duties and binds Tiamat's eleven creatures to his feet as trophies (to much adulation from the other gods) before setting their images in his new home. He also takes the Tablets of Destiny from Quingu, thus legitimizing his reign.

After the gods have finished praising him for his great victory and the art of his creation, Marduk consults with the god Ea (the god of wisdom) and decides to create human beings from the remains of whichever of the gods instigated Tiamat to war. Quingu is charged as guilty and killed and, from his blood, Ea creates Lullu, the first man, to be a helper to the gods in their eternal task of maintaining order and keeping chaos at bay.

As the poem phrases it, "Ea created mankind/On whom he imposed the service of the gods, and set the gods free." Following this, Marduk "arranged the organization of the netherworld" and distributed the gods to their appointed stations. The poem ends in Tablet VII with long praise of Marduk for his accomplishments.
Rig Veda Hymns
India account of creation.

In the first story, the creator-god seems to create not only life, but also the lesser gods through mighty waters that contained the "universal germ" of life.
Ancient Chinese Creation Story
In this story, the goddess Nu Wa was lonely, so as she was playing with some clay near a stream, she unintentionally created people. She was so pleased that she made many more.
Greek creation myths
According to the Greek tradition, the goddess Gaia (representing the earth) emerged out of chaos. Her spouse was Chronos. It is from these gods that we get the well-known phrases of "mother earth" and "father time." Gaia and Chronos gave birth to a whole host of gods and goddesses whose scheming and violent machinations lead to the ultimate downfall of their parents and paved the way for a pantheon of "new" gods and goddesses.