Almost every human society has its beliefs its folk tales about how and where it originated. In some societies it may amount to a legend handed down by word of mouth, or in more complex societies it may consist of an elaborate and detailed account that is associated with a set of beliefs involving a god or creator, worship, a code of conduct that (if adhered to) will bring resurrection after death and reunion with the creative force. An example of the former is the Masai tribe in East Africa, who believe that their people originated from an active volcano in their part of the world - a clear link between their origins and the most powerful natural force in their environment. The Christian creation myth centers on Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but the idyll was soon shattered by the advent of disobedience to God's will and retribution in the form of the flood. This account, originated in the Near East, had profound effects for many centuries on geological thought and the interpretation of the findings of naturalists.
A history of our history Greek and Roman scholars were well aware from antiquity of the existence of monkeys and apes, and the similarity of these animals to humans did not escape them; neither did it escape the ancient thinkers of Asia who often portrayed Hanuman, the Monkey-God, in human form and proportion. The Greek philosopher and "Father of Natural History" Aristotle (c. 330 BC) observed the features that groups of animals share, and he created the first classification of animal types. In his great work, Historia animalium, he assigned animals to two groups: those with red blood, and those he thought were without blood. Broadly, the first group are what we today call the vertebrates (animals with backbones): fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The second group were the invertebrates, such as worms, shellfish and insects. In this system he placed apes between humans and monkeys, and noted that monkeys have tails while apes do not: "Some animals share the properties of man and the quadrupeds, as the ape, the monkey and the baboon." Aristotle also wrote of a "tree of life", with humans at the top, although he was not explicit about the notion of evolution. Heraclitus (c. 500BC) thought that animal species could change. Anaximander of Miletus (c. 570 BC) was the first to propose a theory of evolution and was also the first to use the verb "to evolve". He concluded that humans had originated from a different animal species.
The earth until the late 18th century the prevailing view was that the Earth was basically volcanic in origin, and that sedimentary rocks, particularly those containing fossils, were the result of catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions or the biblical flood. Such animal remains were termed antediluvian - from "before the deluge". This view was challenged in 1788 by the work of William Hutton, an Edinburgh doctor and scientist. He was intrigued by geological unconformities, in which rocks of strikingly different types are in direct contact and lie on top of each other. Unconformities were not readily explained by the prevailing, somewhat static, view of the time, in which the Earth was an unchanging structure awaiting yet another catastrophe. Hutton was also aware of the cycle of the evaporation of the oceans, followed by rainfall. He coupled this with the theory that older rocks are broken down and weathered by natural forces to form particles of sediments such as sand and mud; these are washes into the sea, settle out into marine deposits, and form hard rocks once more. Hutton stated that this dynamic process had occurred uniformly and continuously for many millennia. The principal was termed Uniformitarianism, and it was finally made widely known and understood by John Playfair in 1802 and Charles Lyell in 1838.
The first reference to fossils may be that of Xenophanes of Colophone (c. 540 BC). He realized that the presence of shells and fish bones in rocks was evidence that the rock layers were once under water. He had observed fossils in different strata, and he concluded that each layer boundary represented a universal extinction of all plants and animals (including humans), followed by a recreation of the living world. This is perhaps the earliest record of a catastrophic view of geology. In the Middle Ages fossils were found in Europe from time to time. The were often of ice-age mammoths that were interpreted as the bones of giants. The fossils were kept as curios and displayed in churches and public places. Perhaps the most famous of these discoveries was Homo diluvii testis - "man who has witnessed the flood". In 1726 near the village of Oeningen, Switzerland, Dr Johann Jakob Scheuchzer found a skeleton that he believed represented one of the men whose sins had brought the disaster of the deluge upon the world. (In fact the skeleton is that of a salamander from millions of years ago.) Now we are going to try to answer the question: Where does man come from?
- Time Frames: The Human Dawn, page 17 -
- The Dawn of Man, page 6 - 10 -
Ecotourism may be a revenue generator for the South African economy, but South Africa can be a world leader in paleotourism in which visitors can see man's oldest remeains. (Anita Allen)
- The Star newspaper: 28-7-1995
See the spread of our ancestors