Human Enquiries into the Past and Origin of the World
Humans are the only species on earth concerned with understanding as well as explaining the world and the universe. In the course of evolution, humans became conscious and knowledgeable. They turned curious and began to think and ask questions about nature, organisms and the world around them. At first, they considered nature as God. They worshipped sun, moon and various natural forces about which they developed their own understanding, some of which is not scientific. The lack of scientific knowledge on the creation of the world is reflected in the ancient writings and religious literature.
BCE – Before Common Era
CE - Common Era
The beginning of history writing can be traced to the ancient Greeks. Herodotus (484–425 BCE) is considered the Father of History, because the history he wrote was humanistic and rationalistic. In the Middle Ages, people were preoccupied with religion; but the real scientific enquiries became stronger only around the 15th and 16th centuries CE, with the Renaissance movement in Europe playing an influential role in rational thinking. Scientific enquiry was undertaken and scientific foundations for geology, biology, anthropology and archaeology were laid. Numerous ideas were articulated by various learned men in these fields during this period. Through their enquiry and observation, scholars believed that the evidence for the origin of the earth and the organisms lay in the upper layers of the earth.
The rise of scientific enquiry into the origin of humans was possible because of
the interest in collection of archaeological remains and the opening of museums after the Renaissance Movement;
· the development of ideas of stratigraphy and geology;
· Darwin’s theory of biological evolution;
· the discovery of human and animal fossils, stone tools, and artefacts of early civilizations; and
· the ability to decipher early scripts.
Stratigraphy – The study of origin, nature and relationships of rock and soil layers that were formed due to natural and cultural activities.
Oldest Museum – The museum of Ennigaldi-Nanna in Mesopotamia was established in 530 BCE. The princess Ennigaldi was the daughter of the neo- Babylonian king Nabonidus.The Capitoline Museum in Italy is perhaps the oldest surviving museum (1471 CE) at present. Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University is the oldest university museum in the world. It was established in 1677 CE.
Herbert Spencer’s (1820–1903 CE) and Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882 CE) theory on biological evolution, concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest contributed to the scientific understanding of human origins. Charles Darwin published the books On the Origin of Species in 1859 and The Descent of Man in 1871.
Natural selection – The processes by which organisms that are better adapted to their environment would survive and produce more offspring.
Survival of the fittest means “survival of the form that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.”
Fossil – Prehistoric animal or plant that turns into stone over a period of time (millions of years) because of chemical and physical processes. Animal bones are preserved due to mineralization. Palaeontology is the study of fossils.
The idea of the Three Age System proposed by C.J. Thomsen became the basis for understanding early human history. He classified the artefacts in the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen, into Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Stone Age – the period when stone was mainly used for making implements.
Bronze Age – the period when bronze metallurgy (extraction of metal from ores) developed.
Iron Age – the period when iron was smelted to produce implements.
Since the 19th century, scholars have used advanced scientific techniques and undertook systematic studies to contribute to the current state of knowledge on prehistory, human origins and the early civilisations. Now the theory of human evolution is widely accepted.