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
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
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
Survival of the fittest means “survival of the form that will
leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.”
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
Bronze Age – the period when bronze metallurgy
(extraction of metal from ores) developed.
Iron Age – the period when iron was smelted to produce
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.