I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how societies might have been structured before the development of agriculture. Clearly, we can’t directly study the human groups that existed outside Africa between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago, because they no longer exist. So I also looked at relatives of humans, particularly our closest, bonobos, Pan paniscus.
Our ancestors left very little evidence. Although they did use stone and bone, a great deal of their artefacts were made of wood or leather and were perishable. The few that we do have are somewhat mysterious.
To try to shed light on this, we reviewed a wide range of anthropological literature. We especially concentrated on extant traditional societies, of which there are a surprising number, despite the attempts by religious fundamentalists, especially the Christian and Muslim ones, to eradicate them. (As a matter of fact, Islam has been less damaging to many traditional societies than Christianity, as we see from the number of traditional groups still living, and respected, in Indonesia.)
We reviewed the mythology that was recorded soon after the invention of writing, in Sumer in the 5th Millennium BCE. We then compared this to modern mythologies which form part of traditional cultures. We also looked at similar species, and that’s where bonobos came in.
You have to be brain-dead to deny the fact of Evolution these days. Well, these last 150 years actually… Apparently though, at least 40% of USians (other Americans are smarter), are indeed just so cerebrally demised. Hopped the neurological twig as it were. Zombified the gray matter. Deceased the thinking apparatus.
Now why would we worry? These are sister-shagging Bible belt rednecks who still think the South actually won the Civil War, aren’t they? ‘Oh no man we just kinda took a time out for a mint juleps n some grits n shit them gaddamn Yankees done called time on us!’ So who cares what they think?
Hot cross buns. That’s what this article is about. So why do I have a picture of a Roman sculpture of a bull’s head here instead of a nice snap of some hot cross buns?
Hot cross buns actually originated in Assyria as a part of worship of the Moon Goddess Ishtar. At least that is the earliest record we have of them. The Egyptians continued the tradition of offering cakes to their Moon-Goddess Hathor. They decorated the cakes with bull’s horns, as the ox was the preferred sacrifice of the Goddess. The cakes, therefore, were symbolic of the sacrificed bull, whose flesh would be eaten by worshippers.
Hathor has been identified with Ishtar and Astarte, who was worshipped by King Solomon, as mentioned in the Old Testament (1 Kings 11, 2), and to whom he erected a temple or shrine in Jerusalem.
This article was originally published in 2015. If I thought then that things might be better by now, five years later, I was deluding myself. Today we see an upsurge, again, of Islamist violence and hatred. All of our appeasement has failed; the war intensifies. Fear of Islam is just the common-sense position to take, in 2020.
France and the world have been shocked by a brutal and vicious massacre of journalists at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This atrocity was perpetrated by Islamists with the specific aim of preventing criticism of their ideology. In the aftermath, unprecedented levels of public outrage and grief were displayed all over France.
Just this week, 44 men of the Philippines Special Action Force were murdered by Islamists in southern Mindanao. The officers had their throats cut. This atrocity was carried out by the Islamist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has made a career out of the usual stock-in-trades of the Islamist – murder, kidnapping, torture and extortion. Here too, there has been a massive outpouring of public emotion.
It is now over twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall; for many young people, the Cold War, of which it was the most compelling symbol, is no more than a history lesson. In my desk here I have a small piece of concrete, with paint on, which was recovered from that wall and sold as a tourist trinket. It is perhaps the most telling one I have.
Our children do not, as those of my generation did, live in daily fear of being blown to pieces by atomic bombs or dying an agonising death from radiation sickness. They do not walk into their schools to find posters saying “Better Dead Than Red” on the walls, nor do they crowd around flickering television sets alongside their anguished parents, watching as Kennedy drew his line in the ocean, and curled his finger around the trigger of nuclear Armageddon. And for this we should all be very, very thankful indeed. No child should have to live with nightmares like those. Continue reading “The Realpolitik of Islamism”
“Mounds, Long-barrows, Cairns, Cursus, Dolmens, Standing stones, mark-stones, Stone circles, Henges, Water-markers (moats, ponds, springs, fords, wells), Castle, Beacon-hills, Churches, Cross-roads, Notches in hills,”
Ley lines were invented by an Englishman called Alfred Watkins, who had spent much time cycling around the countryside near his home. In 1925, he wrote a book called The Old Straight Track, in which he described a revelation he’d had while looking at a map of Herefordshire four years earlier. He had suddenly seen a network of straight lines that connected points of human activity., like those in his quote above.
Time travel has fascinated us for over a century, leading to all sorts of speculation about it.
HG Wells wrote perhaps the first of the many books about this and, of course, the beloved Doctor Who is dependent on time travel.
Time Travel and Space
Wells’ vision, however entertaining, overlooked one major problem with time travel: even if you could move to a different when, establishing where that would be is staggeringly complex. The Earth is not stationary, indeed nothing in the Universe is. You would need to calculate precisely where in space you wanted to be at the time you wanted to be there. Suppose you just want to go back a week. It’s not just a matter of going back a week where you are now, because last week, where you are now was 11.25 million miles away.
Cooking is now seen as the definitive characteristic of modern humans, from which all others followed. It seems to have directly led to the development of tools, especially blade design, but it had many other consequences.
Cooking, particularly of meats and fats but also starches, partially pre-digests the food, making more energy available to us and allowing us to use less to digest it. We put this extra energy into growing brains. Growing big brains burns many calories and just running them consumes a significant part of our daily food intake. We know that the physical structures which allow us to speak were evolving at the same time as our brains were growing larger. Speech allowed more complex and efficient communication and cooperation. This encouraged conceptual thinking and other intellectual skills, again leading to the development of bigger brains.
Modern humans first appeared in Africa around 150,000 – 180,000 years ago; one of a closely-related group of hominids that had populated the savannah over the preceding three million years. During that time, our ancestors learned how to talk, how to make fire and cook and how to cooperate in groups. We probably lived in a similar way to earlier hominids, but something extraordinary happened: we developed culture.
In an oral culture — one that is not written down — mythology evolves as it is passed from storyteller to storyteller. The Jesus myth was created in exactly this way, pasted together from earlier sources. This process is called ‘syncretisation.’
There is no fixed record of an oral tradition, by definition. In an oral culture or tradition, myths grow and develop to reflect the lived experiences and cultures of the people telling them. It was only when writing was invented that these traditions could be codified and by that time, they had been evolving for thousands of years. This means that there are many versions of the same myth, as different peoples carried it forward.
So we cannot say that, because detail differences exist between two similar myths, they are different or have different origins.