God started to create the universe on the evening of October 22, 4004 B.C. The earth itself then is roughly 6000 years old. This was the conclusion of Bishop James Usher, an Anglican clergyman who was very active in church and political affairs in the first half of the 17th century. How did Usher come up with 6000 years? He computed the earth’s age by allowing roughly 300 generations since the time of Adam. He studied all that “begatting” that one finds in Genesis.
Modern anthropology is at odds with the good bishop. But modern anthropological theories seem to have a lifespan of about twenty years. Every twenty years or so the previously held theories of human origins change and they are changing as we speak.
Anthropologists by the middle of the twentieth century declared that “Lucy,” a primate who lived about three million years ago was the mother of us all. But around 2010 we had the discovery of the skeleton of “Ardi” in Africa. Ardi lived about 4.4 million years ago and has supplanted Lucy as the oldest primate.
There is also a lack of agreement on where humans originated. One school of thought is the ‘out of Africa” theory. But now there is also the theory that mankind may have its origins in central Asia. Neither of these theories takes into the account the Denisovans, another variety of human being from Asia who existed at the same time as Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal. The Denisovans simply don’t fit the current theories.
The African theory has our short (under five-feet tall), mocha-colored ancestors, with hair neither straight nor tightly curled, moving out from central Africa. How did they do this? They walked as the human foot is a masterpiece of design. Our feet were made for walking! Settlement advanced at the rate of a mile a year. Add walking and the use of boats to sail along the continental coasts and you get the settlement of the world.
One of the most fascinating issues is the relationship between Homo Sapiens, often seen as “modern” man and Homo Neanderthal. They existed at the same time. Some have even argued that two other “earlier” humanoids, Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis may have still been around during the time of Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal. As late as forty years ago, there were scholars who did not refer to the Neanderthals as humans. This has changed as we now know that the Neanderthals created art. They also buried their dead, indicating a spiritual impulse. What happened to these somewhat bow legged folks with the prominent brow ridges?
One theory is that the Neanderthals vanished because they existed primarily in areas where there was a harsh environment. Another theory is that they were exterminated through warfare with the Homo Sapiens. A third theory holds that the two varieties of human beings intermarried with the physiological traits of the Homo Sapiens eventually dominating. The third theory, intermarriage, is the one now favored. Anthropologists have found genetic markers, typical of Neanderthals, in modern populations. Take your average Neanderthal fellow, take him to Quick Cuts for a shave and a haircut and then take him to Brooks Brothers for a complete head- to- foot wardrobe and you could then take him for a walk on Peachtree Street without causing a second glance.
All of this thinking reveals something which may be the most important yet. The physiological changes that denote racial differences are only about 150,000 years old. Most of these changes have to do with climate. The further north you go the whiter the people are. All varieties of people are universally fertile. Men and women of all races can make children! What this really means is that the differences between us, and, of course, those differences have been made tremendously important, are not due to nature. Our differences are cultural: they are of our own making, they are social. Our divisions and our fears of the “other,” are our doing.
It will be interesting to see what the anthropologists will tell us next. It is perhaps more important to see what we will make of the differences that are of our own making. Must differences always be barriers?
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