history 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind  

analise.dubner
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There's nothing that get's people's goats more than making these kinds of lists. As if you could boil down the more important things... as if it really means anything anyway. But I think its cool anyhow. I love the idea that there were these THINGS that happened to mankind that made us what we are now. That helped or hindered us, that spell out salvation and doom at the same time. Things that, if they had not happened the way they did... would have made the world look very different indeed.

And that's just neat.
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Agriculture & Settlements


Agriculture & Settlements is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  Unsplash/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Is it too much to say that Agriculture alone was totally responsible for our current World Dominating status? Probably not. Because once we started figuring out that we could grow food in one place, our populations started growing exponentially. Less chances of getting killed by angry wildlife, true, but also the wear and tear of having to go out every.single.day and look for things to kill or strip off bushes in order to eat... it was hard on a guy. Especially when you usually just found a couple of withered looking roots and some seedpods that looked like they *might* not be poisonous.

One can argue, pretty successfully I think, that farming was what set us on the destructive path we are still on, but that is a vast and complex argument for another list.

Some tribes didn't really dig the idea at all, but over a thousand years or so, pretty much everyone got on board. It got harder to be a holdout when the FireRock Clan had built those nice mud huts and seemed to be living it up and having BBQs and ... was that some kind of metal stick? That could cut things? Also, it turned out that sheep were good for more than eating, and those guys all had some pretty warm clothes while your husband's wolfskin shirt was starting to smell pretty bad.

Settlements meant security. Agriculture meant a steady food source. And those two things gave us two magical words: Free Time.

You know what you can do with free time?
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Writing


Writing is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo: Dave LaFontaine/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Writing was so more than just scratchings on a stone tablet. It was more than just some flunky writing down the history of whatever Awesome Guy (who was totally standing over him waiting for him to come up with another glowing adjective) on a wall in little birds, dogs and wavy lines.

The written word gave people the ability to keep track of inventories, to pass on magic recipes and secret stuff that only rich, influential people wanted other rich, influential people to know. At first it was mostly the purview of priests... wanting to keep all their important knowledge to themselves.  The printing press was a long way away, so everything was transcribed by hand for a good while. The Sumerians figured out a way to make stamps for each letter which they pressed into semi-hard clay... and that was kind of like a really slow tedious typewriter, but smart! No hand cramps from tapping little wedges into rock. Being able to pass around information - ritual knowledge, tax information, population records... it allowed the breadth and depth of civilization to never be lost.

Sure, humans still repeat the mistakes of history even now -- even with the vast store of knowledge and the ledger of mistakes made and lessons learned, people still just keep on being small, petty, tribal, people. That seems like it will never change.

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Mastery of Fire


Mastery of Fire is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  gholem/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
It was only about 1 million years ago that humanity first started cooking food. Did it change the world? Yep. If you look at all the failed Homo species (and there are many) you will find that they all have something in common... huge, thick jaws and teeth. This is because the early humans spent, literally, 6 hours every single day, chewing. Before we cooked and processed the food we found and hunted, we had to eat it raw. The diet of early man was diverse indeed, but it all had one thing in common -- it was super damned hard to chew. Tubers, stems, leaves, raw meat if you could get it, tough-skinned fruits... the food of today has been bred for thousands of years to be soft and full of sugars. The fruit of our ancestors was barely sweet, had thick, tough skins and was extremely fibrous. Imagine eating celery for every meal, only way tougher. 

There was a lot of chewing, is what I'm saying. The time you weren't hunting and gathering, you were sitting there chewing. Ancient man had teeth the size of a man's thumb and a jaw bone 4 times as thick as ours today. If, today, we tried to spend 6 hours chewing on tree bark, our jaws would fracture from the stress by the second day.

Fire, when it was mastered, became hugely important in the preparation of food. Cooked meat is hundreds of times easier to eat.. same with cooked tubers. The heat breaks down the fibers. Once man figured this out, not only did our bodies evolve to need less chewing, but we were able to spend more time thinking, being creative, gathering even more food, having sex --- you know, stuff you do when you aren't just chewing all day.

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Language


Language is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  Giuliamar/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
On the surface, this might not seem as important as some of the other things on this list. After all, almost all animals have some kind of communicative skill -- vocal or chemical or just body language. These animals have not achieved the same level of dominance as Homo Sapien has, however. Why is that?

A very interesting thing about our species is the quality of the sounds we make. The variance is amazing. Again, not unique to humans... but something that is unique is that this ability came with a risk. About 100,000 years ago our mouths started getting smaller and protruding less. Our necks grew longer and our tongues became more flexible.and grew from further down. The larynx elongated, pulling further down the esophagus and creating the risk that swallowed food had a chance of entering our windpipe. We can talk with each other with great complexity, but we are the only animal that risks choking on our own food because of it. A strange evolutionary tactic, but one that has paid off in spades... because just think of how the ability to clearly and precisely communicate with each other has changed humanity... and with it, the world.
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Domestication of Animals


Domestication of Animals is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  PIX1861/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
Ever since the dog (which, btw, has been our faithful friend for almost 10,000 years now) lots of humans learned pretty quickly that animals were not only delicious treats, but could be used for other stuff, too. Why plow a field by hand when you could let an ox do the job for you? Why bother wandering around in the poison sumac patch with a net and a dream when you could just keep some fat little birds in your own yard and eat them whenever you wanted? Why walk when you could ride your brand new, hardly-any-miles-on-it Camel? There is a direct link to the formation of "successful" (read dominating) civilizations with domesticated animals. How many different kinds you had, how well you were able to get them to do stuff, how many balls you could get them to balance on their noses.

Eurasians had 11 different kinds of animals capable of being 'tamed', all of which they actually did domesticate. Africa had none. I mean, really how useful would a lion be, anyway? And elephants, while "trainable", have never successfully been domesticated. Once the cow was introduced to Africa from Europe, it was immediately accepted, but the Water Buffalo ... Africa's cow, was never made to bend to human will. Turns out it's super dangerous. Go ahead, try. See how you do. Same with zebra. Anyone ever wonder why no one rides them? Turns out they are meaner than Hades A**hole. They bite. Hard. Making dogs pull sleds and carts and getting horses to submit to having some fat merchant climb on board was a major factor in Humanity's march to Domination.
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Crude Tools


Crude Tools is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo: Thomas Small/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Lets face it, Mankind's deep, loving relationship with his tools is pretty much what puts us on top of the foodchain around here. They are ... what's the word? Useful. If you don't have a really long arm and you suck at climbing trees because someone made the decision back down the line that we were moving to two legs, you still need to get the fruit down. How about this long stick? And how does one go about getting a coconut open? Fingernails are just no good in these kinds of situations. And what about that guy you really hate? The one a few caves over? God, that guy. A sharpened rock should do the trick. What about the lever?  Axes? And don't even get me started about long-range weapons. Cro-Magnon learned that a sling was all kinds of awesome for killing stuff you would rather not get too close to. Spears? Even better.

Oh, and the wheel. I guess that was kind of useful. The plow and... the ... well, you get the point.
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Bipedalism


Bipedalism is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  uploaded by analise.dubner
Switching from four legs to two didn't just give us the extra inches we needed to reach the peanut butter on the top shelf, it allowed us to start using those two extra limbs for other stuff that was way cooler than helping us climb ropes faster. Not only did it allow our front appendages to start working on tools, but it set in motion all the steps (haha, see what I did there?) to evolve our skeletons/musculature as long distance runners. Our species developed the ability to become persistence hunters, which gave great payoff in terms of the protein that meat-eating brought. Our calorie-hungry brains were able to grow larger and larger as we became better hunters while our tree-swinging, fruit-eating-and-foraging distant cousins stayed put. Two legs ended up being one of the factors that led to our big brains.
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Technology


Technology is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 10 of the Most Important Things That Happened To Mankind
Photo:  Foto-Rabe/Pixabay/CC0 1.0
At last we come up to the point we're at now. The Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, the Rennaissance, basically the evolution of the scientfic method and the develpment of scientific theory has ensured our almost complete domination as a species on our ever-sadder, little, browning, still-somewhat-blue ball.

Observation began early on and developed hand in hand with almost everything else on this list. We would make the nerdy guy eat the weird blue berry and when he died a few minutes later, we crossed that off our list of things to eat. While we were fighting and killing, we were learning better ways to do it. While we were dying from plagues, we were learning why and how not to die the next time. We would try to turn lead into gold and while were doing that, we found out all kinds of other awesome stuff about chemistry. We would watch the planets and stars and find patterns that helped with crops and later brought us to space. 

This led to a manipulation of the world around us to a scale that our 6 hour-a-day-chewing ancestors could have never comprehended. Harnessing fossil fuels, discovering electricity, inventing manufacturing, cars, computers, x-rays... building trains and spacecraft, satellites and subways. And we are still thinking up new things every day.

While mortality rates have dropped, vaccines have successfully eliminated some of the deadliest pathogens, food is more abundant and accessible than ever before and life expectancy has gone through the roof, we've also created our own climate emergency from doing too much, too fast, with no real concept of the consequences. I guess the question is, can we think our way out of this one in time? Or will this be the last thing we write in the chapter of Life on Earth titled "Homo Sapien"?