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.
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.
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.
Mastery of Fire
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.
Agriculture & Settlements
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?