The Flood Myth Mystery Solved (maybe, probably not)

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I’ve always had a strange fascination with ancient mythology.  Maybe it’s my interest in story-telling, since ancient myths are the oldest stories we have as a species.  But somehow it has always felt like more to me.  Mythology was an ancient way of passing on stories, before historical accounts were ever kept.  Most people tend to think that myths simply came from the imaginations of ancient people, but I like to think that most myths were a way to pass on the account of an actual important event.  Of course stories get distorted, especially when hundreds of different people tell them over thousands of years, but they need to start somewhere, and it seems more likely to me that ancient people would consider actual historic events more important to pass on than made-up stories.  The amount of time that human beings have been around before ever writing anything down vastly outweighs the span of time of our recorded history, so it’s fascinating to me to hear these stories and try to decipher if it holds some morsel of truth of an actual event in ancient history.  There is an entire field of study dedicated to investigating similarities between myths of different cultures throughout the world, and there are some astounding correlations.  It’s easy to understand how some stories may be passed from one culture to another, and due to constant migrations of ancient cultures, some stories may have simply gotten around through word of mouth.  However there are a few myths from countless isolated cultures around the world that share so many similarities with each other, it’s hard to dismiss it as simply coincidence.

The most widespread and strikingly similar myth is what’s commonly referred to as the “Flood Myth.”  Nearly every ancient culture has some sort of deluge story in their mythology.  These stories don’t always involve flooding; in some the earth is consumed by fire, insects, and all other sorts of natural disasters.  Yet the basic storyline is always the same.  The earth becomes overpopulated, so the culture’s gods or deities decide to destroy it.  Yet they choose one family or couple of humans to repopulate the planet once the deluge is over.  Of course, there are several variations of what happens next, from building an ark and gathering two of every animal, to escaping in hollow reeds provided by a “Spider Mother.”  Yet in the end, the hero survives (and amazingly almost always ends up on a mountain) and repopulates the planet with ‘righteous’ or at least more heavenly-aligned humans.  The similarities and seeming universality of the myth has baffled mythologists and anthropologists for centuries.  Most dismiss it as coincidence or claim that it got around by the good old means of word-of-mouth.  But what if there was some sort of global event that caused all of these different cultures to pass the story on for tens of thousands of years?  What sort of event could cause such a widespread cultural phenomenon at a time when there was no sort of global communications network?

First of all, let’s look at the history of the myth.  The first account of a flood story is included in (coincidentally?) one of the first accounts of anything ever.  The Sumerians were an ancient people that settled in modern day Iraq, which gets its name from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk.  The clay tablets found at their settlements are generally agreed to be the earliest written accounts, roughly dating to as far back as 2150 B.C.E.  On one of these tablets, of which huge chunks are missing, there is written the Sumerian creation myth, which tells of a great flood and a single man, Ziusudra, who was saved by constructing a boat for himself.  Two more Sumerian flood myths change the name to Atrahasis and Utnapishtim, but the story remains generally unchanged.  It’s easy to see how a story written down by the first people to write anything down could be so old as to eventually make its way across the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa.  But how do we find similar stories in North and Central America, when the migration into North America is generally placed between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago?  The way I see it, there are three possible explanations for this:

1. The story predates the migration into the Americas, and was preserved through oral tradition.

2. The stories coincidentally arose, independent of each other, across the globe, or…

3. There actually was some sort of global event that occurred, and was passed down by separate cultures over thousands of years.

The most common hypothesis, besides the coincidence one, is that at the end of the last ice age, roughly 10,000 years ago, the Earth went through intense climate change over a relatively short period of time.  The polar ice caps and glaciers around the world were melting at a rapid rate, which caused water levels to rise, probably resulting in large floods in certain areas, or at least forcing people out of settlements that may have been too close to the shore.  There have been several unaccounted for structures, even cities, found underwater along the continental shelf to support this theory.  However, this does not account for the strikingly similar motifs in each story, such as the earth being overpopulated, the flood being caused deliberately by the gods to destroy humans, and one person being chosen to continue the human race.  To me, the only plausible explanation is that all of the stories stem from one original account that predates the migration into the Americas.  This explanation requires a great deal of justification.  The story would have to have been known to a vast majority of humans on earth at the same time, and there must have been some reason to preserve it so carefully throughout the millennia.  It seemed for a long time that this hypothesis would remain just a fantasy in my mind, with no way of ever being proven.  However, new research into human genetics, along with a recently discovered archeological site and specific geological evidence,  may give substance to my idea.

A new genetic study shows that at some point in our history, roughly 195,000 years ago, the number of breeding humans on the earth dwindled from 10,000 to about 600.  Even with an estimated addition of non-breeding individuals, that would still make human beings endangered by today’s standards.  So what caused this genetic “bottleneck” to occur?  Together with geology and anthropology, we can paint a good picture of what was happening at the time.  Anthropology tells us that at that time there were at least four different species of hominids on the earth, and geological evidence shows that at that time, the Earth was going through intense climate change.  Accordingly, the landscape of certain areas was changing rapidly and drastically.  Particularly, the middle of Africa went from being a tropical rainforest to a great plain to a desert and back again several times over a couple thousand year period.  At around 200,000 years ago, the entire continent went through megadraughts, forcing our ancestors south to the coastline.  The vast continental desert prevented us from moving out of that area until about 50,000 years ago.  So for about 150,000 years, 30 times the span of time in our recorded history, we were geographically isolated.  We spent that time evolving, concentrating our DNA, learning together, sharing information, perfecting our survival techniques, and sharing stories.  And maybe just one of those stories was the story of how our particular species survived a natural disaster (a gradual one, but still) while the other “unrighteous people” (other hominids) were killed off.  And maybe, as we spent the next 50,000 years spreading across the earth, beating out the weaker species, dominating our environments, we thought it was important to preserve the story of how we were saved by the “gods” in order to repopulate the planet with out “righteous” species.

It may be a stretch to equate this fantastic myth of destruction and miraculous salvation to a slow and gradual process of fine-tuning our species, but it may serve as validation to those who believe, like me, that our ancient history is preserved in our earliest stories, if we simply read them in the right light.

Warped Rationales

So I know that in my last post I preambled that I don’t intend to post too much political opinion on this blog, but seeing as this has to do with perspectives and changing your mindset and all that good stuff that this blog was supposed to be about… here goes nothing.

It continues to amaze me the warped rationales that people have in this country in regards to politics.  You could be talking to someone who seems completely rational, and as soon as something slightly political comes up, they turn into a ranting raving lunatic.  Why is it that we put so much energy into things so far beyond our control?  It’s one thing if you’re an activist and your passionate about your work, but if you’re not involved in politics at all and just enjoy having an opinion, why do you have to shout it at the top of your lungs?

I like to think of myself as pretty middle-of-the-road, but I’ll admit that my beliefs are more liberally-aligned than not.  I’m from a very conservative community in southern Louisiana, so I was pretty liberal there, but I live in Los Angeles now and I feel more conservative than ever when I’m here.  I don’t eat vegan or even vegetarian (the animals we eat only exist because we breed them for eating.  Ever seen a wild cow or chicken?  No?  That’s because they wouldn’t survive!  They’d be eaten.  By other animals.) , I think that labeling food “organic” or “all-natural” is just a way for businesses to jack up prices, and I was opposed to Prop 37, which would have required genetically modified food to be labelled as such, driving customers away from those products.  Personally, I think genetically modified food is a crowning human achievement, and we don’t use it to its full extent.  If someone could genetically modify pizza to have all the vitamins and nutrients to make me healthy, I would be in paradise!  Granted most producers use it to simply grow bigger, more abundant food, but if it helps out local farmers, I say go for it; we’re losing a food battle to China right now.  Also I believe its your own responsibility to research the food you buy if you’re that concerned about it.

Anyways, back to the point.  Generally I find extremism on either side of the political spectrum to be absurd, but somehow there’s something more endearing to me about a flag-burning revolutionary anarchist or a pot-smoking hippie than a racist homophobic redneck or an old white billionaire with a monocle puffing on a cigar (not to stereotype extremists, but… no you know what, fuck ’em).  I don’t think that bringing down corporations or redistributing wealth is a good solution; it’s true that we need multi-billion dollar businesses to drive our economy by making investments and so on.  But I also don’t think that completely cutting out any program that benefits the poor is practical at all.  So there’s warped rationales on either end of the spectrum, yet somehow it seems the the conservative extreme is more permeating and publicized than the liberal extreme.  Maybe it’s simply that conservatives are more vocal about their opinions than liberals, or maybe the liberal opinion lends itself towards bowing out of political discussions altogether, and so is rarely heard.  So I apologize if this post is aimed mostly toward dispelling extreme conservative ideals, but it’s what I find myself bombarded by the most so I have to say something about it.

The rationale that some people use to justify their political opinions flies in the face of logical thinking, and oftentimes the individual’s own personal beliefs.  It seems so backwards to me that people let political agendas guide their personal beliefs instead of the other way around.  One of these hypocricies that continues to baffle me is the gargantuan amounts of ‘Christian conservatives’ who argue against welfare and other benefits to the poor.  Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t that contradict just about EVERYTHING that Jesus taught?  It seems so strange that a religion that’s based entirely on helping the poor has become associated with the political party that is so oppositely aligned.

Aside from contradicting personal beliefs, there are some ‘political’ opinions out there that contradict good solid facts.  The ever-popular conservative belief that the poor are poor and the rich are rich because the rich work hard and the poor are slackers, is just flat out absurd.  One look at a history book will tell you the exact opposite.  The Pharaoh didn’t build the pyramids, he ordered his subjects to build them while he sat on his throne and was fanned with palm leaves or whatever.  Now it is a blessing that we live in a time when you can rise on the socioeconomic ladder if you are determined enough, but on a large scale, the historical trend of the rich reaping the benefits of the poor still reigns true.  The entirety of history is a struggle for power.  Even before humans rose to be the dominant species, the whole of life was a struggle to get as much food as possible.  As soon as we invented money, it became an externalization of power amongst ourselves.  Now we’ve spent the last 500 years trying to decentralize power in our societies and make it easier for more people to live comfortably.  Yet there’s a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality among conservatives that seems to me like back-pedaling.  If we let our societies be governed by those principles, we end up in the dark ages where people are murdering their brothers to become king, not to mention a stagnant socioeconomic scale with absolutely no upward mobility.  Survival of the fittest is the law of nature, and we as human beings have done nothing but try to separate ourselves from nature ever since we first started building houses to live in.  The point of any society, even among animals, is to protect the weaker individuals and provide for the well-being of all members of the group.  We didn’t become the dominant species on earth by letting our poor or our weak die in the street, we did it by helping each other out and knowing that every human has something to contribute to our society.

But if you don’t feel like talking in generalities, let’s get specific.  My father worked his ass off his entire life and started a chain of physical therapy and rehabilitation clinics in New Orleans.  I came to find out later that my father was on the verge of being able to sell his company for enough money for he and my mother to retire comfortably.  However, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina came along, knocking out two of his offices right away, and causing another two to shut down due to poor business in the aftermath.  As they started to lose income, my mother started working in real estate, taking advice from her friends who were all having great success.  Unfortunately, she decided to do this right before the housing market collapsed.  Compounding on all of that, my brother and my sister and I all started college within the next three years.  My father would be damned if he was going to let this setback prevent his kids from going to good colleges, so in order to help pay my tuition, he applied for a Pell Grant.  It was not long into Obama’s presidency, and not long into my tenure at college, that I heard conservatives bashing Pell Grants and other “entitlements” as being reserved for lazy slackers on welfare.  Now, anyone who knows my father would tell you he is the opposite of a slacker.  He’s a workaholic.  He worked his ass off his entire life and he continues to do so.  He applied for a government grant because he NEEDED to.  Like most people who acquire entitlements NEED them.  Sure, there were always be a percentage of people who are lazy and collect welfare in order to get by, but that doesn’t mean we should punish everyone else for it.  We don’t take away tax incentives because some millionaires choose to abuse them to launder their money, do we?

The most recent political atrocity is the renewed interest in gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.  The tragedy was barely over before people started spouting their political agendas all over the media.  Can’t we have a second as a country to mourn the death of children before we’re at each other’s throats again?  It’s completely natural to want to find someone or something to blame for a tragedy of this magnitude, so it’s easy to understand why the victims’ families and community are calling for action on gun control policy.  But some of the backlash they received almost immediately from opponents to gun control was frankly disgusting.  These people are bereaved beyond anything most of us can imagine, yet some people didn’t so much as hesitate before calling them ‘unconstitutional’ or ‘un-American.’  If you’re friend’s dad died of lung cancer, you wouldn’t immediately pull out a cigarette and start puffing away, would you?  You’d probably stop smoking around him for a good while wouldn’t you?  So let these people have their say, for God’s sake.  Personally I think that the harder it is to get a gun, the better.  If you are an enthusiast or you are truly concerned for your own protection, there will always be proper avenues to go through to get firearms.  However, I don’t think any amount of gun control can stop a determined psychopath from committing tragedies like this.  It’s hard to hear, but sometimes there just isn’t an easy solution to problems like this.  We can’t keep tabs on everyone who seems a little depressed, and we can’t start arming teachers as some people have suggested.  (If any of the teachers I had growing up had a gun in class, I probably would have been shot by now.)  I’m not opposed to providing schools with trained law enforcement officials or even private security, but it’s a sad fact that some schools simply can’t afford to do that.  Like most other problems, the solution to this one lies within each of us.  If we can simply provide a more supportive and encouraging environment to young people, and people in general, than there wouldn’t be incidents like this.  Whatever government action is taken from here on out, just know that the only real way to stop people from hating is to love them.

So once again, I apologize if this post is a little biased, but it’s in response to numerous ridiculous ideologies I encounter on a regular basis.  Call me crazy, but I just like to organize my thoughts calmly rather than to shout them out at the top of my lungs.  Thanks for reading and please feel free to argue with me as much as you want. Peace!