OF THE EVIDENCE that we have amassed to support our conclusions,
exhibit number one is Man himself. In many ways, modern man - Homo
sapiens - is a stranger to Earth.
Ever since Charles Darwin shocked the scholars and theologians of
his time with the evidence of evolution, life on Earth has been
traced through Man and the primates, mammals, and vertebrates, and
backward through ever-lower life forms to the point, billions of
years ago, at which life is presumed to have begun.
But having reached these beginnings and having begun to contemplate
the probabilities of life elsewhere in our solar system and beyond,
the scholars have become uneasy about life on Earth: Somehow, it
does not belong here.
If it began through a series of spontaneous
Why does life on Earth have but a single source,
and not a multitude of chance sources?
And why does all living
matter on Earth contain too little of the chemical elements that
abound on Earth, and too much of those that are rare on our planet?
Was life, then, imported to Earth from elsewhere?
Man's position in the evolutionary chain has compounded the puzzle.
Finding a broken skull here, a jaw there, scholars at first believed
that Man originated in Asia some 500,000 years ago. But as older
fossils were found, it became evident that the mills of evolution
grind much, much slower. Man's ancestor apes are now placed at a
staggering 25,000,000 years ago. Discoveries in East Africa reveal a
transition to manlike apes (hominids) some 14,000,000 years ago. It
was about 11,000,000 years later that the first ape-man worthy of
the classification Homo
The first being considered to be truly manlike - "Advanced
Australopithecus" - existed in the same parts of Africa some
2,000,000 years ago. It took yet another million years to produce
Homo erectus. Finally, after another 900,000 years, the first
primitive Man appeared; he is named Neanderthal after the site where
his remains were first found.
In spite of the passage of more than 2,000,000 years between
Advanced Australopithecus and Neanderthal, the tools of these two
groups - sharp stones - were virtually alike; and the groups
themselves (as they are believed to
have looked) were hardly distinguishable.
Then, suddenly and inexplicably, some 35,000 years ago, a new race
of Men - Homo sapiens ("thinking Man") - appeared as if from
nowhere, and swept Neanderthal Man from the face of Earth.
modern Men - named Cro-Magnon - looked so much like us that, if
dressed like us in modern clothes, they would be lost in the crowds
of any European or American city. Because of the magnificent cave
art which they created, they were at first called "cavemen." In
fact, they roamed Earth freely, for they knew how to build shelters
and homes of stones and animal skins wherever they went.
For millions of years, Man's tools had been simply stones of useful
shapes. Cro-Magnon Man, however, made specialized tools and weapons
of wood and bones. He was no longer a "naked ape," for he used skins
for clothing. His society was organized; he lived in clans with a
His cave drawings bespeak artistry and depth
of feeling; his drawings and sculptures evidence some form of
"religion," apparent in the worship of a Mother Goddess, who was
sometimes depicted with the sign of the Moon's crescent. He buried
his dead, and must therefore have had some philosophies regarding
life, death, and perhaps even an afterlife.
As mysterious and unexplained as the appearance of Cro-Magnon Man
has been, the puzzle is still more complicated. For, as other
remains of modern Man were discovered (at sites including Swanscombe,
Steinheim, and Montmaria), it became apparent that Cro-Magnon Man
stemmed from an even earlier Homo sapiens who lived in western Asia
and North Africa some 2500000 years before Cro-Magnon Man.
The appearance of modem Man a mere 700,000 years after Homo erectus
and some 200,000, years before Neanderthal Man is absolutely
implausible. It is also clear that Homo sapiens represents such an
extreme departure from the slow evolutionary process that many of
our features, such as the ability to speak, are totally unrelated to
the earlier primates.
An outstanding authority on the subject, Professor Theodosius Dobzhansky (Mankind Evolving), was especially puzzled by the fact
that this development took place during a period when Earth was
going through an ice age, a most unpropitious time for evolutionary
Pointing out that Homo sapiens lacks completely some of the
peculiarities of the previously known types, and has some that never
appeared before, he concluded:
"Modern man has many fossil
collateral relatives but no progenitors; the derivation of Homo
sapiens, then, becomes a puzzle."
How, then, did the ancestors of modern Man appear some 300,000 years
ago - instead of 2,000,000 or 3,000,000
years in the future, following further evolutionary development?
Were we imported to Earth from elsewhere, or were we, as the Old
Testament and other ancient sources claim, created by the gods?
We now know where civilization began and how it developed, once it
began. The unanswered question is: Why - why did civilization come
about at all? For, as most scholars now admit in frustration, by all
data Man should still be without civilization. There is no obvious
reason that we should be any more civilized than the primitive
tribes of the Amazon jungles or the inaccessible parts of New
But, we are told, these tribesmen still live as if in the Stone Age
because they have been isolated. But isolated from what? If they
have been living on the same Earth as we, why have they not acquired
the same knowledge of sciences and technologies on their own as we
The real puzzle, however, is not the backwardness of the Bushmen,
but our advancement; for it is now recognized that in the normal
course of evolution Man should still be typified by the Bushmen and
not by us. It took Man some 2,000,000 years to advance in his "tool
industries" from the use of stones as he found them to the
realization that he could chip and shape stones to better suit his
Why not another 2,000,000 years to learn the use of other
materials, and another 10,000,000 years to master mathematics and
engineering and astronomy? Yet here we are, less than 50,000 years
from Neanderthal Man, landing astronauts on the Moon.
The obvious question, then, is this: Did we and our Mediterranean
ancestors really acquire this advanced civilization on our own?
Though Cro-Magnon Man did not build skyscrapers nor use metals,
there is no doubt that his was a sudden and revolutionary
civilization. His mobility, ability to build shelters, his desire to
clothe himself, his manufactured tools, his art - all were a sudden
high civilization breaking an endless beginning of Man's culture
that stretched over millions of years and advanced at a painfully
Though our scholars cannot explain the appearance of Homo sapiens
and the civilization of Cro-Magnon Man,
there is by now no doubt regarding this civilization's place of
origin: the Near East.
The uplands and mountain ranges that extend
in a semiarc from the Zagros Mountains in the east (where
present-day Iran and Iraq border on each other), through the Ararat
and Taurus ranges in the north, then down, westward and southward,
to the hill lands of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, are replete with
caves where the evidence of prehistoric but modern Man has been
One of these caves, Shanidar, is located in the northeastern part of
the semiarc of civilization.
Nowadays, fierce Kurdish tribesmen seek
shelter in the area's caves for themselves and their flocks during
the cold winter months. So it was, one wintry night 44,000 years
ago, when a family of seven (one of whom was a baby) sought shelter
in the cave of Shanidar.
Their remains - they were evidently crushed to death by a rockfall -
were discovered in 1957 by a startled Ralph
Solecki, who went to the area in search of evidence of early Man
(Professor Solecki has told me that nine skeletons were found, of
which only four were crushed by rockfall.) What he found was more
than he expected. As layer upon layer of debris was removed, it
became apparent that the cave preserved a clear record of Man's
habitation in the area from about 100,000 to some 13,000 years ago.
What this record showed was as surprising as the find itself. Man's
culture has shown not a progression but a regression. Starting from
a certain standard, the following generations showed not more
advanced but less advanced standards of civilized life. And from
about 27,000 B.C. to 11,000 B.C., the regressing and dwindling
population reached the point of an almost complete absence of
habitation. For reasons that are assumed to have been climatic, Man
was almost completely gone from the whole area for some 16,000
And then, circa 11,000 B.C., "thinking Man" reappeared with new
vigor and on an inexplicably higher cultural level.
It was as if an unseen coach, watching the faltering human game,
dispatched to the field a fresh and better-trained team to take over
from the exhausted one.
Throughout the many millions of years of his endless beginning, Man
was nature's child; he subsisted by gathering the foods that grew
wild, by hunting the wild animals, by catching wild birds and
fishes. But just as Man's settlements were thinning out, just as he
was abandoning his abodes, when his material and artistic
achievements were disappearing - just then, suddenly, with no
apparent reason and without any prior known period of gradual
preparation - Man became a farmer.
Summarizing the work of many eminent authorities on the subject, R.
J. Braidwood and B. Howe (Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi
Kurdistan) concluded that genetic studies confirm the archaeological
finds and leave no doubt that agriculture began exactly where
Thinking Man had emerged earlier with his first crude civilization:
in the Near East. There is no doubt by now that agriculture spread
all over the world from the Near Eastern arc of mountains and
Employing sophisticated methods of radiocarbon dating and plant
genetics, many scholars from various fields of science concur in the
conclusion that Man's first farming venture was the cultivation of
wheat and barley, probably through the domestication of a wild
variety of emmer. Assuming that, somehow, Man did undergo a gradual
process of teaching himself how to domesticate, grow, and farm a
wild plant, the scholars remain baffled by the profusion of other
plants and cereals basic to human survival and advancement that kept
coming out of the Near East.
These included, in rapid succession,
millet, rye, and spelt, among the edible cereals; flax, which
provided fibers and edible oil; and a variety of fruit-bearing
shrubs and trees. In every instance, the plant was undoubtedly
domesticated in the Near East for millennia before it reached
Europe. It was as though the Near East were some kind of
genetic-botanical laboratory, guided by an unseen hand, producing
every so often a newly domesticated plant.
The scholars who have studied the origins of the grapevine have
concluded that its cultivation began in the mountains around
northern Mesopotamia and in Syria and Palestine. No wonder. The Old
Testament tells us that Noah "planted a vineyard" (and even got
drunk on its wine) after his ark rested on Mount Ararat as the
waters of the Deluge receded.
The Bible, like the scholars, thus
places the start of vine cultivation in the mountains of northern
Apples, pears, olives, figs, almonds, pistachios, walnuts - all
originated in the Near East and spread from there to Europe and
other parts of the world. Indeed, we cannot help recalling that the
Old Testament preceded our scholars by several millennia in
identifying the very same area as the world's first orchard:
the Lord God planted an orchard in Eden, in the east... And the
Lord God caused; to grow, out of the ground, every tree that is
pleasant to behold and that is good for eating."
The general location of "Eden" was certainly known to the biblical
generations. It was "in the east" - east of the Land of Israel. It
was in a land watered by four major rivers, two of which are the
Tigris and the Euphrates.
There can be no doubt that the Book of Genesis located the first
orchard in the highlands where these rivers originated, in
northeastern Mesopotamia. Bible and science are in full agreement.
As a matter of fact, if we read the original Hebrew text of the Book
of Genesis not as a theological but as a scientific text, we find
that it also accurately describes the process of plant
domestication. Science tells us that the process went from wild
grasses to wild cereals to cultivated cereals, followed by
fruit-bearing shrubs and trees.
This is exactly the process detailed
in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
And the Lord said:
"Let the Earth bring forth grasses;
cereals that by seeds produce seeds;
fruit trees that bear fruit by species,
which contain the seed within themselves."
And it was so:
The Earth brought forth grass;
cereals that by seed produce seed, by species;
and trees that bear fruit, which contain
the seed within themselves, by species.
The Book of Genesis goes on to tell us that Man, expelled from the
orchard of Eden, had to toil hard to grow his food.
"By the sweat of
thy brow shalt thou eat bread," the Lord said to Adam.
It was after
that that "Abel was a keeper of herds and Cain was a tiller of the
soil." Man, the Bible tells us, became a shepherd soon after he
became a farmer.
Scholars are in full agreement with this biblical sequence of
events. Analyzing the various theories regarding animal
domestication, F. E. Zeuner (Domestication of Animals) stresses that
Man could not have,
"acquired the habit of keeping animals in
captivity or domestication before he reached the stage of living in
social units of some size."
Such settled communities, a prerequisite
for animal domestication, followed the changeover to agriculture.
The first animal to be domesticated was the dog, and not necessarily
as Man's best friend but probably also for
food. This, it is believed, took place circa 9500 B.C. The first
skeletal remains of dogs have been found in Iran, Iraq, and Israel.
Sheep were domesticated at about the same time; the Shanidar cave
contains remains of sheep from circa 9000 B.C., showing that a large
part of each year's young were killed for food and skins. Goats,
which also provided milk, soon followed; and pigs, horned cattle,
and hornless cattle were next to be domesticated.
In every instance, the domestication began in the Near East.
The abrupt change in the course of human events that occurred circa
11,000 B.C. in the Near East (and some 2,000 years later in Europe)
has led scholars to describe that time as the clear end of the Old
Stone Age (the Paleolithic) and the beginning of a new cultural era,
the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic).
The name is appropriate ,only if one considers Man's principal raw
material - which continued to be stone. His dwellings in the
mountainous areas were still built of stone; his communities were
protected by stone walls; his first agricultural implement - the
sickle - was made of stone.
He honored or protected his dead by
covering and adorning their graves with stones; and he used stone to
make images of the supreme beings, or "gods," whose benign
intervention he sought. One such image, found in northern Israel and
dated to the ninth millennium B.C., shows the carved head of a "god"
shielded by a striped helmet and wearing some kind of "goggles."
From an overall point of view, however, it would be more appropriate
to call the age that began circa 11,000 B.C. not the Middle Stone
Age but the Age of Domestication.- Within the span of a mere 3,600
years - overnight in terms of the endless beginning - Man became a
fanner, and wild plants and animals were domesticated.
Then, a new
age clearly followed.
Our scholars call it the New Stone Age
(Neolithic); but the term is totally inadequate, for the main change
that had taken place circa 7500 B.C. was the appearance of pottery.
For reasons that still elude our scholars - but which will become
clear as we unfold our tale of prehistoric events - Man's march
toward civilization was confined, for the first several millennia
after 11,000 B.C., to the highlands of the Near East. The discovery
of the many uses to which clay could be put was contemporary with
Man's descent from his mountain abodes toward the lower, mud-filled
By the seventh millennium B.C., the Near Eastern arc of civilization
was teeming with clay or pottery cultures, which produced great
numbers of utensils, ornaments, and statuettes. By 5000 B.C., the
Near East was producing clay and pottery objects of superb quality
and fantastic design.
But once again progress slowed, and by 4500 B.C., archaeological
evidence indicates, regression was all around. Pottery became
simpler. Stone utensils - a relic of the Stone Age - again became
predominant. Inhabited sites reveal fewer remains.
Some sites that
had been centers of pottery and clay industries began to be
abandoned, and distinct clay manufacturing disappeared.
"There was a
general impoverishment of culture," according to James Melaart
(Earliest Civilizations of the Near East); some sites clearly bear
the marks of "the new poverty-stricken phase."
Man and his culture were clearly on the decline.
Then - suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably - the Near East
witnessed the blossoming of the greatest civilization imaginable, a
civilization in which our own is firmly rooted.
A mysterious hand once more picked Man out of his decline and raised
him to an even higher level of culture, knowledge, and civilization.
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