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index « biological « Prehistory

posted : 2005.Jun.08 @ 5.02pm
This is a short essay written for a creative writing class:

To most prehistory, the period before the written record and civilization, was a time when absolutely nothing of significance happened. This is a cultural lie that life began with the onset of civilization. Scientific record begun to unravel the façade centuries ago, yet our self-importance disallowed us to take notice. When Darwin began the journey beyond the looking glass, the educated world took a hundred years to tiptoe cautiously behind. The cultural clash spawned from one central point, as Samuel Wilberforce bitingly put it in the famous Wilberforce-Huxley debates, asking noted scientist Huxley, “Is it on your grandfather's or grandmother's side that you claim descent from the apes?” There was no room in our cultural narrative for a humble creation. We were members of royalty renouncing our forgotten past as paupers.

The cultural narrative as the world had understood it, as passed down through the world religions, through divine providence, and manifest destiny, through culture both East and West, was that we were the only creatures of importance on this planet, that the world was created for our fulfillment and exploitation, and that other creatures were too, that life began when another thrust it upon us, not created in some test tube, but a gold watch created by master watchmaker. We were the heroes of our own story and were too old to remember we had written it ourselves. How were we to? We had no evidence otherwise. The onset of civilization was the beginning of our lasting history, of paper and writing. There were no records of a time before that story, where we lived with nature, nomadic and subsistent.

Soon though science caught wind of the myth Darwin first insinuated. His research created a subset of science, genetics, which required not only an understanding of how genes passed from generation to generation, but where our genes came from. There was a need for a complete historical record, not one surmised of ancient tablets and tools, but of fossils, the artifact of prehistoric times. Archeology arose to find the answer to the great question of our own forgotten past. Unbelievably, we discovered that prehistory was not only told the tale of humans, but a much greater story, of fish and dinosaur, reptile and mammoth. We were but a spec on the great narrative of our planet. We had arrived on God's seventh day, but a minute before midnight. And science continued to humble us. Astronomy discovered that our planet, who we lovingly called mother Earth, was the daughter of a universe with a trillion siblings, and Quantum Physics discovered that our universe was conceivably one with infinite parallel alternatives. The cultural narrative most once thought believable, now became a farcical myth.

Still though the cultural myth to many was more than story. It was legend. It was the way generation after generation were told to look at the world, as kings among peasants. Legend dies slow. It is never held accountable to science. It exists beyond it, for those who choose to believe.


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