AN01a3_ Ch01: Humans Try to Understand Nature
Timeline: ~10000 BP – 5500 BP (Neolithic Age)
FQ: How does culture answer the tough questions using Myths?
Culture is a trait peculiar to humans. The archaeological record shows that pre-humans lived an existence where instinct, rather than culture, may have dominated daily routines. However, Homo Neanderthalensis exhibited traces of a developing cultural awareness in their burial sites that may reflect the early stages of cultural development in Homo Sapiens.
Initially, natural phenomena, like death, were inexplicable in a pre-scientific society. Over time, many other experiences, formerly unexplainable, came to be explained via the development of myths. The myths, along with rituals developed in tandem. Today, these human traits are the foundations of core beliefs.
I. Vocabulary (Refer to Crossword Puzzle)
II. Development of Culture: Myths
Myths are often accepted as the records of religious events that are too ancient to provide some of the literary proof we’ve come to expect in modern writing. Think of a newspaper article, textbook chapter, etc., these modern examples of writing provide data that can be further researched to establish, with a degree of certainty, that the events highlighted occurred at a certain time much as they were described. Myths, lacking some of these modern attributes of nonfiction writing, still serve an important role for the researcher.
Since myths were already ancient by the times civilizations developed, they carried great cultural importance. That importance earmarked myths as prime candidates for recording when writing became feasible. In written form, myths acquired immortality and represent some of the oldest and most sacred of religious texts.
For the anthropologist, myths are a ‘window’ into the values of early societies. Often, myths from different lands and time periods appear to be similar. If a society shared many of the same values, it’s logical to think they would have similar myths.
To pre-scientific societies, myths helped explain natural phenomena and answer questions about human origin, earthly purpose, and mortality. Creation myths offer an explanation for the historical and/ or present condition of a people. Often, these questions could not be answered to anyone’s satisfaction in any other manner. In essence, myths develop over time to address a gap in a culture’s history.
1. Show the wonders of the universe/ nature.
2. Relate the universe to our lives.
3. Validates a social order. (Who should be leaders, followers, honored, revered, etc.)
4. Teaches us how to live under a variety of circumstances.
5. Explain the human condition/ nature as products of divine intervention. ‘History,’ therefore, is predominantly a result of divine forces and not the will of Man.
B. Myths reveal that…
1. gods intervene.
2. gods are anthropomorphic
3. there is a Human – Divine Connection
4. ‘Floods’ serve to cleanse the earth and punish.
5. Kings are divine or divinely chosen.
6. ’Heroes’ live long lives but often the lives are very difficult.
7. Questions are posed and addressed that focus on Immortality, divine knowledge, morality, etc.
The Human psyche is the same all over the world. Archetypes are the common ideas of myths.- Joseph Campbell (1)
– What Makes a Hero? A TED Ed lesson at http://blog.ed.ted.com/2014/08/07/what-makes-a-hero-3-ted-ed-lessons-about-fictions-finest-figures/
– World History: Patterns of Interaction
(1) Joseph Campbell was a world-renowned expert on human myths. His famous TV series of discussions with PBS’s Bill Moyer in the 1980’s (and the accompanying text) is the source I tapped for portions of this lesson.