Biblical scholars have placed the Creation of man in 4004 BCE, and they dated the Great Deluge of Noah back to 2348 BCE. Other creationists believe that God created the world roughly 6,000 years ago and that the flood of Noah was about 4400 years ago. This makes me wonder if the Bible actually relates to accurate accounts of historical events. Some fundamentalist Christians insist that the Bible is historically accurate, even if its events cannot be proven. The long evolutionary journey that created modern humans began with a single step, or more accurately with their ability to walk on two legs. Fossils show that Homo sapiens lived in Africa around 100,000 to 210,000 years ago. This issue gets really complicated, as before we can place a date on anything historical, people would have to have known how to count and they would need to have developed a concept of time where a year consisted of 365 days.
The history of math is murky, but the idea of number and the process of counting goes back far beyond history began to be recorded. Numbers were invented or discovered at the dawn of time, long before history was ever recorded. Archeologists and historians estimate that numbers were first used around 32,000 years ago and there is some archeological evidence that suggests that humans were counting as far back as 50,000 years ago. No individual can be credited with the invention or discovery of numbers as they evolved gradually over time. Number systems were developed in ancient civilizations because people began to trade and individuals needed a way track of things. It was necessary for traders to count their materials and the compensation they received. Perhaps some shepherd invented numbers by utilizing a pile of stones or carving a set of notches on a stick to keep track of his flock of sheep. Each stone or notch could represent a particular quantity (a sheep that went out to graze or a sheep that returned from grazing) which he was now able to count. The shepherd who utilized these stones or cut the notches, was representing each of his sheep in a one-to-one correspondence. Prehistoric tally sticks (memory aid device used to record and document numbers, quantities) notches incised on animal bones have been found in many locations around the world.
Before the Egyptians figured out how many days were in a year, the year was marked by annual flooding. Thousands of years of observation led people to realize that the stars seemed to rise and fall over the course of a night in regular patterns. Since some stars are brighter than others, these were used as reference points to locate other stars in these seeming patterns or constellations. Sirius or Polaris were easily identified and then used by the viewer to orient (literally “face East”) themselves and then identify other stars and their constellations. The concept of a month is based on phases of the Moon. Most ancient cultures defined a month based know the sighting of a new moon. A lunar month is actually 29.5 days, so 12 lunar months adds up to 354 lunar days, which left man 11 days short of a solar year.
The ancient Egyptians studied the stars, so they could calculate a more accurate measurement of what a year is. They used Sirius, the Dog Star, to predict the annual flooding of the Nile. By studying Sirius, the Egyptians became the first civilization that was able to switch from a lunar to a solar calendar. The Egyptians were probably the first to adopt a mainly solar calendar. This so-called ‘heliacal rising’ always preceded the flood by a few days. Based on this knowledge, they devised a 365-day calendar that seems to have begun in 4236 B.C.E., the earliest recorded year in history. A problem showed up because every four years Sirius was a day late. This meat that the solar year is really closer to 365 days and six hours, which threw the calendar off, but eventually we came up with leap year and we added a day to February, every fourth year.
Now that we have established a basic idea of when humans learned to count and when they figured out what constituted a year. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, beginning with the Sumerian cuneiform script, with the oldest coherent texts from about 2600 BC. Until recently most researchers felt that modern humans originated in Africa around 200,000 years ago, but new findings push that date back a lot further to 300,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence of tools, artefacts, cave art seem to suggest that complex technology and cultures, evolved around 50,000-65,000 years ago, so it is possible that people were around longer, but just hadn’t developed tools and art before the “Great Leap”. It’s estimated that our ancestors lived 260,000 to 350,000 years ago and that all living humans descend from those people.
Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #133 which asks, “Do you believe that modern human beings, Homo sapiens, evolved between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago from earlier species? Or do you believe that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years? Or, if you believe something else, what is it?”