Once upon a time, there was a universe, a very, very old universe; 13.8 billion years old to be more precise and in that universe there was a planet. A planet, which was younger than the universe but by all accounts was still very old indeed; 4.54 billion years old.
The planet got battered by meteorites for quite a long time and it is thought that as a result of an accumulation of debris from a particularly large bombardment that this planet acquired a moon.
Now, there are literally billions of planets in this very old Universe, however on this particular planet something incredible happened.
Water presented itself in the form of a liquid on the planet, which found itself at the perfect distance from the sun to allow this phenomenon. A planet which is not too cold to freeze the water, nor too hot to cause the water to evaporate, a planet which was just right.
Bacteria; which might have formed during the barrage of asteroids and meteorites or perhaps as a result of powerful waves crashing against mineral rich land masses or even as a result of something that went down in an underground volcano, produced oxygen as a by-product of generating energy from the sun. This oxygen first bound with the iron in the water to make iron oxide or rust, lots of rust, which sank to the sea bed. Later in the history of this planet this rust would manifest itself above the sea as iron ore; without which the inhabitants could not have created iron or steel (King 2005). Once the oxygen had reacted with all the iron in the water it escaped into the planet’s atmosphere.
These factors combined allowed life to appear, an estimated 2.5 billion years ago, where it began an almost unfathomable journey from single celled organisms to the diverse multitude of plants and animals we perceive today.
Around 65 million years ago the dinosaurs died at the hands of an asteroid strike, wiping them off the planet and leaving in their wake a golden opportunity for the next dominant group to truly thrive; mammals.
Our ancestors, the Homo sapiens; primates who with the ability to walk on two feet could see over the grassy plains and had both hands free to manipulate objects, ventured out of the trees onto the savannahs of what is now Africa around 160,000 years ago (Templeton 2002). Just before the end of the last Ice Age. Africa was truly the cradle of humanity.
We had at this stage already learned to control fire, an element which provides warmth, light and when used to prepare food changes its chemical structure, giving it more calories. A factor which was crucial in the radical development of our brains.
As our population grew in size and the climate became warmer we began to wander, following our various food sources in whichever direction they led us. Generally hugging the coast we wandered for thousands of years, further and further, generation after generation; each individual with their own story. Our bodies adapted to new climates and terrains, skin pigment changed, new skills were learnt for each new environment and language blossomed with such variety. Some of course decided to settle along the way and perhaps a reason for moving on from a perfectly adequate settlement was over population. Regardless, we kept on wandering until eventually all of the main continents we navigate today were populated by our species.
The route taken from Africa is one of much debate, with particular disagreement as to how we populated the Americas. The prevailing theory is that of the Bering land bridge. The stretch of land which at times throughout this planet’s history has connected Asia to North America. This seems perhaps the only logical route as the possibility of sailing, whilst not completely out of the question, would have been extremely tough in fierce, iceberg laden waters, on small vulnerable rafts which would not have carried enough people to start a population.
22,000 years ago another Ice age came around (Oppenheimer 2003) and killed those who were brave enough to be moving towards England and Russia. Trapping some of us in North America and more than likely providing the motivation for some to move down into South America, despite ample space and buffalo.
Now, a significant amount of time had passed since we all pottered out of Africa. A mere moment in terms of the universe. Now the whole of this planet was populated by our species, separated by vast oceans and unforgiving mountains. Our paths would cross again. Though it would be at a time when our shared origin was all but forgotten.
As cultures, societies and our minds developed, so too did our need for answers. The first attempts to understand natural events began. Logically, our earliest ancestors recognised the importance of the world around them and worshipped it. Looking to the sun, moon and stars allowed several ancient civilisations to recognise the perfect time to harvest crops and anticipate floods well in advance. Human sacrifices were often given as a primitive yet respectful offering of thanks.
These ancient civilisations nourished our capability as a species and established the beginnings of spirituality, philosophy, music, maths, writing and so many other practices we still rely on today. A lot of other shit went down but we were all generally living very sustainably alongside our planet, plants and animals for a good long while.
Our societies’ invention of writing allowed us to communicate with one another independently of time and space, as well as providing an archive of our cumulative knowledge. The problems we faced as a species were now set to be tackled across generations rather than one man’s lifetime.
The abundance of easily domesticated animals in Eurasia led to improved farming and the start of trade about 5000 years ago, trade routes between Europe, India and China opened allowing cultural exchange and the sharing of new ideas as well as bringing foods and goods derived from different climates together. Trade was a melting pot for technological advancements and has been noted as one of the factors which led to the large economic divide between ‘the first and third worlds’ (Williamson 2011).
3,500 years ago the Phoenicians, avid sea farers from Crete, invented money to facilitate the logistics of trading (Fuller 1981), a few gold coins being much easier to transport across oceans than large cattle. This served to standardise and quantify the ‘value’ of items and started the demise of our co-dependant civilisations.
Social hierarchy has always existed to some degree. Though as a result of an increasing population; as villages turned to towns, cities and empires owing to advanced agriculture. Some felt the population needed to be kept under control and the first governments developed, unifying a community under one voice and cementing a perception of authority and inequality in wealth. With the unearned privilege and power bestowed upon certain individuals came greed.
Now, violence is and always will be a part of life, wars have raged throughout history, primarily for territory, more recently for profit. Though until the invention of gun powder there was a certain skill and honour surrounding the practice; noble men dying for a cause they literally embodied, using strength and prowess. These days, noble men and women still die, though the reason and cause is somewhat ambiguous.
In search of new trade routes between Europe and Asia one intrepid explorer sailed west and unintentionally re-discovered the Americas. Reporting his findings back to greedy men who were accustomed to a lavish lifestyle and hungry for power led to the slaughter of thousands of Native Americans, Africans and indeed to the Atlantic slave trade. Though it was through unity and an inextinguishable fire inside the oppressed that this industry was abolished on a large scale.
Coal, which formed through the natural burial and compression of prehistoric fossils and plant life had been fuelling most of the world for some time now. Britain was fortunate enough to be sitting atop a generous supply. Mining deeper and deeper we eventually hit water. An invention which used the steam from burning coal to pump the water out of the mines was created and without intention the first steam engine was born.
The industrial revolution further separated each social class as new machines meant that employers no longer relied so heavily on human work and gave them leverage to reduce wages and employment levels, finally putting the nail in the coffin of our once co-dependant existence.
100 years ago a lot of the more established and powerful countries fell out and went to war for 4 years, 9 million were killed and one game of football was bizarrely yet beautifully played. 75 years ago we started fighting again, this time for 6 years. A disgusting man took it as part of his regime to inhumanly murder 6 million Jewish people, a non-too distant reminder of how the guise of authority can hypnotise the masses. A harbour was attacked which led to a humongous bomb being dropped; a testament to our stupidity as a species. Thousands of revelations and one controlled demolition later and here we are.
Today we live in an over populated world. Our journey has led us through both outstanding achievements and appalling injustices. The majority live extremely comfortably, whilst too many live in desperate poverty. We live in a world full of everything; whatever you look for you will find. Knowledge is immediately accessible and no longer reserved for the privileged. Yet, despite how far we have come, we forget we are animals. Our primal tendencies evoke the best and most genuine emotions. Though, our hunger and zest for life have been quenched by technology; which provides us vicariously with everything we desire – an alternate reality which is easy to get trapped in.
Today the planet is a bit under the weather, there are big drills penetrating it and large structures polluting its atmosphere. As we leave the planet we pass hundreds of satellites on our way out, the planet’s moon now has a little flag stuck in it. We fly out, further and further, into an ever expanding universe. A universe which is so old it’s already forgotten about us, and we wonder; ‘Whatever the fuck happened?’
Fuller 1981 – Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller
King 2005 – http://geology.com/rocks/iron-ore.shtml
Oppenheimer 2003 – http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/journey/big-freeze.html
Templeton 2002 – Nature 416, 45-51 (7 March 2002) | doi:10.1038/416045a; Received 30 August 2001; Accepted 3 January 2002. Out of Africa again and again. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v416/n6876/full/416045a.html
Williamson 2011 – https://www.cerge-ei.cz/pdf/events/papers/100913_t.pdf