29 November 2006

A single truth

In the Christian world, the debate over evolution versus creation is an interesting phenomenon. It seems to be a conflict over what is correct: science or religion; scientific proof or human faith. I mention ‘the Christian world’ here because the rest of the world, with its various other religions, is quite unperturbed by it. Perhaps, such a debate does not matter to them. And I wonder why. Why would it not matter to us where our beginnings lie?

I’m not sure if I have the answer to this question. But, I do know that, once in a while we all wonder who we are; where our ancestors and their ancestors came from. We do indeed wonder where our beginnings lie. We wonder how our universe materialised and how humans came into being. And I know that, on most occasions, we come away from our thoughts dissatisfied, unable to arrive at, or find, or discover, a suitable answer. Maybe that’s because we are always searching for one correct answer. We are seeking a single truth that would solve the puzzle of life instantly… and eternally.

But, why does it have to be one truth and not the other… or not another? Why should one truth override another? Why should a question have a single answer? Or, for that matter, why should many questions have one single answer?

When I had met Charles Handy, the famous British Management guru, he had narrated a story which was also mentioned in his book, ‘The Age of Unreason’: When I was a child and I solved a Maths problem, or answered a question from a History lesson, I checked the back of the book for a correct answer. If my answer matched the answer listed in the back of the book, I was right. It was that simple. It was only when I grew up that I realised that, in life, there isn’t always one correct answer. In fact, every problem has multiple – and sometimes distinctly varied – answers. [This is an approximation of our dialogue; I don’t remember the conversation exactly.]

At work, as a strategic marketing consultant, I am faced with this situation constantly. Every marketing problem has alternative solutions – several strategies that could solve the marketing problem equally well. Neither I nor my clients are one hundred per cent certain that one clear-cut strategy is the only correct solution – the absolutely correct answer – to a specific marketing problem. So, we go with what seems to be the best solution at that specific moment. And, this is something that marketers, businessmen and strategists battle with everyday of their lives. Whether they admit this to the world at large or not, this is a fact of life.

Perhaps, therein lies the truth we are seeking: that there is no single truth in life, but several alternatives to choose from. Maybe, in the Christian world, evolution and creation are simply two alternatives to life’s big question.

27 November 2006

What’s all the fuss about?

When I see, or hear of, people fighting over the creation of the world and the evolution of the human specie, I stand back and wonder what’s going on. I mean, let’s be honest here. None of us were around when these things happened. Neither do we have absolute proof of what had happened exactly.

Sure there’s evidence emerging here and there, now and then, adding to the lot which already exists in books of religion and science and history. And there are people of religion and science and history and philosophy – and even individuals like you and me – all trying to piece things together… making up their minds, updating their versions… to make sense of it all.

But, who’s to say which version is right? As I said, none of us were around when these things happened. For all we know, none of the versions we believe in today is even close to what the truth might be. In fact, our search for the truth may be on, but we may never know what really happened? Couldn’t that be God’s Will too?

Why don’t we just stop fighting over things we aren’t really sure of and concentrate on what we do know?

What we do know is this: We are here on Earth. So, why don’t we just focus our attention on this fact and put our energies into finding ways of living together in peace and harmony… showing compassion and respect for all of God’s creation?

If there is God, I’m sure He would want us to do that… regardless of our gender or age or race or colour of skin or religion or the language we speak or the food we eat or the clothes we wear or our place of residence. After all, we are all equal in His eyes.

Really, I don’t know what all the fuss is about?

23 November 2006

God came much later

With the continuing debate over Intelligent Design, and what a proper Christian should teach his children, human evolution is still a mystery to us. Not just from a historical or scientific point of view, but from the moral view of educating our children with the truth about man’s origins on Earth. What happened when; and what happened after.

If you’ve been reading my posts in the last couple of weeks, by now, you would have picked up a layman’s idea of how early man lived his life. Perhaps you already know much more than what I’ve written about. But, Christian or not, you cannot deny the fact that man evolved. That what man is today – with his mobilephone and microwave, computer and camera, automobile and airplane, science and surgery, art, music and literature – was not how he used to be. That over the years, by applying his mind, man has progressed from an animal without clothes to create and define the cultures we see before us.

Early man had his tools, weapons, artefacts, pottery, baskets to store things in, mud-brick houses to live in, and food to eat. He had his earth, water, fire and the wheel. He probably also had a concept of air; he certainly knew about wind and storms. Physical things mattered to him. You might say, he lived in a materialistic world. God did not exist then. Sure, social and moral guidelines were practised by members of communities. And, there was procreation, of course – life and death. Even caring, compassion and love within human beings.

The concept of God came much later; originating in fear and insecurity, not in compassion and love as we teach our children today.

20 November 2006

Come together

“One thing I can tell you is you got to be free
Come together right now over me.”
[‘Come Together’ – The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969]

People come together in the larger interests of the community they live in. You may not believe this, going by the events around you, but it’s true. It’s a human trait, a tendency, to come together; and this trait has been with us even before civilisation. I say even before civilisation because the ‘coming together’ of people happened when the first human communities were formed – much before the ancient civilisations (as we recognise them today) were established.

This ‘coming together’ to form one homogeneous social and economic group is the first sign of human organisation. It’s most likely to have happened during the early Neolithic settlements, when man evolved to a pastoral life (herding animals and breeding them as a source of food) and practised agriculture (growing crops) on flat land near rivers. These settlements required to be managed too, and the first government, or the ‘coming together’ to form a political organisation, was probably established around this time.

Still, managing the environment was a challenge. Predators preyed, the land was not fertile enough, a lack of water or too much of it destroyed food and lives, climatic changes were misunderstood and misinterpreted, or sudden geological events created terror. Life was uncertain. Man began to hope – and pray – for an ideal world for himself. A world where no fear or distress existed; and even if these did exist, there was a way to find courage to overcome them.

And so, man created religion – a ‘coming together’ physically, socially and spiritually to free oneself from uncertainty, fear and distress.

17 November 2006


Not much is clearly known about man’s evolution. Fragments of man’s early life are discovered almost every day, and archaeologists and historians, while putting the pieces together, are forced to apply their imagination to draw conclusions.

One of the important questions that British archaeologist Steven Mithen tries to answer in his book, ‘After The Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC’ (discussed in ‘Stepping Out’, my 4 June 2005 post), is whether man evolved equally progressively all over the world. So far, it seems, he did not. Evidence from archaeological digs suggests that man had evolved in different paces in different places.

Not only that, even when man had evolved enough to build settlements which grew into civilisations – i.e. urban, planned, flourishing, well-governed settlements – around 3500 BC, these ancient civilisations appeared only in a few places across the globe. And, they came to an end just as mysteriously within a period of 3,000 years. Written records found in these civilisations are still being deciphered. Hence, archaeologists and historians are, once again, left with their imagination.

As much as Gordon Childe’s definition of civilisation encapsulated human achievements in terms of discoveries like the plough, the wheel, irrigation, writing, a system of measurements, the sailing ship, etc. (see my previous post), other archaeologists and historians have proposed that human organisation must have complemented human achievements in order to make a civilisation stand on its feet.

Human organisation, they said, included a centralised government (along with territorial/state management); social stratification or a class system (an administrative class, a privileged class in control of production, a priestly class, a working class, and producers); an economy (more precisely, the use of money in trade and transactions); a division of labour (according to skills); and a military for defence. Some have even suggested a tax system and population sizes (a minimum of 5,000 people staying together).

These were, then, the foundations of our civilisation. It was only later that academics thought of including culture (art, literature, music, cuisines, clothing, language, etc.) and a system of shared values in defining our ancient world.

13 November 2006

An exceptionally long revolution

Revolutions are not supposed to last for years and years. They are deemed as great changes in a short span of time. So, when V Gordon Childe, one of the world’s greatest archaeologists, suggested a ‘Neolithic Revolution’ when early man moved from the ‘striking’ method of making and using tools to the ‘grounding’ (hand-rotating) method, he picked up a lot of criticism. After all, this change in method in making/using tools took anything upwards of 3,000 years. So what’s revolutionary about that?

Gordon Childe, however, did not limit his use of the term ‘Neolithic Revolution’ only to the method of making/using tools. He believed, this period in man’s evolution also ushered in agriculture (including irrigation), the formation of village-like settlements, domestication of animals, eating habits that included food made from grains, construction (evenly-measured mud-brick houses), the discovery of the wheel, the appearance of gods or deities, superstition, and methods of burial that suggested the concept of an after-life.

Moreover, he believed, in the context of the pace of change that we had witnessed earlier – when human evolution was taking hundreds of thousands of years or tens of thousands of years – a mere 3,000 years did seem like a short span of time.

In the Neolithic period, pottery appeared. First as items made from clay, hand-moulded to give rough shapes. These were primitive-looking pieces that lacked finesse by modern standards. Then, another discovery, the potter’s wheel, ushered in the concept of evenly-shaped mass-produced pottery. Not long after that, pottery was made from firing/baking the clay items, hardening the clay to make pottery last longer. Archaeological findings suggest that the early moulds for pottery were woven like baskets and layered with asphalt or bitumen.

But man’s evolution didn’t stop there. Man ‘discovered’ metal. That meant the discovery of minerals and ores from rocks and the earth’s soil, and better still, the extraction of metal from these ores through a process called smelting. This brought in the Bronze Age (bronze being an alloy of copper and tin), introducing copper and bronze artefacts… adding to (and replacing some of) early man’s collection of stone and bone tools and artefacts.

According to Gordon Childe, several elements were essential for a civilisation to exist. He identified them as the plough, irrigation, domesticated animals, specialised craftsmen, the wheeled cart, the smelting of copper and bronze, sailing ships, a solar calendar, writing, standards of measurement, urban centres, and a surplus of food necessary to support non-agricultural workers and others who lived in the settlements/communities (villages and urban centres).

11 November 2006

A material life

Somewhere along the line, it’s not clearly known when, man began to make tools of a more sophisticated type. These tools were made not by striking one stone against another – the older method which gave rough edges – but by rubbing and grinding one stone against another using a hand-rotating movement. This was a remarkable upgrade in technology of that time, and early man began to make tools with smoother surfaces and sharper edges.

Apart from developing hunting and fighting weapons of better quality, this technology ushered in a whole range of tools for grinding grains, de-husking seeds, axes for cutting down trees, primitive hoes for digging soil, and even utensils such as bowls.

It is suspected that around this time, cultivation was ‘discovered’… most probably by women who, when the men were out hunting, went beyond their duty of collecting fruits and roots and seeds to actually planting seeds and roots in the ground and nurturing them. This increased their supply of food near their settlements and made life more convenient. And so, introduced agriculture in human civilisation.

With agriculture came domestication of animals, with cattle, goats and sheep providing milk and meat. As much as barley and wheat and several other kinds of grains were cultivated, animals were bred in captive stocks. The buffalo, which was a chief source of food, had not yet been tamed and, therefore, hunting was still a preoccupation with the men. But, the dependence on hunting was definitely reduced by then.

Weaving of baskets (from reeds and grass) had begun around this time, supplementing utensils made from mud and clay. Clothes were still made from animal hides, but perhaps some were made from weaving hair taken from goats and sheep. Bones were used as tools and, along with conch shells and beads made from soft stones, were also used as ornaments worn by men and women. It became a material life, with individuals identified by their possessions.

As life settled, villages grew in numbers and elementary houses of clay and mud-bricks were constructed. There is evidence that these houses were used both for living and for storage of grains. For, by this time, the villages and communities had learnt to grow more food than needed for their bare subsistence, thereby producing a surplus (see my earlier posts). It is likely that this surplus was appropriated, most probably by force, by some non-producing people as their right.

With agriculture, ownership of domesticated animals, production and appropriation of surplus, construction of houses and development of skills in crafts, a sense of social differentiation or classification emerged. The concept of private property became important. No longer was division of labour and social differentiation in the community a matter of gender – i.e. men were hunters, women were gatherers. Villages and communities fell into a structured social order. They needed to be managed – and governed.

09 November 2006

The first art galleries

Life was hard in those Paleolithic days. The average life span of prehistoric man is estimated (by today’s scientific measures) to have been less than 30 years. Hunting was a preoccupation, with animals providing our ancestors their main meals. Yet, there was something sacred about this, and early cave art tells us that our ancestors considered relationships between humans and animals to be important.

Cave art – i.e. paintings by prehistoric man found on the walls and ceilings of caves – came into public attention when the first cave paintings were found, accidentally by a little girl, in Altamira, northern Spain in 1879. Since then, thousands of similar paintings have been discovered in caves across the world, the earliest dating back some 27,000 years ago. The interesting thing is, no matter where on Earth cave art is discovered, the similarities between them, in terms of subject matter and style, are amazing.

The paintings look like line drawings of animals and humans in stick-like forms, mostly depicting hunting scenes. A few show women and children, such as the one of a woman carrying a load on her head, dated 8,000 years ago, found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, India. It seems charcoal was the main ingredient in the black paint used in many of these cave paintings.

By today’s standards of fine arts, prehistoric cave art is childish, even clumsy. Yet, these collections of cave paintings represent what would be the first art galleries in human history. Even today, they are an enigma to historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and sociologists. In some caves, according to dating measures, paintings were discontinued and resumed thousands of years later. Why, no-one knows for sure.

Records suggest that cave art continued for 20,000 years or so, and came to an end when the hunters’ precarious way of life disappeared. This happened, slowly, as early man began to rely more on grains and vegetables for his food, and moved to plain open spaces which allowed cultivation. By this time, of course, human populations had increased, making it difficult for larger groups of people to stay in or near caves.

07 November 2006


It’s not just animals that early humans – our ancestors – slaughtered, making many of them extinct. They killed rival human species too. There is a point of view that several weaker human species perished in the hands of more robust superior humans, becoming totally extinct. Some, of course, fled to distant regions, living isolated lives, limiting or slowing down their evolutionary growth.

The victors evolved progressively, moving from living in natural sites such as rock shelters and caves for temporary refuge to forests where they learnt to build primitive huts from branches of trees and settle down in tribes/communities. Animals found in the forests in their wild state provided basic food – both milk and meat. Some species of birds provided eggs and meat as well. Those living near rivers or the sea learnt to catch and eat fish and turtles. Most food was eaten raw, but, with the discovery of fire some 20,000 years ago (I’m not sure about this date), roasting of meat became common practice.

Social and economic management came into practice as well, with division of labour and barter systems enabling smooth functioning of the overall tribe/community. Different people were allotted and participated in different tasks, ensuring that the entire tribe/community benefited from their collective effort. For instance, while the men hunted animals for food, the women gathered fruits and grains near their settlements. At this time, an important economic discovery was made: early man learnt to store goods for future use, thereby creating the concept and the value of ‘surplus’.

Technology, apart from fire, was still limited to stone tools and the improvement of this technology – the creation and use of better and better stone tools – is really what defined human evolution. The stone tool was no longer just a weapon for protection and hunting, but began to be used for cutting, chopping, axing, cleaving, carving, boring, drilling, pounding, grinding… the applications were numerous. Many more tasks could be performed with these new stone tools, and along with tools made from animal/human bones, our ancestors were not only superior, but virtually unconquerable.

05 November 2006

Lord of the beasts

[No, it’s not the lion.]

Although we like to fantasise about dinosaurs and humans in a fight to death, dinosaurs were extinct long before humans were found on Earth. According to the established and accepted systems of dating the Earth – in Geological Ages – dinosaurs lived in the Mesozoic Era, somewhere between 248 million years and 65 million years ago (give or take 5 million years). The first humans were found only 2 million years ago or thereabouts.

It is acceptable today to describe or define the first humans as those who, having emerged from the ape species (the hominids), could naturally walk erect on its two legs (a biped). Evidence from fossils, dating between 2.6 million and 1.7 million years ago, points to Africa – particularly East and South Africa – as the earliest source of human life form, called the homo habilis.

The homo habilis – and a younger contemporary, the homo erectus – were really something to talk about. They had a much larger brain than other hominids of the time, and expectedly, greater intelligence. Evidence suggests that they may have lived collectively in groups, uttered gargling sounds which could be believed to be the first ‘words’, and could make stone tools by striking one stone against another, breaking away flakes to get a cutting edge.

This cutting-edge technology allowed the early humans to make weapons, which were used for protection and to kill other animals. Kill they did in such large numbers that many animals became extinct or reduced drastically in numbers. Lions, tigers, leopards… fell in this category. Some fled and survived in the wild as humans began to form colonies and settle down in specific locations.

As lord of the beasts, man promoted only those animals – such as horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, poultry, dogs, cats, and even elephants – which he could domesticate or bring within his control by other means. Others had to take their own chances. In a fight to death, early man ruled over all animals… and lived to tell the tale.

04 November 2006

An organised life

In a settlement, many of the surprises common to a nomadic life of a hunter-gatherer – such as travelling to unknown destinations, discovering new terrains, foraging for food, protecting oneself and the tribe from predators and other adversities – were replaced by routine activities in an all-too-familiar territory. Uncertainties were rooted out and life was organised.

Of course, a settled life didn’t mean peace and harmony. New problems surfaced: how to manage resources on a sustainable basis; how to till the land so as to get more yield year after year; how to store food and other commodities without spoiling them; how to harness the power of the seasons; how to deal with conflict arising from people living in close proximity.

Slowly a sense of self emerged in the early human settler; along with it, a consciousness of differential access to resources, skills and knowledge. And thus, to social status. Personal possessions became important. People used differences in their material possessions, as well as their knowledge and skills, to express their economic and social differences from others in the settlement.

Tensions grew, posing problems to the organised life that had been created.

03 November 2006

A lazy man's approach

In the halls of history, anthropology and archaeology, there’s a debate raging over similarities between recent societies and past civilisations, taking discussions all the way back to the evolution of human beings. Who are we? Where do we come from? Are there links between colonies of cavemen and present societies?

It seems, finding answers to questions on whether we, today, bear any resemblance to our ancestors living thousands of years ago is turning out to be more difficult than expected. Especially from an archaeological point of view, since archaeology has to provide hard evidence to justify every theory.

Much to the disappointment of archaeologists, many colonies belonging to our Stone Age (or even earlier) ancestors may have developed into metropolitan cities of today, thereby denying them opportunities for archaeological digs and discoveries. And so, thanks to progress and development, a great deal of valuable evidence of our past may be lost forever.

There are theories on how colonies were formed, growing from a simple gathering of nomadic hunter-gatherers to groups of human dwellings to full settlements, which bear resemblance to immigrant movements and lifestyles of today. In one theory, based on analysis of bone chemistry of skeletons excavated from archaeological sites, archaeologists have found that many of our ancestors may have been lazy – practising a sedentary lifestyle.

From dietary patterns, research has found that early humans had given up their foraging lifestyle, trekking across vast landscapes as hunter-gatherers, to settle down to a quieter life in areas which were rich in resources. After all, the trek and the hunt were in search of ‘resources’, fairly similar to immigrant populations of today in search of 'resources' leading to a better life.

With these early humans, soon settlement patterns became fixed; specialisations over local resources developed into common tasks and professions; daily routine became lifestyle. As long as the settlement did not run out of resources, there was no need to move. Over thousands of years, settlements such as these slowly developed into cities.

It’s interesting to note how a lazy man’s approach to life may have actually created great civilisations of today.

01 November 2006

Creatures of the past

[No, this is not about pre-historic animals.]

In every community there exist connections between people. Between one individual and another; between groups of individuals; and between one individual and the community as a whole. These connections constitute a community’s social capital. This social capital, like its culture and identity, is something people simply have. It’s a leftover from their long dwelling together as a group… a sort of continuity with their past.

The nature of some of these connections gets modified over the years; but, all in all, they remain, collectively as social capital, an important component of the community and its prosperity. In fact, the potential for this social capital actually spreads beyond the community – i.e. the immediate group of people who constitute the community – and influences others outside it. Depending on their social capital, some communities welcome others, embracing new cultures and new thinking. Some exude negative vibes and actually repel outsiders.

Racism, genocide, caste-based behaviour and communal feelings are examples of such negative social capital. Or, correctly, negative externalisation of such social capital. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate one from the other. Internally, the social capital of a community can act as a cohesive or binding force, enhancing the functioning of the community; but externally, it can treat people with suspicion, hostility and hatred… excluding others as outsiders. Some of these negative feelings have a history behind them, embedded as they have been in the minds of people for generations, and are difficult to change or erase.

Hopefully, with globalisation, the social capital of communities and countries will improve, creating a better place to live for all of us. But, then again, who knows? We are, after all, creatures of the past.