Monthly Archives: April 2016

Walking with the Ancestors Part 3-B

The two hunters slowly made their way across the steep mountain pass. The mountains rose up to their right, and over the precipice to their left, lay the forested valleys far below them. The winds blew across the exposed mountains, and the hunters wrapped themselves tighter in their furs.

The old ones of their village had told them stories about their ancestors, how one generation after another they had moved north in search of new more verdant lands. In the ancient days, the old ones had said, they had lived far to the south in lands warm and lush. But some had said that those lands had become too crowded, and there had not been enough food. Others had said that it was the sky that called to them, and they walked out of that land in order to find where the land touched the sky.

The first hunter turned to the second and smiled.

“Do you think we will be able to touch they sky soon brother?” He said. His younger brother smiled.

“This place is certainly as near to the sky as I have ever been.” The younger of the two replied.

“Yet, the sun does not seem any closer. It is almost as if we are farther from it now.” The older brother said.

“I would think so. The days are colder than I remember.” The younger brother confirmed.

Around the edge of the mountain, the older brother found new signs of their prey, tracks in the soil that covered the mountain. The older brother looked out to the mountains beyond. High above them shone the white capped peaks in the distance. He had always loved just looking at the mountains, as the green cloaks slowly gave way to white as they great peaks reached for the sky. The hunters were still firmly in that green cloak, and grass and trees spread out all around them.

The younger brother squatted over the tracks, and traced his fingers around them. The older brother smiled. His younger sibling had become quite the tracker since becoming an adult just the winter past. He would never admit it, but he figured his brother was already a better track than himself.

“The horned one (1) passed this way not too long ago, it should be close.” The younger brother said.

“Then now is the time for quiet.” The older brother said, and he set out moving slowly towards the trees around the side of the mountain. The horned ones loved the higher parts of the mountains, and they were fast and sure footed even on the steepest of slopes. If the brothers hoped to get one with their spears, they would have to catch it unaware. Otherwise, it would sprint across the mountains and they would loose it.

The younger brother took the lead as they tracked the horned one, but luck was not in their favor. As they emerged from some cover, the horned was was there waiting for them. The younger brother’s eyes went wide as he saw the animal, and he realized a little late that the two of them were blocking it’s only way of escape. The horned one charged, and the younger brother jumped out of the way. He tumbled to the side, and pan iced as his feet hit loose gravel instead of grassy soil. He lost his footing and the ground slid out from under him, and in another heartbeat you would have slid right off the edge of the cliff.

The older brother had had a little more warning than his sibling, and had an easier time dodging out of the way of the horned one as it quickly ran off beyond their reach. The older brother had seen his sibling fall, and he ran to catch him before he went over the edge of the cliff. When his own feet hit the gravel, he had to struggle to keep his own footing, and realized with horror that he could not have reach his brother in time.

He shouted as the younger man went over the edge of the mountain.

The young man lost sight of his brother as he passed over the ledge and tumbled down the long slope that followed. For that much he had to be thankful, as a sheer drop would have killed him instantly. He slid down the slope as the gravel tore at his skin and only made him slide faster. He had little time to look around before the slope came to a stop among much larger rocks. Pain racked his body, and he heard a loud snap as he collided with the rocks and tumbled some more before coming to a stop against the side of a cliff.

Pain shot through his left leg, and blood ran down his forearms. He took one deep breath, and then another. He cried in pain and longing for his brother.

“I am going to die here.” He sobbed to himself. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but the blackness slowly took him.

When he next opened his eyes, he realized instantly that he was not in the same place he fallen. He could hear voices around him (2), but he did not understand them. He glanced around, and came to the conclusion that he was in a cave, and that there was a fire somewhere near by. Light and shadows danced across the cave around him.

There were faces as well, and these frightened him. The faces he could see were broad, with large ridges above the eyes. One of these faces however over him, staring right back into his eyes. He had heard the other hunters tell stories about these people. The other hunters had said they were strong and could rip a person in half. Some said that they were stupid, and could not even speak. All they did was crush things, and some of the hunters even said they would catch people and eat them.

Tears ran down his eyes.

“Please don’t eat me.” The young man said. The face above him seemed startled for a moment, and then smiled. That is when the young man realized that the face over him was probably a woman.

She touched him low on his body, and more pain streaked through his body. She had touched his left leg, and he know knew it was surely broken. The woman started to touch other parts of his body, and he was pleased when only a few areas were really painful. The woman muttered something that he did not understand.

He titled his head to the right, and saw that a good portion of his chest had been wrapped in leather, and some kind of crushed plant. He was happy when he saw his right arm rise, and he gestured at the wraps.

“Did you do this?” He said, tapping his chest. The broad face started at him for a long moment. Then she tapped a finger on his chest. He flinched a little bit. He took the gesture as a ‘yes’.

The world faded in an out over the next few days. With each turn of the sun, those days turned into weeks, and then into months. The young man met many others as they came and went from the cave, and one day at a time he started to pick up little bits of their language. He learned their ways, and over time started to love them.

He also came to love her, the first face he had awoken to. He wanted to stay with them, with her, and so he stayed.

And in time a child was born…

Notes;

(1) From Wikipedia (Altai Mountains), it is stated that the climate in the Altai mountains has been relatively stable since the last ice age. As a result, it has also retained a lot of ice age fauna (minus mammoths and other extinct creatures). I figured the Siberian Ibex would make a good choice of prey.

(2) There is still some debate about whether or not Neanderthals could actually speak in the same way we do. I took a creative liberty in this case.

Commentary;

I could have fleshed this one out a lot more had I chosen too. You might think it has a bit of an abrupt ending, and this is deliberate in this case. I had to bring it to an end, otherwise it would have quickly exceeded an easily readable size. I do try to limit the length of my individual posts on this blog. Also, if you really like this kind of story, may I recommend Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel. While I am not a huge fan of the later books in the series, I highly recommend Clan of the Cave Bear for a good all around neanderthal/human story.

You also might have noticed that this one departed from the general format I have used for the previous stories. I really considering making it another story of a boy sitting around a fire with an old woman. But it some ways, I felt that that format would be a little too much “once upon a time” in feeling. I choose this one because this is not a story of some far off time before humans or any kind of people to witness it. I actually share part of my genetic code with some of the fossils that were found in that cave. My ancestors were actually there, actually experienced what it was like in those days. And so I choose to make this a much more “in the moment” kind of story.

Who knows, maybe I am just conjuring up buried ancestral memories from some young hunter buried deep in my genetic code?

Maybe not.

All the same, I hoped you enjoyed this one, and hope you join me in the next chapter of this series as we explore another site and another of my distant ancestors.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources and references;

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel.

I also referenced many of the sources from part A of this chapter for inspiration.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 3-A

In the last part of this series, we started to talk about Homo erectus, one of our earlier hominid ancestors, and the first one to go global. H. erectus emerged in Africa about 2 million years ago, and from there spread out across the globe. Skeletons have been found in Africa as early as 300,000 years ago. Homo erectus skeletons are found in Asia from 1.8 mya ago to about 300 Kya. In Europe we find skeletons dating from about 800,000 – 300,000 years ago.

The reason these skeletons are so important is because H. erectus is ancestral to two populations that are very important to this series; ourselves, Homo sapiens, and a cousin population in Homo neanderthalensis. The Neanderthals,

There is a lot I am skipping over here, and plenty of details that have to be omitted for brevity reasons. Suffice to say, that somewhere around 350Kya, Homo sapiens emerged out of Africa and began their long trek across the globe. At the same time in Europe and into East Asia, arose the Neanderthals.

Which brings us down to about 50,000 years ago, in a world covered in ice (at least in the north), and with two kinds of hominids living side by side in Europe. It is here we get to the real marrow of this series, where I actually start talking about my own ancestors, as revealed through genetic testing. At this point it is important to make a distinction about what kind of genetics we are talking about, because there are three “kinds” that are often discussed in these conversations; Y-chromosomal DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA.

Y-Chromosomal DNA is pretty self explanatory, as it comes from the Y Chromosome found in males, and is used to trace a straight line through ones paternal ancestry, father – grandfather – great grandfather and so on.

Mitochondrial DNA is also pretty straight forward, it is extracted from the DNA of mitochondria, the “power plants” of our cells. This type of DNA is inherited through the maternal line only, mother – grandmother – great grandmother. You get the idea.

I have had testing done on both of the former two types, but I am not going to talk about these just yet. Because, I will be talking about Autosomal DNA, which comes from the autosomes, the first 22 bases pairs of chromosomes in our genetic material. It excludes chromosome 23, because this is is often to referred to as the “sex chromosome”. In males, it is a Y, in females an X. This chromosome is not included in autosomal testing.

The reason I will be talking about autosomal first is because in many ways it is the most comprehensive. While the Y testing can tell me about my paternal line, and the mitochondrial can tell me about my maternal line, autosomal DNA can tell me about my ancestors across ALL lines in my ancestral lineage. This is done by comparing my own DNA with other known samples, either from living people or from DNA extracted from ancient skeletons. I’ll let you guess which we will be talking about.

Which brings us to my first 2 matches, from 50 kya and 30 kya ago. And as you may have already guessed, these matches are from a Neanderthal and a Denisovan skeleton. The location is in the place now known as the Denisova Cave, in Altai Mountains, Siberia.

Altai

(Location Approximated)

Really, in so many ways the Denisova Cave is a tale of three different hominins. (2) Modern humans on one hand, and also the Denisovans and Neanderthals. Seriously folks, I have included plenty of links at the bottom for those that are curious. Wikipedia is good for a general overview of course, but it’s real value lies in the bibliographies on these pages. Those can lead to other websites as well as academic literature on these subjects.

I digress a little bit. In this cave were found numerous fossils from all three hominins, and a few of these fossils still contained viable DNA, which was tested and eventually released publicly. Most of the DNA for the Denisovan came from a small bit of bone, a part of the pinkie. It had once belonged to a little girl. The Neanderthal DNA came from a toe bone, and it belonged to a female.

Once the data was made available to the public, it was possible to compare to that of living people. People like myself. That is how my own DNA, and my own ancestry came into the picture; behold!

50 kya Altai Neanderthal match; 2.47 % (1)

30 kya Altai Denisovan; 1.93%

And that is where I am going to leave this part of the series. Seriously folks, there is a ton of information out there if you are curious about these things. Of course, I am always open for questions and will answer them to the best of my ability.

Thanks for reading!

Notes;

  1. Using “total shared DNA” calibration in the Ancient Calculator tool.

  2. A note on language use. You will see me vary between using the term “hominid” and “hominin”. Both are in fact accurate in this sense, but “hominid” refers to the family Homindae, which includes the great apes. It is a “wide use” term, whereas “hominin” is more restrictive, and refers mostly to the members of genus Homo, that is humans and our closest relations.

Sources and references;

Essentials of Physical Anthropology: Discovering our Origins. By Clark Spencer Larsen

Wikipedia (Human Evolution)

Wikipedia (Neanderthals)

Wikipedia (Denisovan)

Wikipedia (Upper Paleolithic)

Wikipedia (Altai Mountains)

National Geographic 

BBC

The Guardian


Walking with the Ancestors Part 2-B

The boy shivered in his furs. Winter would be here soon, and the nights had gotten bitter, and the winds gnawed at his bones. He made his way back to the old woman’s fire once more, and continued to shiver until the warmth of the fire finally beat back the cold.

“You have returned for another night? Could it be that you want to hear another story as well?” The old woman said with a smile.

“It is just so cold. I just want the fire.” The boy said, pulling off his mittens and shoving his bare hands towards the fire.

“Then perhaps that is the story I will tell you about tonight? Shall I tell you about how our ancestors learned about fire.” The old woman said and the boy nodded.

“Very well. As has already been told, fire was there at the beginning of times, and that is why there are stars in the sky, and too why the fire people dwell far below the earth. In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth. But they were the only ones that could stand the heat, and a great discussion took place. You see, other peoples wanted to come and live on the earth as well, but most could not stand the heat. So the world was cooled, and the fire people retreated into the ground. But they could not disappear forever, for the sun still had to rise, and the stars still had to dot the night sky. Otherwise things would grow cold and black.” The woman said.

“But why is it so cold? Is it always cold when there is no fire?” The boy asked, staring out into the night as far as his eyes could see.

“Long ago, our ancestors lived in a place that was warm, as it was blessed by the heat from the sun. It was a land covered with vast plains and forests, and rich beyond all measure. They dwelled in those forests, and generally were very happy. But as time passed, some felt the urge to seek out new lands, and so they left that place of warmth and forests. Soon they discovered that the lands beyond were not as blessed by the sun, and these places were cold indeed. In those days there was no fire to keep them warm, and so they stayed in the warmth of the sun.” The woman said.

“So it grows cold when there is no sun?” The boy asked.

“Some places are more blessed by the sky fire than others, child. Where there is fire, there is warmth. The sun people rejoice in the warmth. But they cannot bring warmth to all lands, and in some places they are not as easily found. In some places, the sun people disappear for many months.” The old woman said.

“Who lives there?” The boy asked.

“Those that love the cold. The ice people can be found in those places, and the people of shadows. They love such places. ” The old woman said, and the boy looked up.

“Are there people up there, shadow people?” The boy said.

“Oh yes, the enjoy all dark and cold places. They have been there since long ago, just as the fire people.” The old woman said.

“There is a lot of shadow up there. There must be a lot more shadow people.” The boy said. The old woman could do nothing but smile.

“Perhaps child, perhaps. You would have to live long indeed if you wanted to count them all. Our ancestors wondered the same thing, when they first met the cold, and they turned back to the lands of warmth and sunlight. But they longed to explore new lands, and finally the other people took pity on them. They said to themselves; ‘we should teach them the lessons of the fire people’.

Our ancestors had long wondered about the fire people. Just like you child, they saw the sun rise each day, and the stars in the sky. Some even saw the fires rise up from the earth, or those that rode with the lighting. They knew of fire, but they did not understand it, not in those early days.” The old woman said.

“And did the fire people teach them?” The little boy asked.

“Oh yes, they did. People of all kinds, of wood and tinder, of fire and air, and even those of water, came to our ancestors and taught them.

The people said to our ancestors;

“Look here, fire is always hungry. This is what it likes to eat.” The people of wood and grass said, and many others.

“Look here, fire is reckless and may eat more than is needed. I can help tame it.” The people of water said, and so too the people of earth, and many others.

“Look here, fire needs to breath. Look how he grows when he breaths deep!” The air people said, and others besides.

“And what did the peoples of shadow and cold say?” The little boy asked.

The old woman let out a hardy laugh.

“They said; ‘EEK! Get away from me!’ “. The old woman laughed again.

“Is it because warmth and cold are enemies?” The boy asked.

“Not at all child. They are not enemies, but are very different. The cold people do not do well in the warmth, and so they avoid it. Just as the shadow people don’t much care for the light, so they flee from it.” The old woman said.

“What happened next?” The little boy asked.

“The secrets of fire were gifted to our ancestors, just as the secrets of rock and stone had been before them. Our people learned to make tools from stone, and then the lessons of fire were taught to them. And so our ancestors spread out from their warm home, and they were pleased to find that the cold and dark fled from them. They journeyed to new lands, some colder than others.” The old woman said, just as a brisk wind howled across the camp.

“I sure wish we would have stayed in the warm place.” The little boy said as he moved closer to the fire. The old woman laughed once more. She threw another bit of wood on the fire.

The flames danced and flickered.

Commentary;

You might notice this one reads a little bit differently than the first one. In the first story (1B), I said that the people “…shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.” In this one, you might notice, I said something more along the lines of; “In ancient times, the fire people covered the whole of the earth.” I wanted to point out that while I am trying for some measure of consistency; each story does have a different focus, and might read a little bit differently. I am going to really try for a coherent narrative, or more accurately a series of narratives. I will do my best to avoid glaring contradictions, but this does not mean that each story will exactly reflect the others. It’s a balance in my mind.

Also, I do not think it is inconsistent from an animistic perspective. A world shaped by fire, and a world covered by fire people, are more or less synonymous. However, it is important to remember the focus is a little bit different this time around.

I really tried to avoid adversarial dichotomies throughout this story. I didn’t want it to turn into another “fire vs ice” story, but in some ways this was unavoidable. The fact is that opposites exist. Cold and warm are opposites. Fire and ice may be opposites, but instead of making them enemies or opponents, I tried to give the impression that they were merely different. So instead of a “fire vs ice” story, I went for more of a “fire and/or ice” story. Not enemies, but very different. One of the foundations of my animism is diversity, that the world is full of people, most of which are not human. Each will have its own desires, will and personality. Some may even be down right fatal to one another. But I don’t necessarily consider this an adversarial relationship. Consider steam for a moment.

Or the concept of steamy. Oh la la.

As I discussed in the last part of this chapter, it was fire that helped to contribute to Homo erectus‘ expansion across the globe. In addition, as has already been discussed, it was around the time of H. erectus that we see the first evidences of stone tool use. I regret that that fact got little more than a cameo in this story. I don’t in any way want to minimize the importance of stone tools and the impact they had on our development as a species. The impact was immense, and would continue to be so for a very long time. If I created a story to explain that, it would be much like this one. It would be a “teaching” story, in which the people of stone and earth teach our ancestors how to make stone tools. There is so much more to be said here, but the important thing to remember is that this story is about fire, and so it is central.

Sorry stone people.

As I said, I do not in any way want to minimize the impact of stone tool use. However, fire was just as vital, if not more so to our survival. I think it would have been very difficult for our ancestors to survive outside of Africa without the use and control of fire. Realize, that over time they would have to endure an ice age in Europe. The use of fire opened up much colder climates to settlement, and also brought about a change in both cultural and dietary habits. I do not have the space to really detail all of that, but it cannot be understated the importance of fire.

And with that in mind, we leave this chapter behind. In the next chapter, I am going to get to marrow of this series, and bring us up to the time where I can start talking about my own ancestors in a much more specific way.

Hominids, neanderthals, and humans oh my!

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

1) I have started to consider each grouping of posts a “chapter” I.E this would be chapter 2, part B. So in the future if I refer to “chapter 2”, it means this post and it’s companion part A.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 2-A

You know what, I am feeling generous, so you folks get a two-fer today! (Plus I am well into the future parts of this series, and really want to move things along!)

The Ape-Descendants (1)

It would be too much for me to detail the long history of life on Earth, over the billions of years from the first organisms to now. Such a topic is way too complex for a simple blog series such as this one. Suffice to say, that over much of the history of this planet, organisms have grown and thrived. Many of these were simple organisms, single cellular, but over time new and diverse forms of life came to inhabit Earth. Plants, animals, trilobites, dinosaurs, and eventually mammals and primates. It was from the latter that our own ancestral lines started to evolve and diverge, and about 8 million or so years ago, the earliest members of our ancestors start to appear in the fossil record.

Our story starts with those that are called the Pre-Australopithecines. In the book by Larsen, he highlights the finds of two fossils, one from Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in modern day Chad, and which dates from 7 – 6 million years ago. The brain was small, and much more like that of apes. That being said, it did have a couple of traits that have more in common with more modern hominids. First, it is likely that it was bidpedal, walking upright just like ourselves. Second, it had non-honing teeth. Whereas apes have teeth that have a habit of sharpening themselves, this first fossil did not, which is a characteristics of our own teeth. Several of the remains found with this fossil indicated it lived in a forest by a lake.

The other fossil found in Kenya, Orrogin tugensis, has been dated to about 6 million years ago. The remains of several different skeletons were found, most of which have indications of early traits of our own species, but also some that are reminiscent of apes. Several partial femurs indicate bipedalism, and the canines were once again non-honing. However, a hand phalanx had traits like those of apes, a curvature typical of those apes that live in trees. The indication too, that this creature evolved in a forest setting.

There were also fossils found in Ethiopia, Ardipithicus kadabba and Ardipithicus ramadis, both of which were found in an area were many other important fossils have been found, and have contributed to our knowledge of early hominid ancestry. These two fossils date from about 6 million years ago to about 4.5 million years ago. Just like the two earlier fossils, these two also showed mixed characteristics of both hominids and apes. Their fossils indicated bipedalism, and non-honing chewing, but also plenty of ape like traits that indicate a life in a forest setting.

As we move through time from about 4 million years ago, to about 1 million years ago we come across the Australopithecines, represented by hundreds of fossils spread across at least seven different species, all of which belong to the genus Australopithecus. I will not take the space to detail all these fossils, as there is plenty other of material out there for those that are interested.

However, in general as we move through time from 8 millions years ago, to about 1 million years ago, there is evidence of several changes moving through the fossil records. Brains increase in size slightly as we get closer to Homo. In addition, bone move away from more ape-like traits, towards those we see in our modern species. In addition, the teeth of our ancestors lose the honing trait that is present in apes.

Many of the same trends continue as we move from the Australopithecines to the earliest members of genus Homo. Our brains continue to increase in size, and overall the size of our faces and teeth shrink. By the time we come to about 2.5 million years ago, the first of our own genus has appeared side by side the Australopithecines, and which shares many of the same traits as those early fossils. The name of this being was Homo habilis and it was the first species in our ancestral lineage.

Homo habilis is the first hominid species associated with the use of stone tools, the so called Oldowan Complex stone tool culture, though it is possible that the contemporary species, Australopithecus ghari may have also used the stone tools. As such A. ghari is often seen as the ancestor to Homo habilis and the bridge between the early Australopithecines and the genus Homo.

Homo habilis in turn gave rise to Homo erectus, and this is where our ancestry gets really interesting. For in Homo erectus we see the first globalization of our species, as it is the first of Homo to leave its cradle in Africa, and spread across the planet. As we move closer to our own modern species, we see a continued decrease in the size of our teeth, face and jaws. Our brains continued to increase in size, as did the browridge on our skulls. There is also a generalized overall increase in our body size, the lengthening of our legs and height. Between 2.5 and 1 million years ago, stone use continued to grow and develop, and we also see the first controlled use of fire. The development of fire only aided early humans in the expansion across the globe. And it was from Homo erectus that our own modern species would evolve.

But I want to stop here. I know that this post might be a little more dull. There have been entire books written about the development and evolution of our species, and I have only recounted the smallest selection of that here. I don’t want to go on and on with endless listings of fossils and species, because that is not the point of this post. There are some resources below, and I can always provide more if you want to read more about all these topics.

The point is, in these earliest fossils we can see very distant branches of my own family tree. It is amazing to think that in the hills and valleys of Africa, are the fossils of beings to which I am related. In the shape of my skull, the size of my brain, and the hands with which I am typing, all of those things connect me back to those earliest times. I wonder if I would still be able to type this if my hands were still curved, likes those of apes? I mean, I have seen apes type just fine, but it is something that is amazing to think about.

Plus, through all the literature and artist renderings, I can kind of understand what life might have been like for the earliest of hominid ancestors. In some way, I can almost reach out and touch them. That is what all the research is about, that is what this series is about. It is about reaching out to my ancestors, and remembering them. It is about telling their stories and bridging the gap between our world and theirs. It is about learning from them, and that even after millions of years, we still carry them with us.

In our thoughts, in our blood, in our bones, and in our hearts.

So far, I have really just been “setting the stage”, so to speak. In the next chapter, we really get into the meat of this series. I will be talking more about Homo erectus, and of course, neanderthals and modern humans. That will be where my own story starts to unfold.

Thanks for reading!

Notes;

1) This is more of a pun, inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In reality, apes and men are more like “cousins”, as we share a common ancestry.

Sources, references;

Essentials of Physical Anthropology: Discovering our Origins. By Clark Spencer Larsen

Wikipedia (Human Evolution)


Walking with the Ancestors Part 1-B

The boy sat by the fire with the old woman, and the two of them started up at the night sky. So many lights danced across the sky, and the boy had marveled at them night after night. He knew the woman besides the fire was a wise old lady, and so he asked the question that had been perched on the edge of his tongue.

“Why are there lights in the sky?” The boy asked. The woman responded with a chuckle.

“That is a long, and a very old story.” The woman said.

“I would like to hear it all the same.” The boy responded. The woman chuckled again.

“I want you to picture the world around you blackness, as black as the sky is above you.” The woman said.

“But the sky is not black, it is filled with light!” The boy said.

“This is true now, but that is not how things once were. All of this, all that you see, there was nothing in its place but black and cold. There was no light in the world, nor anywhere throughout all the worlds. At the beginning of time, there was nothing to be seen or heard, no songs or stories, and no rivers or birds in the sky, nor sky for the birds to call home.

And then there was a fire, small beyond all measure. It was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.” The woman said.

“Why so small?” The boy said.

“Because all seeds are small at first. That small fire was the seed of everything to come, all the worlds, and all the lights in the night sky would grow from that little seed. Over the long stretches of time, the little seed started to grow. It was in that time that people came into the world.” The woman said.

“What kind of people?” The boy asked.

“They were not people like you and I, but people all the same. They grew and multiplied and so did the seed. More fires appeared in the world, and because they brought warmth and light into the cold black, the people carried them with them. The people came to be in many forms and kinds, and they carried the fires with them wherever they went. That is how the sky came to filled with light, as the fires of the people still burn in the heavens.” The woman said.

“But what about the land and the sky? Where did the forests, the plains, and the high mountains come from?” The boy asked. The woman smiled.

“I will tell you child, if you have but a little patience. As the people set across the darkness, they went about building homes for themselves. That is how this world came into being, as the dwelling for a great many peoples. They became greatly gifted in skill and art, and so they went to work and shaped a home for themselves. First they brought forth the fire from their own camp, and we call that fire the sun. They shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.

But in time, they found the world too hot to bear, and so they sought out ways to cool their fiery home. They found ice in the darkness, and so they brought it to the world. And so the world was cooled, and they found it to be a lot more pleasant. Something else too happened that they did not intend, because as the world cooled the land came forth from cooling fire, and the steam rose up above the land. They saw these things, and went to work once more. That is how the land came into being. So too did the sky form in those days.

That is how the earth and the rivers came into being, and the world was covered by the sky. Mountains grew high and strong, and the oceans became very deep in those days. All the while the people watched and worked, and soon they found their new home to comfortable, and so they set up homes for themselves.

The fish people loved the waters, and so they grew and multiplied in the rivers, lakes and oceans.

The bird people loved the sky and the feel of the wind, and so that is where they made their home.

The tree people found the soil to their liking, and the they too loved the wind. So they buried their roots deep in the earth, and stretched out into the sky.

And so, in kind and form did each of the people find a dwelling that suited them. The forests grew across the world, the rivers ran from the mountains, and the wind blew across the plains. The river people welcomed the fish, and the trees welcomed the birds, and the great plains loved the sounds of the herds as they crossed them.” The woman said.

“And what of people like us? We are not the same kind as the fish or the birds, or the wolves and bears of the forest. Where did our people come from?” The boy asked.

The woman smiled they widest of all smiles.

“That child; is a story for another time.” The woman said.

Commentary;

I have always enjoyed creation stories, and at the same time found them very frustrating. I think all creation stories need to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t think any of them should be taken as literally true, and I do think such a literalism would probably be a detriment in the long run.

What also needs to be considered, is that our understanding of the world and the universe has changed quite a bit. When many of the old stories were written down, the state of knowledge was very different. In addition, when I read some of the creations stories, I am amazed at how they arose to meet the needs of a certain people, in a certain time, in a certain place. The Bible tells of Yahweh, and the stories of the Jewish People. The Norse stories tell of a land of ice giants, and of fire and ice. It has always been curious to me how the stories of many lands, have a striking resemblance to the context they arose in.

And that broad understanding was part of the inspiration for the form of this story. Not as a creation story of one being, or even a family of beings. But a story where the world was deliberately shaped by a diversity of beings. Taken separately, a lot of creation stories are about how one “god”, or a family of them, were or became the masters of everything. Yahweh alone claims that he created the whole of the universe and humanity. The Nordic stories tell of how the gods overthrew Ymir, and set themselves up as rulers, and also created humanity. I could go on and on. However, something that always struck me, that when taken together you get a world that had a lot of hands in the pot. It makes me skeptical that any one being or family of beings “created” humanity, or the universe as a whole, the universe being a complicated place after all. However, once more taken together, you certainly get a plurality of beings each invested in “making space” for their respective peoples. That is something that I really tried to capture in this story. More on this in a bit.

The Saami, Finnish, and Norse stories is from where that I took most of my inspiration, along with a healthy serving of animism and science. I want to discuss that a bit more.

Fire was the logical place to start with all of this, because in most of the sources I consulted, fire is kind of a big deal. In the Norse Creation myth, Muspelheim is the world of fire, and one of two primordial worlds. In the Kalevala, water is considered the “eldest brother” and fire the “middle brother”. The Saami creation story is a little bit different, and revolves more around the Sons of the Sun, and how they were the ancestors of the Saami. I wrote about that more in my own piece on these topics, which is linked below.

I wanted to try and fit all those inspirations in with a generalized Big Bang narrative, which in and of itself is a kind of creation story. It is a scientific narrative to be sure, which means it has been tested over and over again and generally accepted, but it is still a narrative. As such, I mixed all these ideas together and this is the result. I found that the idea that the universe started as a kind of “fiery singularity” fit in nicely with the fire metaphors. I also through some tree and “organic” imagery in their by calling it a “seed”. I am hoping a kind of “world tree”/”tree of life” metaphor becomes a bit of a theme as this progresses, because that is a concept I have always related to.

I tried my best to leave it a kind of “open narrative”, with plenty of room and diversity for other interpretations and other narratives as well. That is part of the reason I opted for the use of “people” in most cases, as opposed to “spirit” or “god.” I wanted to leave space for “others”, even if they are not the main focus of this overall story.

Eventually, my own ancestry will be the primary focus of this narrative, and as such this will move from broad things like creation stories, towards a much more focused narrative of my own ancestry. Though I do think that even that story is going to be really complicated, and leaves plenty of room as well. That is one thing I have learned over the years of compiling my own story, that ancestry is really, really complicated.

But we haven’t gotten to that part just yet.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/references;

My post on creation stories.

Poetic Edda, by Carolyn Larrington

Kalevala, translated by Francis P. Magoun.