The emerging composite theory of human origins has brought us so far up to the Upper Paleolithic period, where the genetic material, fossilized bones, and precious few artifacts are the only records of human history that remain to be read. At this time there are a few tacit assumptions that we are making in order to proceed onward towards examination of the earliest known human civilizations in light of the emerging composite theory of human origins.
In this theory, the suite of behaviors and cognitive deficits experienced by individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum are explained as the result of combining two divergent species of archaic humans who were separate for almost a million years; one of which was a warm-adapted species and the other cold-adapted. Whether or not Neanderthals could be construed as a separate species is a question for someone else to answer. It is clear, however, that Neanderthals were very different from their counterparts in Africa. They were likely to have more body hair than their African cousins, and their skeletons were massive, indicating a powerful, though short build. Perhaps more importantly, the distinct morphology of the Neanderthal skull indicates a powerful selective force exerted on increasing brain size, particularly in the areas of spatial reasoning and visual processing. On average, the Neanderthal brain was larger than the brain of any other human lineage either before or since. Yet, the conditions of Neanderthal society would not have required the complex social adaptations found in the early humans who inhabited warmer climates. The Neanderthal skull slopes in the front, indicating less development in the frontal lobes. In modern humans, the limbic system is a complexly developed social-coordination system located in the prefrontal cortex. It is responsible for inhibiting anti-social behaviors and even thoughts. Thus we see anti-social and non-empathetic behavior associated with autism, as well as profound gifts of intellect which include highly developed pattern-recognition, creativity, eidetic memory, and enhanced visual thinking.
This theory suggests that the emergence of autistic behaviors in early hybridized or partially hybridized social groups would be met with resistance. Those individuals who were able to conform sufficiently to the social rules to survive and reproduce might have also made the first contributions in terms of innovation, and that such innovations may have been advantageous to the groups or individuals who bore them. Over time, such innovations would have accumulated here and there, and typically only in those social groups which were more tolerant of different minds. Societies composed of individuals who were more similar cognitively would not be pressured to tolerate different minds, and would therefore progress more slowly since original thinking and highly analytical thinking were not traits which would bear heavily on selection in those groups. This theory emphasizes the growing importance of personalities which were particularly empathetic or who could ease social tensions arising from the inclusion of different cognitive and social styles.
Let’s turn our attention to the earliest civilization which has yielded writings and other forms of material culture in order to determine whether what they have to say about their own origins is in agreement with our growing hypothesis. A good theory matches the best available evidence, and it should also be predictive of what we should expect to find in terms of society and cognition in the burgeoning human population.
Ancient Mesopotamia is known as the Cradle of Civilization, and it occupies the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, in modern day Iraq. The earliest civilations which left us detailed records of their beliefs and customs were the inhabitants of the dozen or so city-states which cropped up there, such as Ur, Uruk, Nippur, Akkad, and others. Fortunately for us, these people developed the earliest known writing system, which involved making marks in wet clay using a stylus fashioned from a reed. Thousands of fragments from these clay tablets have been recovered, and the writing system known as cuneiform has been decoded. So, what do these tablets tell us?
The writings left behind by the Sumerians and the systems they represent were responses to the pressures of a growing population. Many of the recovered cuneiform writings are clerical in nature, including records of transactions, taxes levied, and supply inventories. However, among these writings we also find the earliest known creation myths and they, too seem very structured and organized. The religious rites of the ancient Sumerians were very rigid and extensive, and strict observation of ritual, as reflected in their writings, was enforced through the power of the state. Virtue itself in this culture seems to have been measured by how faithfully the religious rituals were performed. Some writings indicate that incest, for example, was less offensive to the local deity than a botched religious ceremony. Religion was an engineered solution to social integration, requiring standardized practices and rigid adherence to rules in order to work. Each city-state had its own patron god, and the religious component of the Sumerian culture was inseparable from its national identity and social coherence.
Social integration seems to have been a prominent theme in one Sumerian creation myth called “Enki and Nimnah: Creation of Man”, which came from the city-state Nippur. In this story, the gods are feasting and drinking wine in celebration of the creation of the first perfect man. Nimnah, being a somewhat belligerent drunk, is eager to belittle Enki, the chief god,by creating six handicapped humans, each having a specific physical malady. In response, Enki observes the afflictions of each of these creations one at a time and finds some useful purpose for each of the disabled creations. Enki then creates a seventh, fatally disabled individual and challenges Nimnah to find a useful occupation for him. Nimnah fails to find a way in which this individual can be useful, and thus is forced to accept Enki’s superiority. This myth represents a social codification of the maintenance of diversity through the integration of individuals who possess obvious social deficits, regardless of the actual purpose or inspiration of its author.
Prior to the arrival of Hammurabi and his extensive laws, the guiding preoccupation of Sumerian culture were the Me. Me were objects given to humankind by the gods, such as chariots and shields. However, Me were also traditions and skills such as medicine and cosmetic arts. In modern times, the closest analog to Me may be what some researchers call memes, which are self-replicating units of culture. However, the meaning is similar to “media” in some significant ways. In Sumeria, each city-state jealously guarded its intellectual property, and envy between the city-states over the ownership of superior technologies resulted in warfare and violence. What were these “objects”, given by the gods, if not the accumulated blessings of uniquely gifted minds, made possible by the social mechanisms for inclusion and integration? Meme theory states that religions are examples of mutually co-adapted meme complexes, or “memeplexes”. Memeplexes are composed of mutually beneficial, individual codes of behavior which complement one another in terms of successful cultural transmission. In other words, the nationalistic religion of the city-states grew up organically through minor innovations and the retelling (or retailing) of the stories which shaped cultural identity.
As each city-state evolved along its own trajectory, it would be shaped in part by its relationships with other city-states. Competition over resources and the relative success of each city-state’s exploitation of the collection of Me it possessed would lead to envy and intellectual property disputes, and the arbitration of differences and grievances would rely heavily upon the verdict of the gods. Naturally, wars ensued and new selective pressures would further shape warfare technology, medicine, long-distance trade, as well as innovation in the the areas of theology and rhetoric.