For us modern humans we are lucky. We know what to expect and have been planning forward, saving a few extra ringgits, fasting (for the faithful), making preparations, buying new clothes and much more. After all we know the routine every Hari Raya: the same thing happens every year at around this time. But to our ancestors, just because an event happened again and again in the past, it didn’t mean that it was going to happen again in the future. Although homo sapiens has been around in its current physical form since a hundred thousand years ago, our minds are much-much newer.
A hundred thousand years ago, we made no art, we didn’t decorate or paint our bodies, we had no belief in an afterlife and we didn’t project from the past into the future. Things stayed that way for a thousand years and then suddenly, 40,000 years ago something happened. Anthropologists (people who studies humans past and present) call it “the Great Leap Forward” and it was a turning point in human history. Neil Armstrong's giant step for mankind would pale in comparison. When the Great Leap Forward occurred, we suddenly started painting cave wells which is still evident in many places around the world today. That was our first art form and expression. Then we began adorning our bodies with jewelry - the first indication that we had any idea of of ourselves as individuals. And perhaps, most significantly, we started to believe in god and the afterlife.
Until about 40,000 years ago, homo sapiens did not bother to bury the dead. To keep the awful stench from attracting scavengers and predators, they just shove the bodies into holes in the ground. However starting from the Great Leap Forward, we began adding stuff into the holes, things what archeologists call “grave goods” such as food supplies, clothes, spears that could only mean to be used in the afterlife. It was as if a switch had been turned on in our brains, turning on our consciousness - letting us remember the past and wonder about the future.
|Homo neanderthalensis, our long lost cousin|
|A typical homo neanderthal family|
Modified from Robert J. Sawyer’s The Great Leap Forward