Rapid Human Revolutions
The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution began about 10,000 years ago. Planetary climate conditions changed suddenly for humanity. Humans went from the Ice Age to climate conditions with which we are familiar in a relatively short time. After the sudden climate change humanity experienced the Rise of Civilization—growth of cities, towns, human government entities, spread of trade, rise of technological innovations such as metalworking and flood control, and the invention of writing and the wheel. Foremost among the rapid changes were the agricultural and domestication revolutions. These revolutions impelled major changes in the human condition.
A relatively short time must be carefully defined. Between 12,500 and 9,000 years ago global mean temperatures rose 8ºC (14.5ºF). This is a significant climatic change for Earth dwellers. This change averages to a 4ºF temperature rise per thousand years. One may see how such a temperature increase could melt the thick ice that covered much of North America for almost 100,000 years. Sea levels were nearly 400 feet lower for much of that time. When we imagine Earth conditions with a vastly lower sea level, together with temperatures 14.5ºF colder, we may visualize a different world for the fully human inhabitants of a “mere” 12-18,000 years ago. Geologically, the time interval since 12-18,000 years ago is relatively short. In discussing the important elements of natural climate change and their impact, we might have a difficult time conceptualizing recent climate history.
World temperatures have been unusually stable during the current interglacial. At the close of previous ice ages such as the Illinoisan which ended over 100,000 years ago, our planetary temperatures spiked briefly before descending to a new ice age. In the current interglacial conditions, we have enjoyed considerable climatic stabilty, notwithstanding intervals of mild warming such as the Medieval Warm Period and mild cooling such as the Little Ice Age during the several centuries prior to 1850. A line graph of world temperatures since the conclusion of the Ice Age is basically flat. Hugh Ross in his recent volume Improbable Planet (2016) states, “Climatologists refer to the past 9,000 years as the long cool summer, the long warm spring, or simply as the long summer.” The long, cool summer (or long warm spring) is distinctly advantageous in maintaining our current population which has increased from an estimated one million in 10,000 BC to 170 million at the time of Christ, to 7.6 billion today—a 7600 fold increase.
We imagine the harshness of human existence during the many millennia of the Wisconsin Ice Age. They did not rely on agriculture. Rather, they were hunter/gatherers. Contemporary humanity may rebel at the prospect of the hunter/gatherer diet. There is evidence, however, that the Ice Age diet was healthier in some ways than our modern, grain-based diet. Humans were startlingly resilient and able to adapt to unpleasant conditions. Their survival instincts were strong.
We wonder at the suddenness of the agricultural revolution. It occurred hand in hand with the domestication of plants and animals. One wonders why the switch to agriculture could not have been accomplished many millennia before. Research into the history of domestication proves to be more descriptive than explanatory. Humans selected the varieties of plants and animals that pleased them and propagated the newly modified plants and animals over many generations. Such plants and animals supplied greater quantities or qualities of food. Newly domesticated varieties possessed pleasing esthetic qualities or traits of companionship. Some animals were trained to accomplish work or provide transportation.
Our modern maize (corn) plant provides examples of early domestication by prehistoric Indians of southwest Mexico many millennia before the time of Christ. Modern agricultural scientists have identified the genetic connection between ancient teosinte and the more recent arrival of useful corn as a food grain. These two organisms appear significantly different. Teosinte is not useful as a food product as is modern maize. Contemporary agricultural scientists have been able to clarify the genetic origins of modern maize. Beyond that, they have demonstrated their ability to develop thousands of desirable maize and other vegetable, fruit, and grain crops. Our culture would not exist in its present thriving form without domestication and agriculture. In our speculative imagination, we conclude that prehistoric human domesticators were intuitively brilliant with respect to trait selection and propagation skills. Were humans divinely gifted with supernatural genetic guidance?
The Creator was sustaining the lives and supplying the physical needs of modern humans created in His own image for many thousands of years before the call of Abraham. This included all of the Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 BC) as well as many prior millennia, and many millennia from the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age until the call of Abraham. Archaeologists have discovered that prehistoric peoples, including those who built the worship temple at Gobekli Tepe in southeast Turkey almost 12,000 years ago, possessed a spiritual awareness, a sense of the supernatural, and a belief in the afterlife.
Romans 1:18-32 may bear on our discussion. The Creator implanted God-awareness in man. The New Testament author Paul states, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (vs. 20). Scripture does not explicitly deal with questions of how prehistoric man accessed God. The Creator has implanted a “God-consciousness” in every human created in His image. Galations 4:4 states, “in the fullness of time” God sent forth his Son…” We do not know how God judged or will judge prehistoric humanity, but we do know that God later sent His Son to redeem man. Over 90% of all humans have been born since the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son on this planet.