Cradle of humanity: myths of peoples of the world ‘for’ and ‘against’ science

One of the most curious theories people are trying to explain: from what point on the planet began the settlement of the first intelligent people. What routes of migration did they use and What helpful information do they exchange?

A century ago, the English scientist James Fraser (author of the best-selling book of the twentieth century “The Golden Bough”) was seriously engaged in myths, legends, and traditions of the peoples of the world. The goal was to find parallels to the biblical stories.

The Englishman was sure: the Old Testament simply must necessarily contain relics of ancient traditions characteristic of all mankind. In order not to be scattered, several specific search directions were chosen. Of course, the episode of “the fall of Eve” was of particular interest to the researcher.

Where the main character was the Serpent, so popular in all cultures of the world, from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica. So, in one whole were collected all the legends with an insidious reptile: the peoples of Africa, Indochina, South America. It was a great surprise that there was no fall there. It was everywhere… about the loss of immortality.

After the publication of the famous book, the scientific world began to think hard. Similar stories were collected, accumulated, and analyzed in the twentieth century.

Similar stories were found in hundreds of ethnic groups, dozens of people. The (quantitative) stories where snakes became immortal because of molting, i.e. changing their skin, were victorious. As far back as Fraser cited a legend of one of the peoples of Ethiopia, summarizing many other tales: “God sent a bird to tell people that when they get old, they will change their skin and be reborn. On the way, the bird saw a snake and promised to convey a message to her if she shared food. The Snake agreed. Then the bird said snakes would shed their skin and grow younger, and people would grow old and die irrevocably. Since then, it has become the custom.”

A more specific (but definitely pre-biblical, cave paintings confirm this) description of events was given by ethnographers after meeting the Luba people in the Congo: “First, God offered the woman and the Snake a nut with death and a nut with immortality to choose from, a woman took death, a snake – immortality. Now the snakes do not die, they only shed their skin.”

In common, many legends contain motives of disobedience. Like Burmese naga: “People lived to old age, but snakes changed their skin and were immortal. One of the spirits asked the people if they wanted to live forever like snakes, but the leader refused to listen to him, saying that people would do without his advice. Therefore, people are not reborn by shedding their skin like snakes.”

Variations are also enough, even with the change of living creatures. The Snake is sometimes absent from the legends, a lizard, shrimp, or cricket replace it. Even trees slowly but surely replaced their bark. But “immortality” is associated with just such a process: “God asked people to wash it, promising that they would shed their skin as myrtle changes its bark, and will not age and die. But people refused. Then God said that now everyone will die, even children.” (Myth of the Atayal people, Taiwan)

After analyzing all the oral legends of the world heritage on the topic of “immortality”, it became clear: the plot is so ancient that there are no methods of dating it. In the cave epochs of the early Stone Age, the myth crept away as the Great Serpent… When it took shape in specific religious beliefs, it was well known. The history of the loss of immortality by the “skin change” method was recorded 3 thousand years ago in the Middle East, becoming popular throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

The Akkadian Cuneiform tablets of Nineveh (VII century BC) have been translated: Gilgamesh, after the death of his friend Enkidu, obtained the flower of immortality. But the Snake stole it, shed his old skin, and became immortal.

Scientists groped for the origins of this epic, it was much older. We set a task, but what if the stories with the change of snake skins are searched for in the geographical areas of human settlement? It is clear that it will not be possible to find a complete identity, but… common motives are quite. So Frazer’s speculations became almost a scientific discipline.

Africa as a point of human origin

We’ll have to trust academic science for now. Which (in a delirium of political correctness) designated Africa as the “point of origin” of the first intelligent and organized human communities 70,000 years ago. The obvious route of the first migrations was the crossing of the narrow strait and the emergence of wanderers on the Arabian Peninsula. After that, there was a movement along the coast to the east. The theory is not indisputable, but it is hard to refute.

At that time, the sea level was a few tens of meters lower than today (the most peak was “minus” 130 meters, 20 thousand years ago). Underwater archaeology is still in its infancy, so paleo-anthropologists fail to provide traces of the earliest migrants. Okay, we’ll accept the explanation. What else is known? No later than 50,000 years ago, “modern humans” appeared in Australia. Archaeology does not object. DNA research seems to say it too: the kinship of the peoples of South and Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Australia are obvious.

Central and northern regions of Eurasia were mastered by people 20-30 thousand years later. Things were tough here, an ice age as it were. After subtropical paradises, people had to fight for survival in earnest. The settlement of the Americas is not later than 13,000 to 15,000 years ago. They are thought to have gotten there through “Beringia.” When large islands of land were scattered in the present-day Chukchi and Bering Seas. Of course, no traces can be found yet, the water column hides everything after the end of the ice age.

Geneticists have already gnawed at each other, but the theory of the initial settlement of the Americas (North, then Central and South) by the ancient people of Siberia, East, and Southeast Asia – dominates. This scenario was taken as a basis. To start checking the legendary episodes with the “change of skin”, the loss of a person of immortality.

Age determination

Folklore is incredibly difficult, but you can work with the method of exclusion. The analysis included more than 50 thousand mythological and folklore texts recorded by the peoples of the whole world. It turned out that the story of “skin change” is completely unknown in northern and continental Eurasia, but it is often found in Africa. Moreover, the location is quite clear – south of the Sahara. Holding firmly in Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and South America. Australia tells this story only on its northern coast.

Wow… the ethnographers said. For once agreed with the anthropologists. One route of human settlement can be considered almost proven. Southern! From Africa – to South and Southeast Asia, then to Australia. And then to the New World? The question remained.

How could African legends survive 70,000 years? Oral transmission of 3 thousand generations. Folklore studies could not even imagine such dating, even with a hangover. Here, a horizon of four hundred years is an exorbitant value (without intermediate documentary evidence). Everything beyond this border is unhealthy fantasies.

Could the “motive with snakes” and the change of their skin arise independently in different regions, that is, by chance? No, because the similarities between the legends of different peoples have a number of recurring details. The so-called “old man or old woman” episode. These retirees were bothered by the Snake at the same moment when they changed their skin. Distracted in every possible way, they forgot to carry out the procedure to the end. Thanks to this, people stopped rejuvenating. It is this detail that says that the independent emergence of history in Africa, Asia, and America is extremely unlikely.

Critics of folklorists gave up on this “sensation”. Having said: the myths about “serpentine immortality” came to America and East Asia directly from Africa during the European slave trade, in the 17th-18th centuries, but no, the general texts of these territories contain only the main motive. In the complete absence of characteristic “African” details. And the geography of the abduction of slaves does not coincide. Almost no such legends have been found near the Atlantic coast.

“Black tree” was imported to America from Guinea and Angola, not from Kenya. The bulk of the Negro population was concentrated in the northeast of Brazil and in the southeast of the United States. The motive for the change of skin by the Serpent was not found there, legends about something completely different are popular. Tales are based on how one animal deceives another. In the complete absence of their communication with a person, especially in matters of immortality.

The Europeans and the Chinese, the most active traders since pre-antique times, could not do this either. The motive of “skin change” in Northern Eurasia is completely absent (here the Serpent plays a completely different role). Only on the southern coast of China are there any vague echoes of small tribes. Who came from the Pacific island region of Indonesia. And to bring such tales to the Amazon… generally beyond any understanding.

The migration factor of the “northern route” (through Beringia) explains the lack of motive in North America. The cultural heritage of the earliest migrants was supplanted by the later waves of settlement. The “Siberian motives” of legends dominate here. Immortality, the Serpent, “skin change” are interpreted in a completely different way.

How to verify

And date such folkloric choral unanimity of peoples living in different parts of the world? Science does not yet know, but it has suggested something. The most important thing, in this case, is to deal in detail with the “frequency of citation”, especially in the New World. Since the direct transfer of myths directly from Africa is almost impossible, only long roundabout paths of lore followed. “The Change of Skin” and the Serpent were checked by other legends, by the way.

What is the death and rebirth of the Moon (the immortal Moon), found a complete similarity. In Canada, Australia, African Dahomey, and Eastern Brazil, another recurring story is told. About the “floating stones”. This is such a condition of the return to the human race of its lost immortality. As soon as the boulders were thrown into the water stop sinking (dying), the “quest” is fulfilled. Almost a complete coincidence of legends… So, think about what you want.

We get a thimble full to the brim with bold assumptions. Africa (south of the Sahara) presents the same set of motifs about the origins of death and immortality, identical to the South American one. So… back in Paleolithic times, the first people of East Asia must have known about it. After all, that’s when they were settling in South America. And not by migrations – from the North, as some schools of anthropology still consider it.

The time of settlement of the New World is known, the chronological clue is in the range of 15-20 thousand years ago. This is the minimum. To determine the antiquity of the myths is useless. We are left to check the possible original regions of their appearance. Africa, via Melanesia and Australia. Although we can assume (as some anthropologists say) that people didn’t come from Africa and were scattered across the planet. But from somewhere in Asia, they organized their march, but not the point…

Persistent motifs about the origin of death form a whole complex of tales, the same everywhere: in Africa, Sub-Sahara, in the Indo-Pacific regions of the Old World, in Mesoamerica. We check with other legends, more ancient ones. Bingo! It is in these parts of the world that people are not created by a deity. They “come out of the ground.” Somewhere proudly alone, in some places – together with animals, which later became totems.

We check again with another important episode of universal folklore. Rainbow, which is considered in some places as part of the great Universal Snake, and such a legend is found only in Europe. There is a very significant difference between the tales of Africa, Australia, and America. Northwest Eurasia is characterized by a pleasant, positive perception of this natural phenomenon.

Africans or Indians find it… repugnant. They (without collusion) consider the Rainbow a stinky creature that brings mass disease. Plus, in European myths, it is associated with the notion of the Serpent in isolated myths. More popular are the motifs of a bow, a belt, colored pieces of cloth, etc….


A very interesting technique. African motives for the origin of death (loss of immortality) clearly occupy a dominant position in the mythology of the planet. Since the time of the departure of modern man is set from Africa, about 70 thousand years ago – what about the languages spoken by the bearers of these legends?

It has been unconditionally proven that 10 thousand years are enough for any language to change beyond recognition. No linguist would put his or her scientific reputation on the line to tackle the problem of such an ancient linguistic relationship. Look for that “ancestor” that is 50-70 thousand years old. But paleo-folklorists’ theory says that mythology can be perfectly preserved under any linguistic transformations. All that remains is to deal more thoughtfully with “reference points” systematization. Folklore and mythological texts are quite translatable from one language to another, very easily borrowed.

Identical tales and myths containing specific details could hardly have arisen independently and spontaneously in lands separated by tens of thousands of miles. Irresistible, like the ocean. We need a global analysis of the mythological material, its comparison with the data of genetics and archeology. It may well be… traces of ancient oral legends will tell the truth about the appearance of the first people in specific regions. Delicious idea! Creepy, how interesting.

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