Thursday, 1 March 2012

Bread and Fallen Angels

Have you ever stopped to think about the origins of bread?  It's such a familiar food that we rarely give it much thought outside of buying more, or deciding which sandwich filling to use. 

Bread is supposed to be one of the oldest foods known to humanity, dating back approximately 30,000 years when flatbread was made from starch extracted from pounded plant roots.  Grain-based bread apparently emerged around 10,000 BC, made by Neolithic peoples who used also used air-borne yeast, or yeast already found on the grains themselves, to make the dough rise a little.  If some of this dough was kept until the next day then added to a fresh batch, the yeast was passed on - as with sourdough.  The Gauls and Iberians figured out how to take foam off beer to increase the yeast content.  Elsewhere in Europe, grains were soaked in wine to access yeast. 

Who was the first person to walk past a patch of wild grasses and think, "Hey, I can do something with this..?"

There is a huge jump in technology between a person who chews grains, and someone who figures out how to dry those grains, sift off the husks, grind the grains to make flour, how to store that flour so it didn't become damp and spoil, and how to add fat and water in the right quantities, how to knead it, use yeast, let it rise, knead again and rise again, then bake (or fry or steam).  Having achieved this much, they then cross-pollinated wild grasses to create more useful kinds of grains - and all this was done when, according to conventional history, we were supposed to be simple hunter-gathers with a penchant for grunting and sharing fleas.

It might be argued that the end result - bread - was arrived at through experimentation.  Yet experiments usually already have a specific end result in mind.  How does a person set out to invent bread when no-one's heard of bread before, when the very concept of bread has yet to exist? 

Similar historical puzzles exist about the origins of pottery, weaving, writing, herbal cures and metal tools. 

One interesting theory is that knowledge of these skills was handed to the hunter-gatherers by survivors of an older civilisation whose history is buried in myth and legend.  Stories tell of Atlantis, Eden, Tir naNog, Elysium and similar idealised places whose citizens were allegedly far superior in scientific - or magical - ability, or who dwelt in a paradisaical, pastoral Happy Land.  With all such tales there is an associated big disaster.  Usually this results in a lack of access to such places, due to geological cataclysms or magical retribution of some sort.

If knowledge is power then power certainly rested with those survivors, who could live very comfortably in comparison with the Neolithic peoples.  The principle of  'work for me, in return for a better life' would have evolved readily, and positions within these communities would have been sought eagerly by many who would have been content to be exploited in return for an improved standard of living.  Imagine if you'd only ever crunched grains, and then someone handed you a slice of bread.  Wouldn't that bread seem magical?  Wouldn't you be favourably impressed and be willing to exchange work for more yummy bread?

But nobody likes to be exploited too much.  Sooner or later someone probably realised that anything the Big Wigs could do, they could do too. 

Or maybe some Big Wigs felt that the status quo was unfair to the Neolithic people, and so decided to share their 'how to' knowledge.  This decision would have caused uproar among the ranks of the power-holders, as traditionalists would have strongly disagreed with sharing the knowledge that had given them a relatively comfortable life.  The resulting political schism would have had far-reaching ramifications, and those who broke with tradition would have been viewed either as heroes or rebels depending on which side you were on.  Some people believe an occurance like this lies behind the story of angels and fallen angels, a myth which dates back at least to ancient Sumeria.

Of course, this alternative to popular history does not explain where the Big Wigs originated from, or where their knowledge originated from.  However, archaeologists and historians keep pushing back the probable dates of how old humanity really is.  It's all just educated guesswork, and many readily admit this.  Some suspect there have been a succession of world populations followed by devastations then re-populations, time and time again.  Such a theory is possible.

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