Origins of the World's Mythologies

ISBN-10: 0199812853

ISBN-13: 9780199812851

Edition: 2011

List price: $35.49 Buy it from $29.88
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Description:

In this comprehensive book Michael Witzel persuasively demonstrates the prehistoric origins of most of the mythologies of Eurasia and the Americas ('Laurasia'). By comparing these myths with others indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, Melanesia, and Australia ('Gondwana Land') Witzel is able to access some of the earliest myths told by humans. The Laurasian mythologies share a common story line that dates the world's creation to a mythic time and recounts the fortunes of generations of deities across four or five ages and human beings' creation and fall, culminating in the end of the universe and, occasionally, hope for a new world. These stories are contrasted with the 'southern' mythologies, which lack most of these features. Witzel's investigations are buttressed by archaeological data, as well as by comparative linguistics, and human population genetics. All suggest the African origins of anatomically modern humans and their subsequent journey along Indian Ocean shores, up to Australia and southern China, around 60,000 BCE. These itinerants' early mythology survives partly in sub-Saharan Africa and points along the path - the Andaman Islands, Melansia, and Australia. Laurasian mythology, Witzel shows, developed along this vast trail, probably in southwest Asia, around 40,000 BCE. Identifying features shared by virtually all mythologies of the globe, Witzel suggests that these features probably informed myths recounted by the communities of the 'African Eve.' As such, they are the earliest substantiation of our ultimate ancestors' spirituality. Moreover the Laurasian myths' key features, Witzel shows, survive today in all major religions and their multiple ideological offshoots.
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Book details

List price: $35.49
Copyright year: 2011
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 3/14/2013
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 720
Size: 6.00" wide x 9.50" long x 2.00" tall
Weight: 1.584
Language: English

Introduction
What is myth, how do we study and compare it?
Definition; study of myth in the past
Comparative mythology
Laurasian mythology: establishing the common origin of the mythologies of Eurasia and the Americas
Earlier explanations of myth
Ur-forms, history, and archaeology
Summary
Comparison and Theory
Theory and practice of comparisons
Reconstructing Laurasian mythology
Similarities
Regular correspondences and establishment of a unified narrative scheme
Oldest texts to be used
Geographically dispersed items
Reconstruction of the Laurasian common story line and individual myths
Enhancing the reconstruction: local, regional, macro-regional, and subcontinental variations
Reconstructing the Laurasian mythological system and inherent problems
Structure and content in some macro-areas of Laurasian myth
Macro-areas
The Four ages in the Eurasian and Meso-American macro-areas
Later centers of innovations
Late borrowings (diffusion)
Some objections to the approach of historical comparative mythology
Conclusion
Creation Myths: The Laurasian Story Line, Our First Novel
Primordial Creation
Chaos and darkness
Water
Earth diver and floating earth
Giant
Bull
Egg
Combined versions
Father Heaven, Mother Earth
Separation of heaven and earth, the prop
Creation of land
The demiurge or trickster
reation of light
The slaying of the dragon
The theft of fire and of the heavenly drink
Generations, Four Ages and five suns
The creation of humans
Descent of 'noble' lineages
The flood
Heroes
The final destruction
Summary
The Contributions of Other Sciences: comparison of language, physical anthropology, genetics, archaeology
Linguistics
Physical anthropology
Genetics
Recent advances in human population genetics
Overview of recent developments
Out of Africa
Movement northward after the last two Ice Ages
Genetics, language and mythology
Summary and outlook
Archaeology
Cave paintings and plastic art
Sacrifice in Late Palaeolithic art
Food production
Domestic animals and pastoralism
Other items of comparison: children's songs and games; ancient music and regional styles; use of colors; gestures and their regional variations
Conclusions resulting from the comparison of the sciences involved
The Countercheck: Australia, Melanesia, sub-Saharan Africa
Possible ways to countercheck
Method
Criteria for testing the theory
Diffusion vs genetic relationship
Later additions
Beyond Laurasia: Gondwana mythology
Gondwana mythologies
Sub-Saharan Africa, the Andamans, New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania -- an overview
Australia
Tasmania
Melanesia
Negritos and other southern remnant populations
Andaman Islands
Africa
Remnant populations: San and Pygmies
Sub-Saharan Africa
Northern influences: the western North-South highway
The eastern North-South Highway
Summary
Individual Gondwana myth types and their common characteristics
Secondary influences on Gondwana mythology
Conflicting myths in Gondwanaland
Gondwana element in Laurasian myth
Laurasian elements in Gondwana myth
Countercheck of Laurasian mythology based on Gondwana mythology
Essential features of Gondwana and Laurasian mythology
The flood myth in world wide perspective
First Tales: Pan-Gaean Mythology
Beyond Laurasia and Gondwana: common myths
Our first tales
Laurasian Mythology in Historical Development
Late Palaeolithic religion
Late Palaeolithic shamanism
Sacrifice
Changes from Palaeolithic to state societies
Dating Gondwana and Laurasian mythology
Outlook
The meaning of Laurasian Mythology
Beyond Laurasia, Gondwana and Pan-Gaia
Persistence of myth
Some reasons
Epilogue
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