Founding Disasters

From Toba to the Burckle comet, how did climatic events shape humankind?

We were taught history in school. It seemed impossible to change: no one can change the past. However, science helps us understand it differently. History is not a “hard science”. Etymologically, it means “investigation”, and, as in all literary disciplines, it has its own internal currents and tendencies, that sometimes clash.

For a child attending school in France, Antiquity and the Roman Empire are summed up as a succession of battles between a few monarchs. He or she is never taught about the life of Chinese, Slavs or Africans at that time. The Neolithic period was concentrated on the Fertile Crescent and the peoples of the Indus or Mesoamerica did not exist. The teaching of history varies from one country to another but it always seems to glorify a united nation proud of its past.

As for prehistory, so many recent discoveries have shed light on it that the knowledge of a professor trained twenty years ago is partly obsolete. Indeed, hard sciences are imposing facts to some historical approximations, they bring new knowledge, and this knowledge is more and more numerous. Maybe history can change after all?

At the end of the nineteenth century, after heated debates, in front of the evidence of geology, most historians finally admitted that ice had covered Western Europe in the Stone Age. By the end of the 20th century, they bowed to the evidence of palynology and accepted that the hardwood trees of the French forests had slowly migrated from present-day China. At the beginning of our 21st century, genetics and climatology are shaking up established dogmas.

Introduction of Founding Disasters, by Christophe Olivier. Download

Chapter 1 – Intro

Ancient oral traditions tell us that the first men had survived the cataclysm of water. Religions have invented edifying stories where humans come from clay, mud, or gods’ procreation. And then the Romantics, believing that man is superior to animals because of Love, started wondering when this feeling between two “humans” first appeared? […] And today, each expert has his own definition of “the first of our ancestors.”

Archaeologists would like our history to begin when we started shaping elaborate cut stones. Paleontologists look for the moment when our iliac joints’ shape allowed us to the upright posture. As for climatologists, they would like to start the epic of “human civilization” from the moment it survived near-total extinction…

Introduction of the first chapter of Founding Disasters, by Christophe Olivier. Download

Chapter 2 – Toba

As soon as they are brought to excavate a dig site, paleontologists look for a distinguishable continuous feature: a black layer of nine meters thick in Indonesia, stretching to a few millimeters at the poles. This line marks a date known to all specialists: 74,000 years BC, when a gigantic volcano had erupted: Toba. The ashes that gushed out of its crater covered the entire globe. Wherever we dig, their deposit forms this continuous line, the last remnant of an explosion that nearly annihilated our species.[…]

Introduction of the second chapter of Founding Disasters, by Christophe Olivier. Download

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