Stellar Ingenuity and Spectacular Blunders of Humankind

Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour

Wednesday May 17, 2023 12:30pm EST
Scott Edwin Williams
Stellar Ingenuity and Spectacular Blunders of Humankind

Since the pre-dawn darkness of mankind’s history, some Eureka moments of human ingenuity light-up and fast-forward our evolutionary track. However, let’s face it, mankind has also not been that successful, it has had some spectacular blunders. Psychology recognises humor as one of the most mature defence mechanisms humans have – the ability to laugh at themselves – and armed with this stance, we travel along the road of evolution of our species.

Early hominids came up with tools, the wheel, fire and language and … humor, and did the agricultural revolution happen because men needed beer, not food? The Egyptians certainly perfected the art of overindulging in beer, and the Romans bettered them in their symposiums with wine. Both ‘spirits’ ended up on the floor.

Following the Neolithic muscle-men jocks who went out hunting, we have the Sumerian, Egyptian and Chinese nerds to thank for writing. Who was the world’s first comic book superhero? Gilgamesh of course! The Indian mathematicians introduced zero into calculations. Rahmagupta’s Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta - understandably abbreviated to BSS - combines mathematics and astronomy and we can literally count our lucky stars for the Hindu-Arabic system. The Mayan mathematical system allowed mathematicians, astronomers, and engineers to figure out complex calculations. The enduring nature of their engineering feats speaks volumes for their mathematical ability and as a bonus it probably helped them calculate the number of hearts they cut out of chests as well.

Humankind has always feared death. The Egyptians had an obsession with death, so they paid much attention to cheating death. Mummification was not for the squeamish and the quality of life for a soul resurrected into brainless biltong, was not something to look forward to. Throw in some magical potions, charms and chants and with a heavy heart they met Anubis in the Underworld to have it weighed against a feather. In Mesoamerica lives were sacrificed to save lives. But various civilizations used varied methods: People were beheaded, drowned, garroted, burned at the stake, poisoned, crucified, and buried alive, so before we become judgmental towards the Mesoamerican penchant for human sacrifice, let us remember they gave us chocolate!

Chinese Emperor Qin Huang searched far and wide for the elixir of life and as a back-up plan had 8,000 mud soldiers armed and ready in his tomb to accompany him on his journey to the Afterlife, but his tomb is boobytrapped to blow whoever opens it to smithereens. Talking of a spectacular send-off, the Chinese invented gunpowder and a minor functionary named Wan-Hu saw the potential for rocket powered flight. Strapping himself to a chair powered by 47 fire arrows, he then had 47 assistants simultaneously light the fuses. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, there was no chair and no Wan-Hu. The sky is the limit when it comes to stupid ideas.

The Olmecs gave us ball-games, just a pity that someone’s head could be the ball; the Greeks gave us gymnasiums - although most sports were practiced in the nude and not in gyms; and the Romans gave us professional sporting arenas where gladiators chopped each other up, to the delight of the crowds. A fun day was had by all. Humans – you have got to love them!

Scott Edwin Williams takes the Mickey out of the human race’s spectacular flaws, but puts the Superman back into its greatest achievements.  Scott’s approach, flavored with scintillating wit and dark humor may not curry favor with the dogmatic, but it is served to the open-minded by an intelligent observer, who manages to evoke empathy and hope for the human spirit (and spirits).


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 Scott Edwin Williams is an optimistic smartass, writer, humorist, and history nerd. His fascination with humanity’s lightbulb moments began as a child while watching the first moon landing. The rest is… history. Scott splits his time between writing and making learning fun for his students. His offbeat style is the result of his obsession with the past, coupled with a deep love of the absurd. What else would you expect from an Australian who claims descent from a chicken thief and a bigamist? He lives in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Lightbulb Moments in Human History From Cave to Colosseum



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