The Mind Extends the Body
Within the stone-age our genus became more aware. We were not yet fully human, but still quite distinct from all other creatures on Earth. As our brains grew so too did our mastery over the elements. No longer did we have to depend solely what evolution had provided us. Over two million years ago our hominid ancestor, Homo habilis was already making stone weapons. These transformed us into deadly hunters. Although still dependent upon the web of life, we began to move to the top of the food chain, and in time were able to take on beasts as large and deadly as woolly rhinos, mammoth, and cave bear. We discovered the power of fire, both to cook meat to make it last without rotting and for it's warmth. We learned to skin game, and wore other species' fur as if it were our own. With these we weathered the harsh winters. By 200,000 years ago we resembled modern humans, and by 100,000 b.c.e we began making paints of crushed charcoal, bone, and clay. Our new mythology and sense of self had contributed to a growing awareness of the aesthetic, painting our bodies and the caves walls we used for shelter.
This use of tools, made possible by our expanding brains, marked a fundamental shift from genetic evolution towards a more rapid social & technological evolution. As with organic evolution, individuals competed within a population, acting largely in their own self-interest, and through this process of natural selection favorable traits tend to propagate. But now these traits were increasingly cultural. Behaviors could quickly be learned by others. Over time this process moved our culture towards greater complexity, and more resistant to environmental pressures. With these new innovations and cultural practices our ancestors could extend their reach. We pushed upwards and outwards across the Earth.
With our growing ability for speech we tried to make sense of a world of unexplained phenomena. But language was in it's infancy. We spoke through archetypal symbols, depicting those things most encountered in life. Those concepts most defined within our subconscious bubbled up into conscious thought, and so we gave words to them.
We roamed the endless expanse that surrounded us. The land seemed infinite. We slept by the clock of a glowing sphere that moved across the heavens, and told mythical stories of how it came to be. On rare terrifying nights, bolts of electricity fell down from the heavens, sometimes followed by cataclysmic walls of flame engulfing the land. We knew nothing of why these things occurred. To us it was as magic - simply the will of a greater power.
We were hunter gatherers, and other animals became powerful metaphors for the feelings & memories they triggered within. These creatures began to occupy central roles in our still developing minds, and were soon elevated to the level of polytheistic gods, to be treated with great reverence. Through shamanistic rituals, often aided by entheogenic plants, we ventured into a transcendent inner world of symbolic visions. And as these images flashed within, it felt as though we were being visited by the animal spirits. We were exploring a psychic realm of existence, separate and distinct from the physical. With it came the concept of an afterlife, and we begun to bury our dead. It was an important step in our metamorphosis. It was the birth of religion.