Noah's Ark. Image Source: City of Kik.
High tech and Millennial biosciences, especially genetics, are unlocking more secrets of the deep past, of Antediluvian cultures. Almost all societies have as one of their central epics the 'before' and 'after' of what may have been late Ice Age worldwide floods around 9,000 years ago. New studies confirm that some plant species survived happily in ice-free pockets during the Ice Age. And The New Scientist reports on research from George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece that Neanderthals were ancient mariners, who crossed the oceans perhaps 100,000 years ago (and maybe even earlier, since they appeared around 600,000 years ago) (Hat tip: Lee Hamilton). Neanderthal Atlantis has become quite a popular idea lately; see here and here; other popular speculations whirl around Cro-Magnon Atlantis: here and here.
There may have been earlier, archaic hominids well before Neanderthals, who, up to one million years ago, also traveled the seas. That puts the first sea-faring in the era of Homo erectus, a species which spread from Africa to India, Java and China - and in the era of the later species, Homo antecessor, hominids which lived in Britain and Europe. The finding on Prehistoric sea-faring refers to Homo erectus and was published in 1998 by Professor Michael Morwood of the University of New England; this research has been much discussed online.
Homo erectus, the first mariners? Image Source and © John Gurche.
Previously, the generally accepted theory was that modern humans only became sea-farers for the first time 50,000 years ago, when they made their way to Australia. Pushing the date for sea-faring hominids back to around one million years ago incredibly implies that the dawn of star-gazing and naval navigation coincided with the rise of species that became rather more clearly human than ape-like in their basic characteristics. Incidentally, one of the clearest markers of that transition from ape to human is predominant left-handedness in apes and predominant right-handedness in humans. Some scientists associate the human tendency toward right-handedness with the development of language. Action and words: it almost seems as though story-telling about adventures, and adventure-seeking itself, arose around the same time. You can see the procession of homo species listed, with pictures, here.
This jaw-dropper supports fringe theories that hominid species had a series of middle-high civilizations, which were wiped out by successive natural disasters, as if according to cycles of time. These civilizations, if they existed, were lost to memory and only preserved in myths and religious stories, of which Atlantis (the lost naval civilization), the Flood Myth (the waterborne environmental disaster), and the Mariner Ark story (saving bits of what came before on one last boat) are the centrepieces. In light of this speculation, recorded oral traditions gain ever more weight when we consider that these myths are all we have of the unwritten culture and Prehistory of our own Homo sapiens sapiens species from 5,500 years ago to 200,000 years ago. But these legends, symbols and sagas - and their cryptic modern presence in everything from the Bible, to ancient myths, to fantasy stories, to art, modern literature and film, to comic books, to advertising - are also all we have of whatever came of hominid Prehistoric cultures before that.