The History of History
by Henry Robert Burke
April 2, 2004
As Man developed skills in communication, so did the practice
of recording history. Now, scientists are studying DNA to learn
about our history.
I am sometimes described as a "storyteller." Truth is I don't view
myself as a storyteller. I sometimes use "oral history" to give
me direction in searching for documented history and genealogy.
I am skeptical of most stories I hear or read. I sometimes tell
stories to get an audience's attention. I do not intend to merely
entertain, but to educate. My hope is that I am able to make my
history research enjoyable!
Documenting history has evolved over time. Concerning pre-written
human history, archeologists have had to interpret history from
artifacts and use various other techniques, because these are the
only evidence they had to work with. Oral history began when man'
s brain evolved enough to gain the ability to speak and remember
spoken words. Then for countless centuries history was passed from
generation to generation by word of mouth. Eventually, by recognizing
the limitations of oral history, individual cultures developed rituals
to help document their histories. Over time, distortions and manipulations
rendered rituals more important than the history they were created
to document. The further back oral history goes, the less reliable
it becomes. This is not to say that oral history is negative, but
oral history has its limitations.
As time progressed, paintings on cave walls improved the documenting
of human history. Finally the invention of the written languages:
cuneiform and hieroglyphics. Cuneiform is the mode of writing using
wedge-shaped strokes, inscribed mainly on clay but also on stone,
metals, wax, and other materials. The ancient peoples of western
Asia produced the earliest texts in cuneiform script in about 3000
BC. Cuneiform writing, which originated in southern Mesopotamia,
was invented probably by the Sumerians. It was subsequently adapted
for writing the Assyro-Babylonian language, known as Akkadian. Because
Akkadian became the language of international communication in the
ancient Middle East, cuneiform spread to Asia Minor, Syria, and
Hieroglyphics were used by both ancient Egyptian culture in the
Old World and Native American Mayan culture created hieroglyphics
in the New World. This form of writing was adequate enough to keep
certain business records, astronomical information and agricultural
production. As writing advanced into Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the
record of historical facts improved greatly. Regard should also
be given to complex written languages that evolved in Asia, especially
in China, India and Japan. In the United States today, we rely mainly
on history written in European languages. Also media and computers
make it possible to document history to a high degree of accuracy.
Recently we have discovered history written in DNA (deoxyribonucleic
acid); a very elaborate language that has been with us since life
on earth began. So recent is this discovery, that presently only
a few specialized scientists are able to decipher parts of the DNA
codes that construct this language. Both simple and intricate, DNA
complexity comes from the infinite number of combinations its components
are arranged in. So far DNA is recognized as a nucleic acid that
carries the genetic information imbedded in cells that are capable
of self-replication and synthesis of RNA (ribonucleic acid.). DNA
consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double
helix and joined by hydrogen bonds between the complementary bases
adenine and thymine or cytosine and guanine. The sequence of nucleotides
determines individual hereditary characteristics.
With the use of computers, scientists have just completed the Human
Genome Project (HGP). The HGP has generated a catalog describing
50,000 to 100,000 human genes at some level of detail; high-resolution
maps of the chromosomes; and billions of base pairs of DNA sequence
information. Genes associated with some hereditary diseases have
already been identified resulting in better genetic screening tests,
new drugs, and genetic therapies that give doctors the ability to
fight illnesses and disease not dreamed of a few year ago. To scientists,
historians, genealogist, jurists and to some extent, every aspect
of life on earth, DNA technology is of tremendous importance. I
believe DNA is God's way of telling us how he created life on Earth
and possibly how he created the Universe!
The person most responsible for the discovery of DNA was a Czech
monk named Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). From 1854 through 1863, Mendel
crossbred peas in his monastery garden. He carefully charted the
appearance of seven plant and pea traits, but his published findings
were ignored for decades. Rediscovered in 1900, those findings earned
Mendel recognition as the father of genetics. Mendel initiated the
scientific revolution that made cloning and genetic engineering
When Mendel began experimenting, scientists could not explain how
children inherited features like hair color. Some believed in blending--that
a child born to a dark-haired woman and a blond-haired man would
have light brown hair. But Mendel proved otherwise. He crossbred
plants that produced green peas with those that produced yellow
ones, and the offspring were always green or yellow, not a blend.
Mendel also found that traits appeared with a predictable three-to-one
frequency: three yellow peas, for instance, for every one green
pea. Mendel called the more common trait "dominant" and the less
common one "recessive." He could not explain the 3:1 ratio, however.
Once scientists discovered genes, the ratio made sense. Traits
are determined by pairs of genes arranged in four possible combinations:
1) a gene for a dominant trait from both parents, 2) a dominant
from the father and a recessive from the mother, 3) a recessive
from the father and a dominant from the mother, or 4) a recessive
from both parents. Dominants suppress recessives, so three combinations
produce a dominant trait, while one produces a recessive trait.
Mendel had found the underlying pattern of heredity.
Historians can only guess why Mendel's contemporaries overlooked
his work. Some speculate that, as an amateur scientist who was uncomfortable
promoting his findings, Mendel did not have the "clout" to gain
recognition for ideas so far ahead of their time. Whatever the reason,
Mendel died in 1884 without ever seeing the significance of his
pea experiments acknowledged.
The knowledge of DNA proves that racism is a sham. There is but
one human species. We all share a common beginning and in the end
we all share a common destiny. I do not find anything about DNA
technology that is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ. It
is simply an extension of knowledge, which I believe Jesus sanctions.
When the knowledge that DNA contains is understood and properly
used to improve the quality of life for everyone on Earth, that
is positive. If DNA technology is misunderstood and/or misused the
price may be too negative to contemplate.
- Henry Robert Burke
Henry Robert Burke is an author and historian with an emphasis
on multicultural history. You may visit Mr. Burke online at http://americanodyssey.net