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How old could a story be?

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am
by Wayland
I've been doing a lot of reading around Norse Mythology lately, for a big storytelling project I'm working on and a really mad idea has come to me about the Norse creation myth.

The story, for anyone that does not know it, starts with Ice in the North and heat in the South with a void in between.

The heat melts the ice to reveal a being called Ymir who becomes the father of all Jotuns (often translated as giants). Next appears a cow from somewhere that nourishes the Jotun and licks the Ice to reveal Buri, the father of all the Gods.

Now perhaps I have been reading too much stuff about cave art recently but I was struck by the thought that at the end of the last ice age, as the glaciers were retreating, there were two types of human living in Europe.

Neanderthals with their robust build and better adaptation to cold conditions and Cro-Magnon that moved up from the South.

That was around 40,000 years ago. Far longer than any written tradition of course, but could fragments of an oral tradition possibly survive that long?

Rock and cave art survives to this day from about 35- 40,000 so could potentially have been some kind of influence but I cannot think of anything still existent that could be that specific.

We know that these two species interbred, just like the Jotuns and the Gods in the manuscript sources.

I'm left with this uncomfortable thought that this must surely be just a coincidence, but it's an interesting one.

What do you think?

Re: How old could a story be?

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 9:13 am
by 40/- freeholder
The end of the last Ice Age might be a possibility but that was 10-12,000 years ago. Post-glacial, your 2 peoples could be indigenous epipalaeolithic/Mesolithic dark skinned blue eyed hunter gatherers, now extinct, and the incoming near eastern farmers, us. The cow in the story suggests a domesticated animal. The wolf is a legendary foster mother that might be expected in a hunting society that had domesticated the dog.

Re: How old could a story be?

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 11:43 am
by Wayland
Ahh you are right, I was thinking of interglacial periods of course, we're still actually in the current Ice Age.

I've got my time scale wrong as well, checking up on it, the last glacial maximum would have been about 20,000 years ago not 40,000.

So there would have been another glacial period between the demise of Neanderthal and the Neolithic revolution. I hadn't realised that.

You can tell I'm not a Paleoanthropologist can't you.

Told you it was a mad idea, just goes to show how memory can fool you.

Re: How old could a story be?

Posted: Thu Oct 08, 2015 11:35 pm
by Thor Ewing
You wouldn't be the first to see memories of prehistoric events and extinct species in the myths. I do think there's a real possibility that there's something in this but on the other hand, I'm fairly sure it has very little to do with what the myths meant in historical times.
If you're interested in discovering a readable and authentic retelling of the full cycle of Viking myths, you could do worse than try mine. You can order from any good (or even just half-decent) bookshop, and it's available on Amazon here:
Best wishes,

Re: How old could a story be?

Posted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 6:57 pm
by guthrie
There is research suggesting that Australian Aborigenes have memories of the sea level rises at the end of the last ice age in their stories and legends.

Re: How old could a story be?

Posted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 8:59 pm
by FionaDowson
Society For Storytelling - for anyone interested in the oral storytelling tradition. If there's a club near you they'll have a link on here