WHO ARE WE? – From the Big Bang to the first human beings on our planet and Cheddar Man

Aratrust Young Activists (secondary-school-aged young people), supported by some Aratrust Young Citizens (young people aged 18 – 27), have been involved in Aratrust’s ‘Our World’ project, researching and discussing our planet and its inhabitants and their histories, all from a multi-ethnic perspective, not from a Euro-centric or colonial viewpoint.

During Black History Month 2021, Aratrust is posting three articles on some of the Young Activists’ work. This first one is by Eddie, aged 14, who presents very important evidence-based information about the development of all matter, including our planet, animals, plants and … human beings.

The Big Bang

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, planetary scientist and writer:

“We are born of this universe, we live in this universe, and the universe is in us”.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was appointed director of the Hayden Planetarium in 1996.

According to most astrophysicists, all the matter found in the universe today, including the matter in people, plants, animals, the earth, stars, and galaxies was created at the very first moment of time, thought to be about 13 billion (13 Ga) years ago.

This ‘very first moment of time’, astronomers have named ‘The Big Bang’. The Big Bang theory explains the way the universe began. It is the idea that the universe began as just a single point, then expanded and stretched to grow as large as it is right now.

Our universe was born in a massive expansion that blew space up like a gigantic balloon. A Belgian priest named Georges Lemaître first suggested the Big Bang theory in the 1920s, when he theorised that the universe began from a single atom.

The development of the ‘universe’

‘Universe’ means all existing matter and space considered as a whole  –  the cosmos. The universe is believed to be at least 10 billion (10 Ga) light years in diameter and contains a vast number of galaxies; it has been expanding since its creation in the Big Bang about 13 billion (13 Ga) years ago.

Astronomers estimate the age of the universe in many ways:

  • by looking for the oldest stars
  • by measuring the rate of expansion of the universe, and
  • by measuring the waves from the early universe, known as baryonic acoustic oscillations, that fill the cosmic microwave background.

The first stars did not appear until perhaps 100 million (100 Ma) years after the Big Bang, and nearly a billion years passed before galaxies proliferated across the cosmos.

They’re identifiable by their unique composition: just hydrogen, helium and lithium, the only elements around immediately after the Big Bang.

The development of ‘galaxies’

‘Galaxy’ means a system of millions or billions of stars, together with gas and dust, held together by gravitational attraction. Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based instruments show that the first galaxies took shape as little as one billion (1 Ga) years after the Big Bang.

The Hubble Space Telescope

Our Planet – the Earth

Our planet, the Earth, was formed around 4.54 billion (4.5 Ga) years ago by accretion from the solar nebula. Scientists think that volcanic outgassing probably created our planet’s primordial atmosphere and then the ocean, but the Earth’s early atmosphere contained almost no oxygen and we know that oxygen is vital for life on Earth.

Our Planet in the Hadeon Eon  –  4.5 Ga – 4 Ga (4.5 – 4 billion years ago)

When our planet was first formed there was no life on it because it was molten and there was no oxygen in the atmosphere and no water. No fossils have been found.

Our Planet in the Archean Eon  –  4 Ga – 2.5 Ga (4 – 2.5 billion years ago)

During the Archean Eon, our planet was freezing cold. However, there were the first bacterial forms of life and photosynthesis. Scientists have found evidence of bacterial life.

Our Planet in the Protorozoic Eon  –  2.5 Ga – 54 Ma (2.5 billion years ago to 54 million years ago)

During the Protorozoic Eon, there was some sunshine and blue-green algae and the first oxygen-dependent animals appeared on our planet.

Our planet in the Phanerozoic Eon –  541 Ma – 252 Ma (541 – 252 million years ago)

During the Phanerozoic Eon our planet’s climate was generally warm. There were water and land animals including reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, lions and mammoths.

The first human beings on our planet

The first humans on our planet originated in East Africa in the African Great Rift Valley, a large lowland area caused by tectonic plate movement. The Great Rift Valley includes parts of present-day Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Evidence of human life includes stone tools and fossilised foot bones from 3.2 Ma found in Hadar, Ethiopia.

Archeological evidence and radiocarbon dating techniques reveal that our human ancestors travelled in all directions, constantly in search of abundant food resources and new places to inhabit. They moved out of Africa and across the planet, reaching Europe 45,000 years ago via Western Asia.

Cheddar Man – one the first human beings known to have lived in Britain

Scientists’ model of Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man lived 9,100 years ago in Somerset and is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton to date. Like his African ancestors he was a hunter-gatherer. His DNA shows that he was black and had blue eyes. His remains are kept by the Natural History Museum in London in the new Human Evolution gallery.

My thoughts about the Big Bang, Cheddar Man and racism

The ‘Big Bang’ discovery is incredible because it explains how the Earth began.

Cheddar Man is so important to Britain because his skeleton is the earliest complete skeleton found in this country and scientific techniques reveal that he was a black person living in Britain over 9,000 years ago and his ancestors came from East Africa.   Racism is constantly hurting people again and again and it has to stop. We can use our knowledge about Cheddar Man to educate people.

Aratrust says:

“We now understand that power has been a dominant factor influencing race and racism. Race is a social construct and racial hierarchies have been constructed to maintain power in the hands of a dominant few. A person from Southern Ireland has very little genetic differentiation to a person from Southern India, indeed, there is more genetic differentiation within African people than between Africans and Europeans. Our modern views of our origins and ancestry are deeply influenced by how we look, and this in turn creates stereotypes, which create judgments about people. This is why the origins of Cheddar Man are important to disabuse the long held racist beliefs around ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’. Migration made the world a melting pot centuries before the multicultural societies we have today. We are all connected as part of a complicated matrix with one common factor – we are all part of the human race.

This series of 3 articles by Aratrust’s young people on the origins of humans, ancestry, migration, DNA and skin colour explores and debunks some myths around these important subjects.”