What Does It Mean to be Human?



The archaeological record is an account of the people whom I met or who accompanied me on my way during the excavation of their past life.  They show me what their world was like in which they lived and how it appeared to them. The dead tell, as far as possible, their own tale  by the material culture they left behind. The archaeological remains are the result of human behaviour. This relationship between human behaviour and the material residue is of importance and provides information to reconstruct an ancient society. A human individual needs food, cloths, habitation and tools to live.  The use of space and choice of materials depends on how a human individual behaves. Can I define a human individual by the material culture he left behind?
Important to point out here is that individuality is a relative recent phenomenon and individual identity is also a recent construct. So one needs to be careful to take the modern cult of the individual as self-evident or true for all times and places. Human behaviour can be determined by physical factors such as response to wind, rain, sun or the availability of material and by human cultural factors like technology, social aspects or economical elements.  

So what is human behaviour exactly and what defines a human? Human is a member of the genus Homo and especially of the species Homo sapiens. But this doesn’t even come close to what defines us.  Human nature does not undergo a complete change from the past into the future; in fact we are not that different in what defines us as human than and now. Maybe one of life’s most enduring mysteries can help us to understand what it means to be human. Death marks the end of life as we know it but few cultures see it as the end of everything.  Death affects almost everything people do in their lives. They engage in fitness activities to put off the inevitable and they drive to achieve recognition in this life so they will be remembered after death. Humans evolve rituals around death and those are performed by a social group whether they are friends, family, neighbours or paid professionals. This ritual knowledge is transmitted across generations. I find it fascinating that people all over the world in the past and present seem to be compelled to engage in ritual practices.  The natural facts of life which cannot be disputed are that people are born, grow old and die.  Interestingly we surround these events with rituals and even try to manipulate the inevitable by using technology and medical science. At the same time we humans have the ability to improve life and circumstances, both individually and for society in general. Religion is important but difficult to define. It is not something simply removed from the ordinary world of human affairs. It is best examined as one aspect of the total cosmic order that the people believe to exist. As a human we are part of a much greater whole and without the earth we could not exist. Does it mean to be human to be able to rise above the struggle of daily life and adorn life with symbolic, ideological and religious meanings?





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