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If you are reading this article, congratulations, according to on this chart alone, you’ve survived over fifteen major catastrophic events, including volcanic eruptions, world floods, mass plagues and being devoured by a horde of Jaguars. These catastrophic events are recorded in many cultural epics, such as the Mayan codices, the Sumerian texts, and even the old testament.

However, it’s not just catastrophes that keep popping up in these timelines, there are also cosmic eggs, world trees and fire stealing tricksters to name but a few. These repeating motifs are known as ‘mythemes’, and they represent a common narrative found throughout all the worlds myths.

What makes the myths in this infographic so interesting is they can all be dated back to a specific point in history. Take for example the Bible, which has been dated back to 4004 BCE by adding up all the ages of key characters like Moses, Abraham and Eve. The Sumerian epics can be also be dated back to 259,455 BCE by totalling the ages of all the monarchs in the Sumerian King List. Even the origin of Chines myths can be determined by the age of Pangu who lived for 18,000 years before the birth of the Yellow Emperor.

This chart only outlines seven mythemes, but there are hundreds more. One of the prime themes outlined in this chart are the ‘periods of mythology,’ a recurring structure which breaks the timelines of ancient cultures into several epochs. Take for example the ages of Hinduism, which are known as the Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. They represent four periods of human activity, beginning with a state of perfection, which slowly descends into corruption and violence, culminating in the Kali Yuga, an age of darkness and anarchy.

Many other mythical systems follow a similar pattern, such as the five-ages of Greece; the Golden Age, Silver age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age and the Iron age. The Greek poets described the Golden age as a paradise whose inhabitants thrived in a divine existence. However, over the proceeding ages, man descended into innumerable pains and evils, which came to an end in the Iron Age.

timelines of world mythology
Timelines of world mythology. Photo credit: Mythopia

Even the Mayan calendar can be separated into different periods known as the five suns (each one lasting 5,124 years). They outline four earlier epochs to our current sun, which were all destroyed by the gods for various reasons (e.g. the sun was knocked out of the sky by an angry deity, or a goddess flooded the world with her tears).

The world flood is one of the most ubiquitous mythemes in world culture and can be found in scores of texts. What makes this story so interesting is how similar it is across the globe. For instance, in the Old Testament, God decides to kill all humanity by using a great flood to drown them all. He selects a single family to escape the deluge, who are tasked with creating an arc. After the flood, this arc ends up on a mountainside. This flood story is found in all manner of cultures, with a very similar structure. This includes countries like Iraq, India, Greece, China, Australia and even the Hopi people in North America.

The most disturbing mytheme of all is the ‘end of Days’ which foretells our final extermination at the hands of gods or demons. It is prophecised by many cultural epics, including the Norse, Hebrew, Persian and Hindi, that chaos will return, drawing our world back into darkness and oblivion (often because of our immoral and corrupt ways).

In Hinduism, the god Kali was meant to have destroyed the world in 501 CE, only for it to start all over again; however we seem to have averted that catastrophe. The Bible predicted that there would be a second coming of Jesus at 1000 AD, bringing about the end of days, but thankfully that day hasn’t come just yet. We’ve even managed to escape the recent prediction of a cataclysmic earthquake in 2012 based on the Mayan calendar, which foretold our fifth sun would go black, consuming the world with darkness.

Thankfully we’re still here and going strong it would seem, but is it fair to write off these ‘end of days’ predictions as pure nonsense? Richard Leaky, a professor of biology, has provided chilling evidence that we are entering the sixth extinction, whereby all the world’s species are going extinct at a rapid pace. This time, however, it is driven by human activity rather than divine intervention. Is it possible we are bringing about the destruction of our own ecosystem at the very time the prophets of the ancient world predicted we would ?

Mythopia

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