Around 335 to 250 million years ago, Gondwana and Laurasia joined together to form the supercontinent Pangaea, which existed until approximately 215 to 175 million years ago. Gondwana then separated from Laurasia (the mid-Mesozoic era) in the breakup of Pangaea, drifting farther south after the split. Gondwana itself then also broke apart.
Gondwana split to form today’s India and Australia. Gondwana began to break up in the early Jurassic and the early Cretaceous (about 184 to 132 million years ago) accompanied by massive eruptions of basalt lava, as East Gondwana, comprising Antarctica, Madagascar, India, and Australia, began to separate from Africa. South America began to drift slowly westward from Africa as the South Atlantic Ocean opened, beginning about 130 Mya during the Early Cretaceous, and resulting in open marine conditions by 110 Mya. East Gondwana then began to separate about 120 Mya when India began to move northward.
Just as Darwinian biologists can detect the main evolutionary branches in the “family tree” of life, Witzel believes he can detect a big split in the evolutionary tree of mythology which gave rise to two broadly different lines of myths he sees today. By analysing the structure and content of thousands of myths, Witzel says it is possible to see a division into two lineages, which he has called Laurasian and Gondwanan, after the geological names for the two ancient supercontinents of the northern and the southern hemispheres that existed 200 million years ago, long before the arrival of the first humans.
Gondwanan mythology is more ancient of the two, and survives today in the “southern” cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, stretching in a narrow arc to Australia, taking in the cultures of the Andaman Islands, New Guinea and Melanesia. The northern Laurasian mythology, meanwhile, covers Europe, Asia and the Americas and differs substantially from the older Gondwanan mythology, Witzel says.[Source]
Michael Witzel is a Prof. of Sanskrit in Harvard and known for his racially biased views about the Mythologies and Indology.
A very good critic of his theory in the book is written by Jeff in the following mailgroup.
The Origin of the World’s Mythology utilizes completely out of date
and highly questionable scholarship to claim a grand scientific
discovery which relies on the author’s “theory” of ultimate
mythological reconstruction, dating back all the way to reconstructed
stories (i.e., made up by the author) told some 100,0000 years ago.
The “theory” (I would say hypothesis) is implausible (in terms of
data, scholarship, logic, internal plausibility, etc.), even more so
than quasi-academic concepts, like Nostratic, which it relies on as
The book’s main claim is explicitly racist. I define “racist” here
simply as any argument that seeks to categorize large groups of
people utilizing a bio-cultural argument (“race”), and that further
describes one such group as essentially better, more developed, less
“deficient,” than the other(s).
The book claims that there are two races in the world, revealed by
both myth and biology: the dark-skinned “Gondwana” are
characterized by “lacks” and “deficiencies” (e.g., xi, 5, 15, 20,
88, 100, 105, 131, 279, 280, 289, 290, 313, 321 315, 410, 430, 455)
and are labeled “primitive” (28) at a “lower stage of development”
(28, 29, 410), while the noble “Laurasian” myths are “our first
novel,” the only “true” creation stories, and the first “complex
story” (e.g., 6, 54, 80, 105, 321, 372, 418, 421, 430), which the
Gondwana never achieved.
Such a grand evolutionary pronouncement, published by Oxford
University Press and penned by a Harvard Professor (of Sanskrit),
demands attention and careful investigation of its claims. If the
author is correct, then indeed the field of mythology, and folklore,
will be entirely rewritten. Not only this, but the ideas of a
separate, deficient “dark-skinned race” will be, for the first
time, scientifically validated.
The theoretical justification of this work is derived from a sort of
straw man contest between ethnologist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938),
representing monogenesis and diffusion, and Freud’s errant disciple
Carl Jung (1875-1961), with his universal archetypes of the
collective unconscious. This straw man argument is not an appropriate
one: Jung’s theories have long been derided in scholarship on
mythology, and the data have been shown not to support his claims of
universals (Dundes, 2005). Indeed, the resounding refutation of
universals not only invalidates Jung’s theories, but also stands in
direct contradiction to many of the claims of this book.
His sole factual claim to his grand separation of the races seems to
be his assertion that only the light-skinned Laurasians developed a
“complete” myth. He makes several claims about what this myth
“is,” but these are contradictory, vague, and with many exceptions
or permutations (variously: 53, 64, 76, 120, 183, 323). At some
points he claims that the only actual differences between the two is
that the Laurasian has the world end, and the Gondwana do not (e.g.,
283). At other times, however, he claims that the Gondwana actually
have no cosmogonic myths whatsoever. For example:
“Gondwana mythologies generally are confined to the description of
the emergence of humans and their culture in a preexisting world”
“The Laurasian stress on cosmogony, however, is entirely absent in
Gondwana mythologies” (105).
“In Gondwana mythologies the world is regarded as eternal” (20).
Describing Gondwana mythology: “In the beginning: heaven and earth
(and sea) already exist” (323, restated 361).
This particular claim is made even more remarkable in light of his
own comment on page 474, where he himself discusses the common
African myth of the world being created from a god’s spittle and/or
In previous publications the author argued that the Gondwana had no
flood myths as well. However, in this book the author relates
recently encountering Alan Dundes’ The Flood Myth, which disproved
the assertion (see the author’s discussion, page 284). Taking pains
to explain this change, the author now claims the flood myth “is
universal” (wrongly: see Dundes 2005) and not, as he previously
decreed, “Laurasian.” This late encounter with Dundes’ scholarship
is instructive: Dundes is generally regarded as one of the most
important folklore theorists of the last century, yet aside from this
one problematic citation of The Flood Myth, no notice is taken of
him, not even his classic work on myth, Sacred Narrative. Nor are
other seminal recent works in scientific myth scholarship cited, such
as Schrempp and Hansen’s Myth: A New Symposium, or even the earlier
Sebeok’s Myth: A Symposium. The sustained overlooking of the
scholarship on mythology over the last fifty years or more is one of
the larger foundational problems of this work.
For example, aside from a brief early mention (45, 46), the concept
of polygenesis is never considered as a potential explanation, yet a
mere acknowledgment that different people do sometimes create
similar-sounding plots and motifs removes any necessity to view every
similar motif or narrative as united in some grand historical scheme
(see Thompson 2002). An instructive case in point might be the flood
myths of the seismically active coastal regions of the Pacific
Northwest, held to be caused by mountain dwarves dancing (a
compelling explication of which can be found in McMillan and
Hutchinson 2002) — there is absolutely no reason to assume this is
derived from the same source as the very different biblical flood
myth, simply because they both involve floods in flood-prone areas.
Stripped of any emic understanding of the explanatory and rhetorical
majesty of sacred stories, myth is reduced to a mere grab-bag of
words and motifs.
I consider my own research specialties, and the many Dene and
Inuit/Yupiq mythologies I have heard, and watched, and read. In the
Dene, and the Inuit, one finds no apocalypse stories, no end of the
world. This should, then, disqualify them completely from the
Laurasian. Nor is there “Father Heaven/Mother Earth,” or the time
of “nobles,” or a “slaying of the dragon,” or a “drinking of
soma,” all of which are expected to be in his Laurasian story (at
least as per page 53). But according to the author, all this is
irrelevant, since they are simply Laurasians who haven’t told it
all, or haven’t been recorded telling it, or have forgotten parts, or
there is some other reason. In other words, they are Laurasian
because he says they are Laurasian. But when the same question is
asked of the South African San, who also do not have all those
elements, the answer is that they are Gondwana. The criteria are not
applied equally, but rather only as the author sees fit in justifying
In chapter 4, the author seeks to buttress support for his hypothesis
by using reconstructions in linguistics and genetics. Genetically, he
states that specific DNA haplogroups “seem to represent the Gondwana
type of mythology” (233). His appeal to linguistics is at least
marginally more appropriate, as language is a cultural, not
biological, phenomenon. But here, too, he utilizes
less-than-scientifically-accepted hypotheses, such as a
“Dene-Caucausian” language family linking Basque and Navajo, and
“Nostratic.” The all-too-breezy use of non-academic claims can be
seen in the following two quotes, located on the same page (193):
“Nostratic theory has not been accepted by most traditional
“Once we accept the reconstruction of Nostratic, we can establish
the natural habitat, the material culture, and the Weltanschauung and
mythology of the Nostratic populations.”
To be clear: if linguists don’t think that languages could be
reconstructed back more than 6,000 years, why does the author believe
they can, and further, that entire stories can be reconstructed for
over 100,000 years?
Finally, the startling claim that the book proves the existence of
two races, going against all other scholarly data, would have
profound implications for global society as a whole, yet these
implications are never discussed by the author. Instead, in his
conclusion he claims that the reason Abrahamic religions have made
inroads into the global south in recent times is simply because
Laurasian myth is “better” and “more complete” than any ever
formulated by the Gondwana themselves (430), a remarkably naïve view
of global political history.
To conclude: this book will no doubt prove exciting for the gullible
and the racist, yet it is useless — and frustrating — for any
serious scholar. This is a work which should never have reached book
publication stage: a whole series of scholarly checks and balances —
ranging from Harvard’s venerable Folklore and Mythology Department,
to the editors and reviewers at Oxford University Press — should
have been in place to guide the scholarly inquiry, which would have
prevented the socially irresponsible publication of such grandiose,
brash, and explicitly racist claims based on ill-informed, highly
Dundes, Alan. 2005. “Folkloristics in the Twenty-First Century.”
Journal of American Folklore 118:385-408.
—–, ed. 1984. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth.
Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
McMillan, Alan D., and Ian Hutchinson. 2002. “When the Mountain
Dwarfs Danced: Aboriginal Traditions of Paleoseismic Events along the
Cascadia Subduction Zone of Western North America.” Ethnohistory
Schrempp, Gregory, and William Hansen, eds. 2002. Myth: A New
Symposium. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Sebeok, Thomas, ed. 1966. Myth: A Symposium. Bloomington: Indiana
Thompson, Tok. 2002. “The Thirteenth Number: Then, There/Here and
Now.” Studia Mythologica Slavica 5:145-160.
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