From Tenochtitlán to Punt: When People Encounter the Distant and Unknown, a Cognitive Approach

In: Journal of Egyptian History
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  • 1 University of Pisa
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This article aims to analyse the behavioural response generated by people who came into contact with civilisations and places whose existence was previously unknown or only remotely registered in their collective knowledge. Three major cases have been taken into consideration: a.) the “discovery” of America during the sixteenth century CE when Europeans entered in contact with Aztecs, Cakchiquels, and Andeans; b.) the encounters with the civilisations in Tahiti and Hawaii during the eighteenth century CE, and c.) the ancient Egyptian arrival at Punt during the fifteenth century BCE under the reign of queen Hatshepsut. Although spatially and chronologically separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years, in all of these cases the “encounterers” (i.e., the ones who were moving towards the unknown or distant and contemporaries who were writing their own history) tended to project a self-perceived supremacy over the encountered people, configured as a spontaneous feeling of their supremacy over the local population (hence a “counterfeit” emic notion). In all the above cases, the “encountering” event gave rise to the creation of an “apotheosis” myth, in which the encounterers were supposed to be seen, and believed in, as “gods coming from the sky.” Applying concepts from the cognitive science to these historical events, the article aims to scrutinize the mental categories that tended to generate such a belief of divine superiority projected in the vision of the Other. Rather than being marginalized as an episodic event, the formation of an apotheosis myth can be interpreted as part of a global process, which emerges in the human mind-frame, solicited by mental processes and in contact with a number of similar external outputs.

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