This is a topic that I see no end of discussion of, and rarely is it actually a productive one. Please pardon my cynicism on the matter, but the discussion regarding the exact nature of the relationship between humanity and the Forerunners is often used for the purpose of slandering 343 for allegedly retconning the idea that humans and Forerunners are the same.
This is false. Seriously, anybody who posits this as a legitimate claim has, in all likelihood, not actually paid attention to either Bungie or 343’s fiction over the years.
So let’s examine this argument, shall we? This may take a while…Let’s get this out of the way with first: Yes, Bungie did actually originally intend for humans and Forerunners to be the same. But, like so many things in the franchise, it was subject to change. I feel this is best summed up by the man who gave Halo its name, was instrumental in the art design and worldbuilding process of the franchise, Bungie’s own Mr. Paul Russel:
We’ll be relying a fair bit on Russel’s testimony, as he revealed a great deal of interesting information around last year when the Halo Archive group and I sent a few questions his way.
The Flood were originally going to be telekinetic zombie supersoldiers created by the Forerunners as a bioweapon, and their own backstory was changed so many times it makes my head spin. Check out the article Feast of Bones, here we’re told that pretty much everybody at Bungie had their own idea as to the Flood’s origins. Nothing was set-in-stone.
“The Flood, as far as I can remember, was something that Jason talked about purely as a gameplay twist. This is the enemy we could introduce to change the gameplay dynamic. It had to be horrifying. Beyond that, there was nothing fleshed out.
So, I started putting together all kinds of different sketches and ideas. Originally – and this is sort of funny considering how militantly opposed I became to the idea after the fact – the Flood was an engineered weapon. Basically a living, intelligent mine field that the Covenant seeded the worlds on the edge of their space with. You showed up on one of their planets and you were screwed as soon as you made landfall.
Griesemer wrote up a really interesting alternative story (and he was the guy who coined the term ‘Gravemind’ as well.) Basically, in his early version, the Flood was a type of meningitis that somehow made a life form more aggressive, but also made them more intelligent, so it was this rite of passage. When males reached a certain age, they’d be hit in the head and tossed into this mass grave. They’d come out smarter, but looking for a fight.”
There’s a mix of things in here – one version has the Flood being purely a gameplay twist, one has it as a Forerunner bioweapon, one has it as a Covenant bioweapon, one has it as space meningitis that was used for ritualistic purposes…
Do you see the point I’m trying to make here? If not, Mr Russel makes things quite explicit:
I could end this post now really, the conclusion to be drawn here is that Bungie’s construction of the Halo universe was largely done as a series of concepts – all of which were subject to change. The Forerunners were originally humans who seeded their DNA on Earth to escape the Flood, but this is directly contradicted by a number of sources from Bungie themselves – namely The Cradle of Life, IRIS, and Halo 3’s Terminals.
By no means do I mean to use this as a criticism of Bungie. Quite the contrary actually, they did the best with what they had and did a bloody good job of it when you consider the fact that they had no idea they were going to make more than one Halo game. After Halo CE shipped, they turned their attention to a fantasy game which ended up being put scrapped (and has resonant connections with Destiny) when Microsoft contracted them to make Halo 2.
Bungie had no idea that Halo would be such a huge success, the lore had no need to expand at the time.
It was only around the time that Halo 2 got its gears running that aspects of the lore became more concrete, but the whole Forerunner debacle was still very much a fluid concept.
This is really something that one has to look at with an open mind because the reality of game design, especially for a new series, is going to trump canonical consistency every time. That irreverence and willingness to change concepts to suit the narrative was important for Bungie to get the series off its feet in those early days (though I am not so lenient towards what happened with Reach).
With that contextual stuff all out of the way, let’s have a bit more fun and dive into the fiction. We’re going to examine the exact nature of the Forerunner-human relationship as presented in the Forerunner Saga and consider how it stays true to both concepts that Bungie had of humans being Forerunners but also not being Forerunners.
If you’re this far down the rabbit hole, there’s no escaping it now!First, let’s look at Halo: Cryptum – the first novel of the Forerunner Saga. This was our first proper step into the Forerunner universe, since Halo 3’s Terminals only covered a few aspects of the Forerunner-Flood war through incredibly fragmented pieces of text.
Because of strong similarities in our natural genetic structure, some Forerunner sages thought humans might be a brethren species, also shaped and given breath by the Precursors.
Natural is kind of an interesting term to use when it comes to the Forerunners because over the course of their lives they undergo a number of mutations which alters their genetic structure – it’s the reason for why Forerunners are so diverse as a species.
You think all Forerunners look like the Ur-Didact or the Librarian as we see them in Halo 4? Not at all. The Ur-Didact’s appearance was heavily distorted because he botched a mutation during the Forerunner-Flood war, something which was considered deeply shameful in Forerunner society – Bornstellar tells us that Forerunners who fail their mutations are locked away by their families and rarely seen in ‘civilised’ society.
Likewise, the Librarian mutated her appearance so that she would bear a greater resemblance to humans. Not only that, but her face is perceived as looking entirely different to each human because we’re tuned in such a way that we see her as our own ideal female figure. The Ur-Didact notes in Silentium that she has done this to several species so that she might manipulate them in future times, but I’m going into a whole different topic here…
When we talk about the natural genetic structure of a Forerunner, we’re talking about Manipulars – young Forerunners who have not yet undergone a mutation to advance their maturity. Bornstellar notes:
As a Manipular, I still resembled Chakas more than my father.
Manipulars bear a strong resemblance to humans, but with additional patches of fur – generally coloured white or pink. This is the first ‘clue’ we get.The real meat of the issue can be found in Primordium, in the bit towards the end where Chakas is taken to the Silent Cartographer and forced to coordinate Installation 07’s movement as Mendicant Bias plans to have the Halo piloted through a planet.
“These entities were expressing an almost cruelly isolated and lofty interest in the stages of an ongoing experiment.
Was there some sense of satisfaction at this melding of so many Forerunners and humans? Some triumphal revisiting of an ancient plan, long ago frustrated, then abandoned, but now possible once more?
Could Forerunners and humans be recombined and reverse their shivering asunder so many millions of years before… when the Primordial and the last of its kind decided on a larger, wider strategy, a greater plan that would no doubt bring about immense pain, but also a greater unity of all things…
Through the Flood, the Shaping Sickness. The greatest challenge and contest of all.
From that challenge, humans had for a moment only emerged victorious, only to be decimated by the Forerunners—a second crushing defeat for the Primordial’s plans. All of this had been laid out in detail to the coldly logical mentality that was the Halo’s master.
Even enhanced and combined, I—we—could only appreciate a small portion of the depth and power of this plan, this argument, unveiled to us as if we were children peering through curtains at the copulation of our parents.”
Now this is the keystone of the whole issue. The conduction of an ongoing experiment that involves recombining humans and Forerunners – note the specific wording here: recombining, not just combining. Not only that, but this is something that has happened before with frustrated results?
What exactly does this mean?
Well, for that, we’ll have to look at a character of particular importance in Primordium. Forthencho, the Lord of Admirals.Forthencho was essentially humanity’s ‘equivalent’ of the Didact – their military commander who was extremely controversial in his views. He spent much of his earlier life travelling across the galaxy because he was curious about human origins, he did not believe the word of Forerunner scholars and Yprin Yprikushma (humanity’s political and morale commander who was frequently at odds with Forthencho) who said that humanity was born and raised on Earth (then known by the Forerunners as Erde-Tyrene).
He claimed to have visited a number of worlds with human ruins predating our time on Earth.
Ironically, it was Erde-Tyrene that fell first, a tremendous loss both in strategy and morale, for it was the most likely to have been the birth-planet of all humans. We had lost those records and memories during the dark ages, before we encountered the Forerunners, but our own historians, scientists, and archaeologists had done their work, analyzed the makeup and physiology of the humans spread across that sector of the rim and inward, and decided Erda was the genetic focus of all human activity—the planetary navel of our races. Completing that survey, that analysis, encouraged her to believe she completely understood human psychology and culture. Yprin had advanced to Political and Morale Commander of all human forces.
I disagreed with that advancement, her rise to power. I had severe doubts that Erda was our planet of origin. Other worlds in other systems seemed more likely. I had been to many of them and had viewed their ancient ruins.
And I had seen evidence that Forerunners had also visited these worlds, were also interested in human origins—not just the Librarian and her Lifeworkers, but the Didact himself.
A major aspect of Forthencho’s involvement in the narrative is to raise this level of doubt about Earth being humanity’s homeworld which really strikes me as odd by itself. As is often the case with the seeds 343 plants in their fiction, one has to apply it to the wider context – but we’ll get to that soon.
What makes this even more interesting is this passage in Cryptum:
No human threads in the Domain—no way of knowing their reactions—the Domain is not complete—
The Didact says this in Bornstellar’s head. The Forerunners have absolutely nothing on humans in the Domain, yet we know that it’s the recorded sum of 100 billion years worth of knowledge – as is revealed to us in Silentium. This leads us to the conclusion that the Domain (a Precursor consciousness) purposefully blocked the Forerunners from being able to access any data on humanity, and the mystery is compounded on even further by Forthencho’s mention of the fact that they had lost the records and memories of human origins in a dark age. Indeed, much of human history has been lost over a number of unexplained technological dark ages which is very curious…Now, this is where we get to that whole ‘wider context’ thing I mentioned.
Remember Halo: Legends? I’ve brought it up quite a few times in my Ark Theory posts because it’s heavily indicative of a lot of elements that 343 has added to or expanded on within the story.
This time, I’m going to bring up The Babysitter.
Like most of you, my criticism of the artistic licensing in this episode were particularly vehement. When it first came out in 2009, it felt extremely out of place. We all assumed that the ruins depicted on the planet Heian were heavily altered depictions of Forerunner architecture because we had no idea that ancient humanity was going to be a thing. However, with Primordium being taken into account, we can potentially glean a whole new insight into what those ruins actually were.
For this, we need to cast our minds once more back to Halo: Evolutions – specifically the story From the Office of Doctor William Arthur Iqbal. This ‘report’ was one of the first glimpses we got at the Halo universe post-Human-Covenant war, as Iqbal discusses a number of topics regarding the state of the galaxy. Forerunner research is also brought up and this little passage ties it all into a nice neat bow:
I direct your attention to the photographs from Heian. There were obvious Forerunner elements in that architecture, but also unmistakable architectural themes from Greco-Roman, East Asian, and Middle Eastern eras. All of those buildings predated human travel to that world by perhaps hundreds maybe thousands of years. We find ourselves wondering if they borrowed from our history, or we from theirs. It is impossible that it was a coincidence.
Time to bring it all together (or, if you prefer, get to the point already).
The ruins on Heian are not just ancient human in origin, their design pattern also bears Forerunner influences as well. We can easily narrow down those design features because at this point humanity had only been exposed to two forms of Forerunner architecture – that which was made by the Builders (Installation 04, 5, and the Lesser Ark), and the ancient Forerunner ruins on Installation 05. Humanity had not yet encountered Warrior-Servant architecture, with the exception of the Spirit of Fire – which is still missing as late as 2557.
So we have a basis for comparison here, and if you rewatch the episode you may pick up on a few things.
What I mainly noticed is that there’s a real emphasis on symmetrical, rectangular wall patterning which directly reflects what we’ve seen in the games. Same wall patterning. There’s one shot in the episode where you can see a pillar with what appears to be blue lines running down it (this is literally the definitive aspect of Forerunner design language, silvery-thing-with-blue-lights). And the general structuring of some of the buildings bears some resemblance to the ancient Forerunner buildings seen on Installation 05, as I mentioned before.What I posit is this: Heian was one of the worlds that the Lord of Admirals visited during his travels where he learned of a human civilisation that predates the one which seemingly arose on Earth.
The Precursors created humans and Foreruners as the same species originally, but, for reasons unknown, split them apart to evolve separately – humans on Earth, Forerunners on Ghibalb. This resulted only in chaos, as humans and Forerunners have been at each others’ necks for millennia.
The Flood, as we know, is a means of bringing about unity as well as the next stage of evolution – given what we learn in Halo 3’s Terminal dialogues between Mendicant Bias and the Timeless One. The fact that this all comes together at the end of Primordium is important because Mendicant Bias has gone about resurrecting the old ‘spirits’ of ancient humans who the Forerunners used the Composer on, like the Lord of Admirals, and has promised them retribution against the Forerunners if they help save Installation 07 from being destroyed. The Timeless One has been experimenting with humans all throughout the book, and part of this is to do with the recombining of humans and Forerunners through the Flood.As a result of this, if it is indeed true, then humans and Forerunners were once the same (following Bungie’s original concept) but their separation and independent evolution over the ages have culminated in them becoming two very different species (following what Bungie established in Halo 3’s additional fiction). So you begin to see how it’s not quite so cut-and-dried as an issue, it’s something that is layered in textual ambiguity across multiple sources and years of interconnected stories.
Will we ever have a definitive answer? For the foreseeable future, probably not. The ambiguity is there for a reason, contrary to popular belief the Forerunner Saga reinforced that sense of mystery. What I’ve suggested is by no means the definitive answer, it’s merely tying together the separate strands and making a conclusion based on what we know right now – and even what we know is steeped in its own layers of scrutiny, since these are all personal accounts that have been related to us rather than factual ones.
Before I close this, consider this final point from the Gravemind’s dialogue in Silentium.
We announced to your kind long ago that you were not the ones chosen to receive the Mantle, the blessing of rule and protection of life and change that thinks. That blessing was to be given to others. To those you now call human.
If the Forerunners now call us ‘human’, what exactly were we before?