Down from the tree-tops he came, primeval man, driven by hunger to wander through the forest with his kin searching for the nuts, roots and fruits on which he lived. He was the oldest specimen of his race and wandered over Europe when the climate was tropical and palms and tropical animals abounded. He required no clothes as the hair covering his body was sufficient protection in the mild climate then prevailing. His only weapons and tools were the branches torn from trees and the rough stones picked out of the beds of water-courses. He had learnt the art of communicating his primitive ideas by means of speech liberally helped out with gestures. His family arrangements were those of the brute from which he had just branched off, no rule had yet grown to guide him higher. He wandered widely over Europe before the coming of the ice drove him towards the Equator.
Friday, September 11, 2020
The Romance of Ages
Slowly, very slowly, and painfully, man acquired more knowledge. A new type arose born during the breaks in the great ice ages. He discovered the wonderful properties of fire, and was able to add fish to his diet, a new weapon with which to fight hunger. Fire severed the cord that bound him to the forests and he wandered widely over the earth in the open, following the courses of the streams that provided him with fish. Out of the beds of streams he took rough stones and fashioned them into crude implements. His habitations were the beds of streams and holes in the hills. He peopled the hills, the woods, and the streams with living beings. The tree that fell on and crushed him, the rocks that impeded his passage, the mighty torrents, became to him objects endowed with life as he was—Religion was born. He wrought on the rough stone making for himself a stone-headed club and spear and became a hunter, strengthening himself in the fight against hunger by the addition of occasional supplies of meat to his food. The evil results of promiscuous marriage were modified by the growth of a rule prohibiting the marriage of parents to children.
Years passed away by the thousand and he learnt to make bows and arrows. Hunting became easier and meat became a more regular part of his food. On clay and stone, on the sides of his caves, using sharp-pointed wood or stone for pens, he sketched rude pictures of the animals he hunted, and the animals that hunted him. With the aid of fire he furnished himself with log boats to carry him over the water. He learnt to weave and make baskets and to make tools out of the bones of animals. He built himself huts and set them out in the form of village settlements—the town was born. He modified still further his marriage relations, and prohibited the marriage of brothers and sisters. He had by now gathered together some property and the seeds of the subsequent class struggles were planted.
This property was held at first by women. He stepped higher in his religious ideas, and worshipped the elements; the earthquake, the cyclone, the cloudburst, inspired him with awe and he trembled before nature’s terrors and sought to find means to propitiate the mighty powers that so often involved him in wreck and ruin. He grew in numbers and lived in larger groups. These large groups were separated into gentes, phratries and tribes, or groups of close kinship, groups of near cousins, and groups of distant cousins. He improved his language and learnt the use of syllables. He polished up his stone implements and produced wonderful specimens of polished stone tools. The huge fierce animals that had harassed him of yore began to give way to a smaller and less ferocious kind, and the limbs, stature and gait of man lost much of their strength and uncouthness, becoming more beautiful as befitted one grasping at the conquest of nature.
With the discovery of pottery man continued his upward climb and found means to store his ever-growing varieties of food. He tanned the skin of the deer and took a pride in his personal adornment. He built himself villages surrounded by stockades, tamed the dog as a companion for hunting and learned how to make bread. His numbers had now grown so large that much of his attention was taken up with social organisation. The tribes had grown into numerous tribes living in a confederacy under a council of chiefs—the state was born. His religious ideas had moved upward to the conception of a great spirit that ruled his destiny, and the dreams that troubled his sleep became to him evidences of the wanderings of himself in other lands. His rude attempts at art grew into the making of pictures that conveyed ideas to those at a distance—the art of writing was born.
Some of the animals he hunted he learnt to domesticate and secured for himself a regular supply of milk and meat. But he did more. The work to be done in attending to flocks and herds was little. It was possible to supply the needs of many by the labour of few. Man at last was able to provide a surplus on which non-workers could live. Man learned the lesson well and in the wars on his kind he obtained captives who were put to work looking after the herds, thus giving leisure to the owners of the herds—in such wise was born the slavery that flourishes to-day.
Man cleared the forests and converted them into arable land and land on which to pasture his flocks. He cultivated gardens and raised root crops, pushing farther away his age-long enemy hunger. His wealth and responsibilities grew so much that he built for himself habitations of wood, mud and stone, and surrounded them with fortifications for the safe-keeping of his utensils and his cattle and to guard against the attacks of others of his kind. He added to his implements, his utensils, his weapons, and his ornaments by learning to manipulate metals—he had left the age of stone and entered the age of bronze. He built villages on the waters at the edges of lakes, safe from marauding animals and men. He made for himself personal gods, with idols and appointed officials to interpret the method of worship—priesthood had come into being. His council chiefs became organised into a close corporation, limiting election of officials to members of their families—aristocracy was born. He learnt how to picture ideas instead of objects, so developing his means of communication by writing.
His garden cultivation grew into field culture by the discovery of iron and the subsequent invention of the ploughshare. He now changed his habitation into towns surrounded with walls and battlements. His growing wealth and aristocratic privileges brought on the first great class struggle— the struggle between man and woman as to who should own and bequeath the store of wealth that had accumulated. Man won, and changed the law of inheritance from the female to the male. Individual ownership of property and to some extent the private ownership of land followed.
With the discovery of letter script and its use for writing records man entered into his own as a civilised being. The rest is a matter of history.
Reader, the above is a painfully brief and scrappy description of man’s development during prehistoric times. If you would enter fully into the romance consult the books on the subject that abound and you will have no cause for regret. Most of what is written above you will find in “Ancient Society,” a book written by Lewis H. Morgan. Look for it in the library.
Reprinted from the "Socialist Standard," June, 1925.