The earth is now believed to be roughly six thousand million years old. In this vast extent of time, man and his ancestors have existed for about seven hundred and fifty thousand years, while civilized man – the man who cultivates his own food and has some form of community life has been on earth only 6000-8000 years. This is under one millionth of the Earth’s age. Suppose you were to stretch out a roll of paper for fifty miles, and make this represent the time that Earth has existed. Then, Civilized man’s history would span just four inches of the roll – the length of a chocolate bar.
In this comparatively short time, Man has progressed from being a simple herdsman, who invented the wheel, who learned how to make pottery and who began to need a society governed by laws, to a highly sophisticated creature able to pivot himself away from the Earth and land on the moon. Man lived for many thousands of years as nothing more than an animal, a member of the primate (or ape-like) group of mammals. His development was extremely slow. Most of the time, the earth was engulfed in thick ice layers, and all over the globe there were huge glaciers.
This period is referred to as the Ice Age, and though it was extremely cold, various forms of life were able to exist. During the period there were intervals of warmer weather, when the polar ice-cap receded, which no doubt helped the various forms of life to develop. For near-Man, life was one unending struggle with nature, cold, winds, storms and floods. Now and again he enjoyed a respite of better weather, and we believe that this helped him to adapt himself to changing conditions. Primitive Man first appeared about three quarters of a million years ago.
We call him Australopithecus, and traces of him have been found in Africa. By scientific methods such as carbon-dating, we have been able to estimate how long ago he lived. Perhaps in future years we may discover an even earlier ancestor. Australopithecus was not really human in the sense that we understand the term. His brain was very small- less than half the size of ours and it took nearly a quarter of a million years for him to mature into the next stage- Pithecanthropus. Pithecanthropus may be said to be the first specimen of a near-human being.
He is an intermediate stage between ape and Man. Relics of him have been found in places such as Indonesia, Africa, Europe, and China. He seems to have developed about half a million years ago. His head rested upright on his spine, and his eyes were positioned so as to give him three dimensional vision which allowed him to judge distance. His teeth were shorter than those of his ancestors and he knew how to use the fingers and thumbs of his hands as graspers. His brain was larger and he seems to have had primitive tools made of stone or flint.
Tools were the inevitable extension of his arms and their use was a major step in Man’s development. He also gathered food and stored it for his own use and for that of any companions. This early period which extends from around 500,000 B. C. To about 10,000 B. C. Is called the Palaeolithic Age or the age of the early stone user. It is divided into three periods, Lower, middle and upper, and each of these periods represents a significant point of development in the progress of Mankind. Pithecanthropus was the first near-Man in the lower Palaeolithic period.
The next example of developing man appeared in about 80,000 B. C. We call him Neanderthal because relics of him were found in the Neander Valley in Germany. His brain was almost three times larger than that of Pithocanthropus and somewhat larger than modern Man’s. His intelligence was of a very high order and yet by about 25,000 B. C. He seems to have died out altogether. Recently, remains of a Neanderthal grave dating back to 60,000 B. C. Have been unearthed in Baghdad, proving that this near-Man had began to conduct some partially civilised ceremonies.
Because Neanderthal Man improved upon stone tools we call his period the Middle Palaeolithic (Stone) Age. Although Neanderthal Man was dying out, there was another primate in the world, the ancestor of modern Man, whom we call Homo sapiens (Latin for “Wise Man”. He had no relation to the Neanderthal Man, as far as we know and we do not know where he cam from, although he may, in fact have emerged in the last days of the Upper Palaeolithic Age as an advanced relative of apes living at the time.
Homo sapiens appeared in many different parts of the world at the same time. His skull was far more developed than that of his predecessors and so his rate of progress was quicker. Homo sapiens proved to be remarkably adaptable to their surroundings. He built crude tents or huts under which to sleep and store the food which he gathered for food gathering was his main occupation. He would also live in caves where he could find them, and was generally clever enough to find ones with entrances facing southwards, away from the winds and the cold of the north and east.
In these caves or tents he made his own comforts and used to utilise tools, weapons, and fire. As time went on New Man , as we shall call him until he becomes civilized and actually learns to cultivate his own food, found better ways of gathering food and he extended the range of his diet. They hunted wild animals and fished in the rivers;they collected oysters and other shell-fish . The woman and children gathered berries, fruits and root vegetables. They learned to store food for periods of bad weather and they started to experiment with simple cooking.