1902 Encyclopedia > Anthropology > Development of Civilization

(Part 6)

VI. Development of Civilization. -- The conditions of man at the lowest and highest known levels of culture are separated by a vast interval; but this interval is so nearly filled by known intermediate stages, that the line of continuity between the lowest savagery and the highest civilization is unbroken at any critical point. The Australians and forest Indians of Brazil may be taken as the lowest modern savages whose thought and life have been investigated with any thoroughness; while other less accurately-studied tribes are in some respects inferior even to these. An examination of the details of savage life shows not only that there is an immeasurable difference between the rudest man and the highest lowest animal, but also that the least cultured savages have themselves advanced far beyond the lowest intellectual and moral state at which human tribes can be conceived as capable of existing, when placed under favourable circumstances of warm climate, abundant food, and security from too severe destructive influences. In fact, the Australian or Brazilian savage has already attained to rudimentary stages in many of the characteristic functions of civilized life. His language, expressing thoughts by conventional articulate sounds, is the same in essential principle as the most cultivated philosophic dialect, only less exact and copious. His weapons, tools, and other appliances, such as the hammer, hatchet, spear, knife, awl, thread, net, canoe, &c., are the evident rudimentary analogues of what still remains in use among Europeans. His structure, such as the hut, fence, stockade, earthwork, &c., may be poor and clumsy, but they are of the same nature as our own. In the simple arts of broiling and roasting meat, the use of hides and furs for covering, the plaiting of mats and baskets, the devices of hunting, trapping, and fishing, the pleasure taken in personal ornament, the touches of artistic decoration on objects of daily use, the savage differs in degree but not in kind from the civilized man. The domestic and social affections, the kindly care of the young and the old, some acknowledgement of martial and parental obligation, the duty of mutual defence in the tribe, the authority of the elders, and general respect to traditional custom as the regulator of life and duty, are more or less well marked in every savage tribe which is not disorganized and falling to pieces. Lastly, there is usually to be discerned amongst such lower races a belief in unseen powers pervading the universe, this belief shaping itself into an animistic or spiritualistic theology, mostly resulting in some kind of worship. If, again, high savage or low barbaric types be selected, as among the North American Indians, Polynesians, and Kafirs of South Africa, the same elements of culture appear, but at a more advanced stage, namely, a more full and accurate language, more knowledge of the laws of nature, more serviceable implements, more perfect industrial processes, more definite and fixed social order and frame of government, more systematic and philosophic schemes of religion, and a more elaborated and ceremonial worship. At intervals new arts and ideas appear, such as agriculture and pasturage, the manufacture of pottery, the use of metal implements, and the device of record and communication by picture writing. Along such stages of improvement and invention the bridge is fairly made between savage and barbaric culture; and this once attained to, the remainder of the series of stages of civilization lies within the range of common knowledge.

The teaching of history, during the three to four thousand years of which contemporary chronicles have been preserved, is that civilization is gradually developed in the course of ages by enlargement and increased precision of knowledge, invention and improvement of arts, and the progression of social and political habits and institutions towards general well-being. The conditions of such races ads the older Jews, Greeks, and Germans, are known to us by ancient chronicles, and by poetry and myth even more valuable than chronicle in the details they unconsciously preserve of the state of society at the time whence they have been handed down. Starting from the recorded condition of such barbaric nations, and following the general course of culture into the modern world, all the great processes of mental an social development may be seen at work. Falling back or decay also takes place, but only to a limited extent destroys the results of growth in culture. It is thus matter of actual record, that the ancestors of civilized nations were barbaric tribes, and the inference seems reasonable that the same process of development had gone on during previous ages outside the domain of direct history, so that barbaric culture itself arose out of an earlier and ruder condition of primitive culture, more or less corresponding with the state of modern savage tribes. The failure of direct record of this passage from savagery upward to barbarism was to be expected from the circumstances of the case. No people civilized enough to preserve history could have watched the age-long process of a savage tribe developing its culture; indeed, experience shows that independent progress could hardly have taken place among an uncivilized in contact with a civilized race. Nor could a barbaric nation, though it had really and independent risen from savagery within some few thousand years, give any valid account of this gradual advancement, for the very reason of its having taken place while the nation was yet in, or but little removed from, the savage state, one part of the very definition of which is that it has no trustworthy means of preserving the history of events even for a single century, much less for the long period required for so vast a development. This view of the low origin and progressive development of civilization was already held in ancient times, as in the well-known speculations of the Epicurean school on the condition of the earliest men, who roved like wild animals, seeking their food from the uncultured earth, till arts and social laws arose among them (Lucret., De Rerum Nat., v. 923; Horat., Sat., 1. 3); or where the like idea has taken in China the form of ancient legend, recording the time when their nation was taught to use skins for clothing, to make fire and to dwell in houses (Pauthier, Livres Sacres de (Orient, p. 26). In opposition to such views of primeval rudeness, traditions of a pristine state of human excellence have long been cherished, such as the "golden age" (Hesiod., Op. et. Dies, 108). Till of late wide acceptance has been given to arguments, partly based on theological and partly on anthropological grounds, as to man's incapability of rising from a savage state, and the consequent necessity of a supernatural bestowal of culture on the first men, from whose high level savages are supposed by advocates of this theory to have degenerated. The anthropological evidence adduced in support of this doctrine is, however, too weak for citation, and even obviously erroneous arguments have been relied on (see, for example, Archbishop Whately, Essay on the Origin of Civilization, and remarks on its evidence in Tylor, Early Hist. Man, p. 163). It has been especially the evidence of prehistoric archaeology which, within the last few years, has given to the natural development-theory of civilization a predominance hardly disputed on anthropological grounds. The stone implements, which form the staple proof of man's existence at the period of the river-drift, are of extreme rudeness as compared even with ordinary savage types, so that it is obvious that the most ancient known tribes were, as to be industrial arts, at a low savage level. The remains in the caverns justify this opinion, especially where in central France more precision is given to the idea of prehistoric life by the discovery of bone weapons for hunting and fishing, which suggest a rude condition resembling that of the Esquimaux (see the preceding section IV., Antiquity of Man). The finding of ancient stone implements buried in the ground in almost every habitable district of the world, including the seats of the great ancient civilizations, such as Egypt, Assyria, India, China, Greece, &c., may be adduced to show that the inhabitants of these regions had at some time belonged to the stone age. This argument goes far to prove that the ancestors of all nations, high and low, were once in that uncultured condition as to knowledge, arts, and manners generally, which within our experience accompanies the use of stone implements and the want of metals. No valid refutation of this reasoning has been offered, and it is corroborated by arguments to be drawn from study of the facts of civilization, of which some will be here mentioned for their bearing on the theory of development.

History shows how development of the arts takes place by efforts of skill and insight, as where Phidias rose above the clumsier sculptors of the time before him, or where the earliest gnomon-a mere staff set up in order to have its shadow measured-passed into the graduated sun-dial; or adaptations of old contrivances produce new results, as when the ancient Pan's pipes, blown by a bellows, became the organ, when the earlier block-printing led up to the use of movable types, and when the magnetic-needle was taken out of the mariner's compass to find a new office on the telegraph-dial; or lastly, more absolutely original inventions arise, the triumphs of the scientific imagination, such as the pendulum and the steam-engine. In the evolution of science the new knowledge ever starts from the old, whether its results to be improve, to shift, 0r to supersede it. The history of astronomy extends far enough back to show its barbaric stages, when the earth was regarded as a flat surface, over-arched by a solid dome or firmament; and when not only was the sun considered to move round the earth, but its motions, as well as the moons, were referred to the guidance and even the impulse of personal deities. Beginning with this first stage of the science, there lies before us the whole record of the exacter observation and closer reasoning which have gradually replaced these childlike savage conceptions by the most perfect of physical theories. Thus, again, the history of medicine shows improvement after improvement on the rude surgical appliances and the meager list of efficient drugs which the barbaric leech had at his disposal, while its theory has changed even more absolutely than its practice; for medical history begins with the ancient world holding fast to the savage doctrine that madness, epilepsy, fever, and other diseases, are caused by demons possessing the patient -- a belief which is still that of half the human race, but which it has been the slow but successful ask of scientific pathology to supersede in the civilized world. In like manner, the history of judicial and administrative institutions may be appealed to for illustrations of the modes in which old social formations are reshaped to meet new requirements, new regulations are made, and new officers are constituted to perform the more complex duties of modern society, while from time to time institutions of past ages, which have lost their original purpose, and become obsolete and hurtful, are swept away.
--That processes of development similar to these had already been effective to raise culture from the savage to the barbaric level, two considerations especially tend to prove. First, there are numerous points in the culture even of rude races which are not explicable otherwise than on the theory of development. Thus, though difficult or superfluous arts may easily be lost, it is hard to imagine the abandonment of contrivances of practical daily utility, where little skill is required, and materials are easily accessible. Had the Australians or New Zealanders, for instance, ever possessed the potter's art, they could hardly have forgotten it. The inference that these tribes represent the stage of culture before the invention of pottery is confirmed by the absence of buried fragments of pottery in the districts they inhabit (Lubbock, in Report of British Association, Dundee, 1867, p. 121). The same races who were found making thread by the laborious process of twisting with the hand, would hardly have disused, if they had ever possesses it, so simple a labour-saving device as the spindle, which consists merely of a small stick weighted at one end; the spindle may, accordingly, be regarded as an instrument invented somewhere between the lowest and highest savage levels (Tylor, Early Hist. Of Mankind, p. 193). Again, many devices of civilization bear unmistakable marks of derivation from a lower source; thus the ancient Egyptian and Assyrian harps, which differ from ours in having no front pillar, appear certainly to owe this remarkable defect to having grown up through intermediate forms from the simple strung bow, the still used type of the most primitive stringed instrument (Engel, Music of the most Ancient Nations, pp. 17,30). In this way the history of numeral words furnishes actual proof of that independent intellectual progress among savage tribes which some writer shave rashly denied. Such words as hand, hands, foot, man, &c., are used as numerals signifying 5, 10, 15 20, &c., among many savage and barbaric peoples; thus Polyesian lima, i.e. "hand," mean 6; Greenlandish, arfersanek-pingasut, i.e. "on the other foot three," means 18; Tamanc, tevin itoto, i.e., "one man," means 20 &c., &c. The existence of such expressions demonstrates that the people who use them had originally no spoken names for these numbers, but one merely counted them by gesture on their fingers and toes in low savage fashion, till they obtained higher numerals by the inventive process of describing in words these counting-gestures (Tylor, in Journal Royal Inst., March 15, 1867; Primitive Culture, chap. vii.) Second, the process of "survival in culture" has caused the preservation in each stage of society of phenomena belonging to an earlier period, but kept up by force of custom into the later, thus supplying evidence of the modern condition being derived from the ancient. Thus the mitre over a English bishop's coat-of-arms is a survival which indicates him as the successor of bishops who actually wore mitres, while armorial bearings themselves, and the whole craft of heraldry, are survival bearing record of a state of warfare and social order whence our present state was by vast modification evolved. Evidence of this class, proving the derivation of modern civilization, not only from ancient barbarism, but beyond this, from primeval savagery, is immensely plentiful, especially in rites and ceremonies, where the survival of ancient habits is peculiarly favoured. Thus the modern Hindu though using civilized means for lighting his household fire, retains the savage "fire-drill" for obtaining fire by friction of wood when what he considers pure or sacred fire has to be produced for sacrificial purposes; while in Europe into modern times the same primitive process has been kept up in producing the sacred and magical "need-fire," which was lighted to deliver cattle from a murrain. Again, the funeral offerings of food, clothing, weapons, &c., to the dead are absolutely intelligible and purposeful among savage races, who believe that the souls of the departed are ethereal beings, capable of consuming food, and of receiving and using the souls or phantoms of any objects sacrificed for their use. The primitive philosophy to which these conceptions belong has to a great degree been discredited by modern science; yet the clear survivals of such ancient and savage rites may still be seen in Europe, where the Bretons leave the remains of the All Souls' supper on the table for the ghosts of the dead kinsfolk to partake of, and Russian peasants set out cakes for the ancestral manes on the ledge which supports the holy pictures, and make dough ladders to assist the ghosts of the dead to ascend out of their graves and start on their journey for the future world; while other provision for the same spiritual journey is made when the coin is still put in the hand of the corpse at an Irish wake. In like manner magic still exists in the civilized world as a survival from the savage and barbaric times to which it originally belongs, and in which is found the natural source and proper home of utterly savage practices still carried on by ignorant peasants in our own country, such as taking omens from the cries of animals, or bewitching an enemy by sticking full of pins and hanging up to shrivel in the smoke an image or other object, that similar destruction may fall on the hated person represented by the symbol (Tylor, Primitive Culture, chap. i., iii., iv., xi., xii.; Early Hist. Of Man, ch. Vi.)

To conclude, the comparative science of civilization thus not only generalizes the data of history, but supplements its information by laying down the lines of development along which the lowest prehistoric culture has gradually risen to the highest modern level. Among the most clearly marked of these lines is that which follows the succession of the stone, bronze, and iron ages. The stone age represents the early condition of mankind in general, and has remained in savage districts up to modern times, while the introduction of metals need not at once supersede the use of the old stone hatchets and arrows, which have often long continued in dwindling survival by the side of the new bronze and even iron ones. The bronze age had its most important place among ancient nations of Asia and Europe, and among them was only succeeded after many centuries by the iron age; while in other districts, such as Polynesia and Central and south Africa, and America (except Mexico and Peru), the native tribes were moved directly from the stone to the iron age without passing through the bronze age at all. although the three divisions of savage, barbaric, and civilized man do not correspond at all perfectly with the stone, bronze, and iron ages, the classification of civilization thus introduced by Nilsson and Thomsen has proved a guide of extraordinary value in arranging in their proper order of culture the nations of the Old World. Another great line f progress has been followed by tribes passing from the primitive state of the wild hunter, fisher, and fruit gatherer to that of the settled tiller of the soil, for to this change of habit may be plainly in great part traced the expansion of industrial arts and the creation of higher social and political institutions. These, again, have followed their proper lines along the course of time. Among such are the immense legal development by which the primitive law of personal vengeance passed gradually away, leaving but a few surviving relics in the modern civilized world, and being replaced by the higher doctrine that crime is an offence against society, to be repressed for the public good. Another vast social change has been that from the patriarchal condition, in which the unit is the family under the despotic rule of its head, to the systems in which individuals make up a society whose government is centralized in a chief or king. In the growth of systematic civilization, the art of writing has had an influence so intense, that of all tests to distinguish the barbaric from the civilized state, none is so generally effective as this, whether they have but the failing link with the past which mere memory furnishes, or can have recourse to written records of past history and written constitutions of present order. Lastly, still following the main lines of human culture, the primitive germs of religious institutions have to be traced in the childish faith and rude rites of savage life, and thence followed in their expansion into the vast systems administered by patriarchs and priests, henceforth taking under their charge the precepts of morality, and enforcing them under divine sanction, while also exercising in political life an authority beside or above the civil law. These illustrations may suffice to make it clear that although the science of culture is still but rudimentary and imperfect, it indicates the one sound and indispensable method for the study of human arts and institutions, that of placing each at its proper stage in a line of evolution, and explaining it by the action of new conditions upon the previous stage whence it was derived. (E. B. T.)

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The above article was written by Edward Burnett Tylor, LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., Professor of Anthropology, Oxford University; Keeper of the University Museum since 1883; author of Anahuac, Mexico and the Mexicans; Researches into the Early History of Mankind; Primitive Culture; Anthropology; and The Natural History of Religion.

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