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Development of Culture

The distinctive human way of life that we call culture did not have a single definite beginning. This is to say that human beings did not suddenly appear on earth. Culture evolved slowly just as anthropoids gradually took on more human form.

The earliest tools cannot be dated precisely. Australopithecus may have used stones as weapons as long as five million years ago. Stones that have been used as weapon do not differ systematically from other stones, however, and there is no way to tell for sure. The first stones that show reliable evidence of having been shaped as tools trace back some 500,000 to 600,000 years. The use of fire can be dated from 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Tools of bone had come into existence by 100,000 B.C. the age of Neanderthals. The Neanderthals also apparently had some form of languages and buried their deal with an elaborateness that indicates the possibility of religious ceremonies. Cro-Magnon, dating from 35,000 years ago, was a superior biological specimen and had a correspondingly more elaborate culture. Their cave paintings have been found. They also made jewellery of shells and teeth, and carved statuettes of women that emphasized pregnancy and fertility. They made weapons of bone, horn, and ivory, and used needle in the fabrication of garments.

Thus, a striking parallel appears between the evolution of Homo sapiens and the development of culture. The parallel cannot be drawn in detail because all inferences to the period before the dawn of history must be made from material artifacts, and these tell little about the total way of life of the people who used them. Moreover, the parallel between biological and cultural evolution should not be overdrawn. Cro-Magnon's brain capacity, for example, was large, but factors having to do with the growth of culture itself were sufficient to prevent any quantum leap in the development of learned behaviour.