Anthropology is a science of the origin and evolution of the human species.
An interesting question seems to be contrast between anthropology and archeology. The later is defined, in Wikipedia, as “the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture.” Then we hear that “archaeologists study human prehistory and history, from the development of the first stone tools at Lomekwi in East Africa 3.3 million years ago up until recent decades”. So, what’s the difference between “anthropology” and “archeology”? It seems that both study the development of the human species, as do other adjacent disciplines, such as “history” and “sociology”. Difference seems in the techniques used. Archeology we associate with digging for remnants of houses, caves, burial grounds, etc. It’s concern is “material culture”. And so we may ask: is there culture that is not material? Even the most “spiritual” forms of culture, such as music, are products of a particular epoch, played on a particular instrument, recorded in a particular way, etc.
History of anthropology seems to define this as a study of culture in general. Marco Polo (1254-1324) got the name of “the father of anthropology” for his descriptions of various human societies and people he met on his journey to China (Wikipedia). “Crucial to this study is the concept “culture,” which anthropologists defined both as a universal capacity and propensity for social learning, thinking, and acting … and as a particular adaptation to local conditions that takes the form of highly variable beliefs and practices”. A classical example of anthropology study is that of Bronisław Malinowski (1884–1942), who got stuck on the island of New Guinea, during WWI. “He made use of the time by undertaking far more intensive fieldwork than had been done by British anthropologists, and his classic ethnography, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) advocated an approach to fieldwork that became standard in the field: getting “the native’s point of view”. He “examined how social institutions functioned to satisfy individual needs.” However, a similar work, before Malinowski, was done Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay, 1846-1888, who also visited New Guinea, and lived with the inhabitants for a number of years. He left very interesting and important diaries about his visits.
It seems that the intent of any study, at its beginning, is to be a universal study, not confined to a particular field, or particular methods. It was with this spirit in mind that Miklouho-Maclay landed and lived voluntarily with savages for a number of years. Original definition of anthropology was “the natural history of society,” in the words of Herbert Spencer, or the “universal history of mankind”, the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment objective”, according to Wikipedia. Hence, this is the same as “universal history” or “Big History” attempted today.
In fact, this seems to happen to other studies, such as that of philosophy, history, and even mathematics. They start out as universal studies, e.g. Pythagoras’ approach to numbers, but through “scientific”, i.e. specialized, compartmentalized approach become “the Rump” that they are today.
As humans evolved out of the monkeys, “My Life Among the Wild Chimpanzees”, by Jane Goodall, 1963, is a very important study for understanding the origin of human species.
- Previously, it was thought that only humans make tools. However, Goodall writes: “I saw chimpanzees fashion and use crude implements”. Toolmaking Goodall defines as “modifying a natural object to make it suitable for a specific purpose”, for example, breaking off pieces of a twig so that it can be used to fish out termites. Toolmaking by chimps was confirmed in XXI century by German and British researches, who wrote that “monkeys have entered the stone age”.
Chimps, and other animals, have a sort of a language, which is a very important social tool. Goodall writes: “They do not, of course, have a language that can be compared with our own, but they do have a tremendous variety of calls, each one induced by a different emotion”. Expression of emotions is common both to animals and humans.
“Chimpanzees are nomadic within their territory, and they follow no fixed circuit… The distance and direction of their wanderings—they may travel as much as eight or ten miles in a day—depend on the seasonal availability of the fruits, leaves, and blossoms that form the bulk of their diet.” Primitive life style is nomadic. This is directed by the need to search for food. Future life style may also be nomadic. This is directed by the need to search for knowledge.
Chimps do not live live in “families”, but in groups of 3-6 individuals. “Such a group, I discovered from observation, may consist of adult males and females, of females and juveniles, of males only, or of a mixture of sexes and ages.” Sometimes, when there is plenty of food in the area, several groups may join together.
Composition of the groups is unstable, as an individual may wonder from group to group when 2 or more groups join together.
Chimps do not have exclusive sexual relationship. Goodall writes: “Relationships between mature and adolescent males are particularly harmonious—they do not even fight over females! I once saw seven males in succession mate with a single female, with no sign of jealousy or antagonism.”
“The chimpanzee life cycle is not very different from ours—five years of infancy, then a period of childhood, followed by adolescence from about 9 to 14 years. Old age sets in at about 35 years” (from “Life and Death at Gombe”, 1979, Jane Goodall).
Education of a chimp consists in games which the young make to model the behavior of adults: “infants still sleeping with their mothers at night make little nests as a sort of game, and very instructive play it is. An infant of about eighteen months finds it difficult to bend in even a couple of twigs; each time it reaches out for a second one, the first springs up again. But by the time the young one is ready to sleep alone, it has mastered the nest-making technique”. This gives us clues as to what the good education may be. It is to have the young live side-by-side with the adults who are engaged in productive and creative activities. The young wily-nilly will learn what the adults know and practice.
From tool-making chimps, humans evolved into savages and barbarians. This period of human pre-history is best described by L.H. Morgan in his book “Ancient Society”, 1877. The man went to live among the savage American Indians for a large number of years, and then corresponded with other men who also associated with savages on other continents. The result was a monumental study. Some of the important observations which Morgan made consist in the following:
Human society evolves through different stages: a. Savagery, b. Barbarism, c. Civilization. These stages are separated by: a. different inventions, b. different modes of organization of human society.
While Savagery is marked by such inventions as fire, bow and arrow, pottery, and Barbarism is marked by such inventions as agriculture, domestication of animals, metalworking, beginning of civilization is marked by the use of alphabet and writing. This is a qualitative jump in human knowledge. We can hypothesize that any significant jump in the accumulation and use of human knowledge brings about a significant jump in the mode of organization of human society. Here, it may be useful to observe “A History of the World in 100 Objects” to have an idea of how the techniques of production evolved over history of our species.
Development of knowledge and inventions in human society brings about development of the forms of “family”. Types of families are: (1) The consanguine family – intermarriage of brothers and sisters in a group. (2) Punaluan family – “the intermarriage of several brothers to each other’s wives in a group; and of several sisters to each other’s husbands in a group”. (3) Syndyasmian family – “the pairing of a male with a female under the form of marriage, but without an exclusive cohabitation”. Transitional between group marriage and monogamy. (4) Patriarchal family – another transitional form. One man is married to several wives. (5) Monogamian family – “the marriage of one man with one woman, with an exclusive cohabitation; the latter constituting the essential of the institution”. The first two types of organization belong to savagery, the next two to barbarism, and the 5th to beginning of civilization.
The growth of institution of private property broke up the group marriage in favor of monogamy. Same thing is happening today in reverse: monogamy is broken up in favor of group marriage. Main factor which contributes to this is the public nature of information and knowledge, due to Internet.
Also important to understanding the origin of human society and politics is “The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State”, by F. Engels, 1884.
- Resume: We can observe the early human society by studying the social patterns of the monkeys, as well as various primitive tribes. The importance of this lies in the law of dialectic, according to which the future is a kind of repetition of the past, only on a higher level. Observations of the early human society reveal that primitive humans were tool-making animals with some degree of development of a language. They were nomads, living not in “families” but in unstable groups. They didn’t have exclusive sexual relationships. The young were learning the behavior of adults through play. Forms of organization of society evolved together with evolution of knowledge and inventions. As art began to develop before writing, we have the first records of primitive human beings in the form of cave paintings, the oldest of which are 40-50 thousand years old.