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“How It All Began” by Brockway


The anthropological origins of human development, ranging from prehistoric times to ancient civilizations, is an important but highly debatable topic. There are numerous disagreements about methods to studying fossils, the evolutionary process of homo sapiens, and the introduction of language. In the chapter How It All Began, Brockway claims that human civilization is ultimately split into two distinct eras of pre-and post-literacy, discussing the process of how humanity arrived at this point. This essay is in agreement with that claim and will attempt to examine Brockway’s arguments to support it.

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Two Lines of Inquiry

It is commonly accepted from a biological anthropology perspective and a human paleontology perspective that the Homo sapiens which identifies modern humans evolved from mammals and primates in the Animal Kingdom. Fossil evidence suggests the appearance of the first hominids in East Africa 5 to 8 million years ago, which is corroborated by ancestral fossils such as “Lucy” aged 3.6 million years old. The hominids were present in several species, with Homo Habilis being the direct ancestor of modern humans (Brockway 19). However, there is disagreement regarding the evolutionary chain and when it occurred.

Two lines of inquiry using various methodologies exist. The genetic approach, known as “Noah’s Ark” uses molecular biology to study evolution. They believe modern humans evolved from their ancestors approximately 200,000 years ago. Citing the objectivity of genomes available to identify biological information, this viewpoint identifies the origin of a woman nicknamed “Eve” living in Africa at this time. The other approach is fossil study by paleoanthropologists, known as the “Candelabra” school.

They argue that it is unlikely that a single group of hunter-gatherers replaced all others around the world in a short span of 200,000 years. While this perspective agrees on the origin of human predecessors in Africa, the school believes Homo sapiens evolved around 12,000 years ago after the last Ice Age in the Upper Paleolithic era (Brockway 21).

The author of this paper believes that both schools of thought can be correct, but to determine the best outcome, it is important to combine methods. That is due to genome tracking requiring the context of fossils to portray a picture of events, while paleontologists need the accuracy of genome testing. While there may be disagreement on the period of the origin of Homo sapiens, the general timetables are set, and more in-depth analysis evidence should be done in collaboration. However, the author agrees with the “Candelabra” school that it is highly unlikely that a single group replaced all others across the globe. While it is common in nature, it occurs on smaller scales and populations than indicated in this scenario.

Anthropological Development

According to the chapter, human anthropological development was a gradual process, which began with fire. Fire is inherently complex to start in outside conditions and to maintain. However, fire played a role in decreasing the need for nomadic lifestyles and a tribal way of living. In turn, this led to the formation of primitive language, religion, and culture, demonstrated by artifacts and cave drawings from the time (Brockway 26).

One can agree with the premise of prehistoric cultural development since fire was vital to the survival of hunter-gatherers. Furthermore, it was used in producing some of the first tools and materials which are found by archaeologists. Technology is the total of techniques that members of society possess. Therefore, in this case, the technology modified behavioral trends regarding the collection of raw materials, their processing, making of tools, building shelter, and creating art. Anthropological development began with fire and with each epoch progressed to more complex tools.

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Literacy is considered the foundation of human civilization. It came about through a tedious process of communication and the establishment of beliefs to tell stories through symbols and pictures. As humans evolved, the intellectual capacities increased leading to the development of primitive language forms. The first cultures were formed through these aspects, creating religious followings and describing deities that had similar characteristics in different parts of the world. Eventually, the early forms of communication developed into writing and numeracy, largely due to the functional needs of settlements to keep track of new information and discoveries, and to implement governance. The chapter argues that, at this point, civilization leaped forward, with the primary distinction from previous eras being the introduction of literacy (Brockway 38).

Literacy is vital in many aspects. First, as described above, it allows improving communication and governance on a larger scale. With literacy, several new fields appeared such as law creation and recorded history.

Furthermore, literacy can serve as both, a tool of liberation and enslavement. In societies of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, writing was used to institute state control over inventory and tax, while the Greek civilization took advantage of literacy for the development of philosophy and sciences. However, it can be argued that literacy does not necessarily constitute culture as some civilizations such as the Incas had a rich culture without any forms of writing (Sherefkin). Nevertheless, from a technological utilitarian perspective, literacy contributed significantly towards anthropological evolution, taking humanity away from the prehistoric era.


The study of biological anthropology is important as it allows us to examine the concept of evolution and human development through fossils and artifacts. While seemingly trivial, the careful study of fossils helps anthropologists to correlate evolutional and physical developments with cultural and historical changes in history. Comparing humans with biologically similar creatures of the past and today, such as chimpanzees, for example, may provide vital knowledge about the foundations of society and primitive instincts to human psychology and behavior. In turn, the study of paleontology helps to understand the human ability to adapt to various physical environments and social structures (“Anthropology”).

Gathering comprehensive data in this field can help experts from various industries to understand and create progress in the development of modern civilization in a more comprehensive way, emphasizing responsible evolution as technological and biological sciences are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

The attempt to establish literacy as a transitional factor for human development is important as well. In the chapter, it is argued that literacy was developed alongside other socio-evolutionary dimensions such as the development of religion (Brockway 27). Inherently, it indicated a level of sophistication and intelligence that signified the transition of mankind from primitive nomads to settled and prosperous civilizations. Literacy had become the key to anthropological evolution and can indicate similar patterns in modern-day development which can aid in the determination of future evolutionary trends.


Human evolution and anthropology are a complex issue that is debatable by experts in the field. There are two distinct ways of approaching studying fossils which drastically changes the evolutionary origin of mankind. As the timeline continues, anthropological development took on forms of religion, communication, and language, eventually reaching the concept of literacy that greatly enhanced human intelligence and laid the groundwork for civilization.

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Works Cited

Anthropology.National Geographic. 2017. Web.

Brockway, Robert W. Myth from the Ice Age to Mickey Mouse. SUNY Press, 1993.

Sherefkin, Jack. “Literacy — What is it Good For?The New York Public Library. 2012. Web.

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