|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
OUR EARLIEST ANCESTORS
 WE know very little about the first "true" men. We have
never seen their pictures. In the deepest layer of clay of an
ancient soil we have sometimes found pieces of their bones.
These lay buried amidst the broken skeletons of other animals
that have long since disappeared from the face of the earth.
Anthropologists (learned scientists who devote their lives to
the study of man as a member of the animal kingdom) have
taken these bones and they have been able to reconstruct our
earliest ancestors with a fair degree of accuracy.
THE GROWTH OF THE HUMAN SKULL
The great-great-grandfather of the human race was a very
ugly and unattractive mammal. He was quite small, much
 smaller than the people of today. The heat of the sun and the
biting wind of the cold winter had coloured his skin a dark
brown. His head and most of his body, his arms and legs too,
were covered with long, coarse hair. He had very thin but
strong fingers which made his hands look like those of a monkey.
His forehead was low and his jaw was like the jaw of a
wild animal which uses its teeth both as fork and knife. He
wore no clothes. He had seen no fire except the flames of the
rumbling volcanoes which filled the earth with their smoke
and their lava.
He lived in the damp blackness of vast forests, as the
pygmies of Africa do to this very day. When he felt the
pangs of hunger he ate raw leaves and the roots of plants or
he took the eggs away from an angry bird and fed them to his
own young. Once in a while, after a long and patient chase,
he would catch a sparrow or a small wild dog or perhaps a
rabbit. These he would eat raw for he had never discovered
that food tasted better when it was cooked.
During the hours of day, this primitive human being
prowled about looking for things to eat.
When night descended upon the earth, he hid his wife and
his children in a hollow tree or behind some heavy boulders,
for he was surrounded on all sides by ferocious animals and
when it was dark these animals began to prowl about, looking
for something to eat for their mates and their own young, and
they liked the taste of human beings. It was a world where
you must either eat or be eaten, and life was very unhappy
because it was full of fear and misery.
PREHISTORY AND HISTORY
In summer, man was exposed to the scorching rays of the
sun, and during the winter his children would freeze to death
in his arms. When such a creature hurt itself, (and hunting
animals are forever breaking their bones or spraining their
ankles) he had no one to take care of him and he must die a
Like many of the animals who fill the Zoo with their
strange noises, early man liked to jabber. That is to say, he
endlessly repeated the same unintelligible gibberish because it
 pleased him to hear the sound of his voice. In due time he
learned that he could use this guttural noise to warn his fellow
beings whenever danger threatened and he gave certain little
shrieks which came to mean "there is a tiger!" or "here come
five elephants." Then the others grunted something back at
him and their growl meant, "I see them," or "let us run away
and hide." And this was probably the origin of all language.
But, as I have said before, of these beginnings we know
so very little. Early man had no tools and he built himself
no houses. He lived and died and left no trace of his existence
except a few collar-bones and a few pieces of his skull.
These tell us that many thousands of years ago the world was
inhabited by certain mammals who were quite different from
all the other animals—who had probably developed from another
unknown ape-like animal which had learned to walk on
its hind-legs and use its fore-paws as hands—and who were
most probably connected with the creatures who happen to be
our own immediate ancestors.
It is little enough we know and the rest is darkness.
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