|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 |
PREHISTORIC MAN BEGINS TO MAKE THINGS FOR HIMSELF
 EARLY man did not know what time meant. He kept
no records of birthdays or wedding anniversaries or the hour
of death. He had no idea of days or weeks or even years.
But in a general way he kept track of the seasons for he had
noticed that the cold winter was invariably followed by the mild
spring—that spring grew into the hot summer when fruits
ripened and the wild ears of corn were ready to be eaten and
that summer ended when sudden gusts of wind swept the leaves
from the trees and a number of animals were getting ready
for the long hibernal sleep.
But now, something unusual and rather frightening had
happened. Something was the matter with the weather. The
warm days of summer had come very late. The fruits had
not ripened. The tops of the mountains which used to be covered
with grass now lay deeply hidden underneath a heavy
burden of snow.
Then, one morning, a number of wild people, different
from the other creatures who lived in that neighbourhood, came
wandering down from the region of the high peaks. They
looked lean and appeared to be starving. They uttered sounds
which no one could understand. They seemed to say that
they were hungry. There was not food enough for both the
old inhabitants and the newcomers. When they tried to stay
 more than a few days there was a terrible battle with claw-like
hands and feet and whole families were killed. The others fled
back to their mountain slopes and died in the next blizzard.
But the people in the forest were greatly frightened. All
the time the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder than
they ought to have been.
Finally, in a gap between two high hills, there appeared a
tiny speck of greenish ice. Rapidly it increased in size. A
gigantic glacier came sliding downhill. Huge stones were
being pushed into the valley. With the noise of a dozen thunderstorms
torrents of ice and mud and blocks of granite suddenly
tumbled among the people of the forest and killed them
while they slept. Century old trees were crushed into kindling
wood. And then it began to snow.
It snowed for months and months. All the plants died and
the animals fled in search of the southern sun. Man hoisted
his young upon his back and followed them. But he could not
travel as fast as the wilder creatures and he was forced to
choose between quick thinking or quick dying. He seems to
have preferred the former for he has managed to survive the
terrible glacial periods which upon four different occasions
threatened to kill every human being on the face of the earth.
In the first place it was necessary that man clothe himself
lest he freeze to death. He learned how to dig holes and cover
them with branches and leaves and in these traps he caught
bears and hyenas, which he then killed with heavy stones and
whose skins he used as coats for himself and his family.
Next came the housing problem. This was simple. Many
animals were in the habit of sleeping in dark caves. Man now
followed their example, drove the animals out of their warm
homes and claimed them for his own.
Even so, the climate was too severe for most people and
the old and the young died at a terrible rate. Then a genius
bethought himself of the use of fire. Once, while out hunting,
he had been caught in a forest-fire. He remembered that he
had been almost roasted to death by the flames. Thus far fire
had been an enemy. Now it became a friend. A dead tree
 was dragged into the cave and lighted by means of smouldering
branches from a burning wood. This turned the cave into
a cozy little room.
And then one evening a dead chicken fell into the fire. It
was not rescued until it had been well roasted. Man discovered
that meat tasted better when cooked and he then and there
discarded one of the old habits which he had shared with the
other animals and began to prepare his food.
In this way thousands of years passed. Only the people
with the cleverest brains survived. They had to struggle day
and night against cold and hunger. They were forced to invent
tools. They learned how to sharpen stones into axes and how
to make hammers. They were obliged to put up large stores
of food for the endless days of the winter and they found that
clay could be made into bowls and jars and hardened in the
rays of the sun. And so the glacial period, which had threatened
to destroy the human race, became its greatest teacher
because it forced man to use his brain.
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