Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

In this part of the book our primary concern is with civilization. Civilization is a continuum and cannot be understood unless justice is done to all its aspects. This is true even though some of these or perhaps only one may rise to extraordinary importance in particular instances. No adequate idea could be given of Tsarist Russia by describing its agricultural activities alone, nor of ante-war Germany by sketching only its political structure, nor of France by presenting a picture of its artistic attainments. The different aspects of civilization interlock and intertwine, presenting -- in a word -- a continuum, which must be studied as an organic unit. This applies to modern society and even more emphatically to primitive society.

That is why the realities of early life remain wholly foreign to a reader, well versed though he may be in history and sociology, as long as his only sources of information are books like E. B. Tylor "Primitive Culture" or N. W. Thomas ' "The Native Tribes of Australia." Tylor's is a very great book, but early civilization appears in it in the form of disjointed fragments of custom, thought and belief, and the task of rearranging these fragments into a picture of primitive culture is wholly beyond the powers of a nonprofessional reader. Thomas' book is of a very different order: he deals with only one continent and attempts to cover all aspects of civilization. But Australia is the home of many tribes, and their cultures comprise many differences. Thus, the meshes of Thomas' descriptive network must be spread so wide that concrete reality, once more, slips through them.

The only way, then, to know early civilization is to study it in the wholeness of its local manifestations. This task will be attempted in the following five chapters. But first two possible queries must be answered : to what extent do the

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