Booklet: Early Societies

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  • Australopithecus Afarensis (Lucy)

    Found by the palaeontologist Richard Leakey at Afar in Ethiopia in 1974. Lucy is the most complete specimen of a species of bipedal ape so far found. It roamed Africa about four million years ago, suggesting that changes in the climate made it advantageous for some tree-dwelling primates to live on the ground.

    Lucy was about four feet tall; later versions of the australopithicus seem to have been taller and more robust and it is assumed that they are our earliest ancestors.

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  • Nakriatome Boy

    Found by Alan Walker in Kenya in 1984, Nakriatome boy was 5' 5" tall and about 12 years old. Modern in every way below the neck he had a brain capacity about two thirds that of present day homo sapiens.

    Date: about one and a half million years ago.

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  • Neanderthal Man

    These powerfully-built hardy individuals seem to have been a sub-species that evolved from homo erectus in Europe and the Middle East, half a million years ago.

    Traditionally pictured as hairy and brutish, they had brains as large as those of modern human beings. Did they have language? Almost certainly since the development of language seems to have been one of the causes of brain-growth.

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  • Modern Man (Otzi)

    Homo sapiens arrived in Europe from Africa about 100,000 years ago. Although taller and slimmer than Neanderthal Man he rapidly adapted to life in a colder climate.

    'Otzi' the Alpine shepherd had dark, shoulder length hair and probably a short, trimmed beard. His well-made leather clothes and complete survival kit show him to have been a member of a farming community which retained links with its hunting past.

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  • Palaeolithic Art

    The cave painting above, from the Niaux Cave in southern France was created by Stone Age hunters about 20,000 years ago. The artist was 'vivifying' an ancestral myth, not merely to tell a story but to celebrate the gift of language through which we come to know the world, other people and ourselves.

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  • Ancient Egyptian Statue

    The serenity of this Egyptian official, shown cross-legged with a roll of papyrus across his lap, contrasts strongly with the energy of Ancient Greek statues. Placed within a tomb it was intended as substitute body for the soul of the dead, enabling the soul of the deceased to share in offerings of food and wine brought to the tomb by the living.

    The earliest Egyptians had been buried out in the desert under simple mounds with the offerings laid at one end. The pyramids, huge as they are, represent no more than an elaboration of this simple concept.

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  • Ancient Rome

    The first of the world's great cities, Rome was always more than a place; it became an idea and a way of living to which anyone could aspire irrespective of race or origin.

    Within the city itself however the temptations of a life of ease overcame the desire for liberty. Eventually the only voice of freedom was that of the mob.

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  • A Legionary of the 2nd Century A.D.

    Recruited at the age of seventeen years and serving for at least twenty five, one of the keys to Roman success was the world's first professional soldier.

    Five thousand of these heavily armed infantry made up a legion. Their perfect discipline gave them long term superiority over enemies who were not prepared to undergo the same rigorous training.

    Like the battleships and aircraft carriers of a modern navy the legions were usually stationed some way behind the empire's frontier. In many of Rome's later wars the actual fighting was done by auxiliary troops raised from the tribes who lived along the empire's borders.

    As the ultimate weapon there were times when the legions suffered from inactivity. They also proved to be vulnerable when attacked on the march or when surrounded and unable to manouevre.

    However, the worst damage to Rome's armies was done during civil wars between rival emperors. Lack of a system for ensuring the smooth transfer of power proved to be the empire's greatest political weakness.

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  • The Lakenheath Horse Burial

    Featured in a BBC Meet the Ancestors programme this high status burial of a Saxon warlord dates from the time when the Romano-British elite in East Anglia was rapidly being supplanted by its own mercenaries.

    With his gilded horse harness and long slashing sword, the man seemed to step straight out of the pages of Beowulf.

    'Beowulf put on his coat of mail, not fearing for his life... With its links all turned by hand and adorned with skill, it knew how to guard his body, the bone-chamber... so that his foe's grasp could not harm him, could not squeeze out his mortal life... Not least amongst his mighty gear was Hrunting, one of the finest swords ever handed down; its iron blade was engraved with lethal leaf-like patterning, tempered with battle-blood. No man had failed who'd held it in his hands...'

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