The term ‘savagery’ is not a description as with the term ‘primitive’. It refers solely to a certain stage of development, to a particular level of economy or technology. Some 500,000 to 250,000 years ago mankind emerged in the form of Homo erectus. A rare species, essentially a hunter and food gatherer, living in many respects like any other predatory animal – a parasite on nature. These prehistoric hominids gained their subsistence by catching the natural products of their environment. With regards to terminology, and in order to avoid confusion, the hunter-gathering economy corresponds to Lewis henry Morgan’s concept of savagery. For approximately 98% of humankind’s existence on earth, this form of economy provided the sole basis of human sustenance. The period of savagery corresponds also to the archaeological period of the Old Stone age or Palaeolithic, and to the geological era of the Upper Pleistocene.
The epoch of savagery refers to the early stage of the development of the human species. The whole period of savagery included the level of existence of all pre-sapiens hominids and about 90% of the existence of Homo sapiens. The early period of savagery was the primeval state of pre-sapiens hominids, living in their natural habitat, collecting roots, shoots, berries and small animals. Initially, they inhabited the regions of the savannahs, tropical and sub-tropical forests where their diet necessitated a wide ranging nomadic existence that made a large area of land an imperative. These original populations were few and far between, consisting of probably no more than 20 or so individuals. In such small groups there would have been little basis for an organised division of labour, other than between the sexes, especially in view of the fact that their technological and cultural level was only rudimentary.
During this stage articulate speech made its appearance, which implies the beginnings of social labour and organisation.. The tools and implements of these pre-sapiens hominids, as excavations have shown, consisted of sticks and stones – but by the time of the appearance of Homo erectus there had developed rough fashioned stone choppers, as well as evidence of the use of fire, but no pottery. Coverings and crude garments consisted of grasses, tree bark and animal skins, but no advance to textile manufacture and use was not possible yet. Domestic animals were not known, wild animals were definitely a source of food. It is also at this period of time that there developed the utilisation of fish and such activity implies that rivers and shores were followed in pursuit of such a food resource, thereby facilitating the movement and migration of these primitive groups.
Fish utilisation which included shell-fish, crabs and small aquatic animals, thereby, indicates the use of fire to make the flesh more amenable – fish food and fire being, according to Engels, complimentary. This stage of the epoch of savagery can be termed the middle stage of the main characteristic of the period – the invention of primitive weapons. In terms of materials and techniques of manufacture this period of development is also known as the Lower Palaeolithic era. Personal property may have existed in regard to sticks, weapons, decorations, baskets and bags – but never with food. The Neanderthal people, the progressive type of which were probably Cro-Magnon man’s immediate precursors and contemporaries no doubt possessed all these accoutrements. The later stone tools were better made by using the flaking technique much in advance of the Homo erectus technology. This age of the lower and middle stages of savagery takes us up to the end of the Lower Palaeolithic period, including the typical Mousterian Culture of the European ‘Classical’ Neanderthals. The ‘Classicals’ were confined to the European sub-continent by the last glaciation and eventually became an extinct type, whereas ‘progressive’ Neanderthal types possibly developed into Homo sapiens in the more southern ice-free regions. The modern classification of hominids describes the progressive Neanderthals as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis .
The higher stage of savagery can be equated with the Upper Palaeolithic period – the dawn of Homo sapiens. This stage began about 70,000 years ago and continued until the era or Barbarism some 8,000 to 10,000 year ago. Characteristic of this period is that the hunting of wild game as a regular sourse of food became possible due to the invention of the bow and arrow. Hunting therefore became a regular occupation.
The cultures existing at this time displayed great variety and as of yet are still imperfectly known. Evidence of various groups from small areas enables us to distinguish distinct phases of development. Each phase possesses its own cultural characteristics and features, but we do know that the different types of vessels, artistic styles, ways of life, did not correspond to the physical variants as shown by excavated skeletal remains. The Grimaldi skeletons from southern France possessed the Gravettian culture in common with the European Cro-Magnons, but the interesting point is that the Grimaldi people were reputedly Negroid.
The Homo sapiens of this period had developed far superior stone implements to those of their non-sapient ancestors. They modelled in clay but had not made the step to fired pottery. They employed animal skins for clothing, made bow strings and harpoon lines from sinews, as well as using spears and arrows that were tipped in flint or bone. Homo sapiens as a species even then evidenced having much skill, the invention of the bow and arrow indicating the presence of, and accumulation of experience that was directed by an acute intellectual ability. The consequence was the appearance of ever more complex innovations, and a better grasp of their environment.
Humans remained in this pre-agricultural phase for tens of thousands of years, continuing to survive as a hunter-gatherer, accumulating experience and knowledge, moving towards the time when another leap would be made – a leap that resulted in the Neolithic Revolution and its primitive agricultural basis of society. Palaeolithic people of the upper stage of savagery were probably still seasonal nomads, their migrations motivated by the movement of wild animals. In the winter months they probably occupied caves and typical huts that were built over ground hollows, or deliberately dug out holes. The group was still only small, with an average component of some fifty members.
Prior to the Neolithic transformation humans passed through was is called the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, the first stage of Barbarism. The Mesolithic was a relatively short term of history during which humans domesticated the wild dog, fished and hunted with nets and hooks, built huts, canoes and sledges. This period is marked by the fact than the economy was one predominated by the appropriation of the natural products that were readily available in the surrounding locality. The accumulated quantitative experience and knowledge of the primitive barbarian of the Mesolithic times is a qualitative change, a social leap, that blossomed out as the Neolithic stage of primitive agriculture. Savagery had passed into history, as pre-sapiens hominids, and modern man had become the lower barbarian. This great change took place approximately 8,000 years ago.