It took Columbus more than four weeks to sail from Spain to the West Indian Islands. We on the other hand cross the ocean in sixteen hours in a flying machine.
Five hundred years ago, three or four years were necessary to copy a book by hand. We possess linotype machines and rotary presses and we can print a new book in a couple of days.
We understand a great deal about anatomy and chemistry and mineralogy and we are familiar with a thousand different branches of science of which the very name was unknown to the people of the past.
In one respect, however, we are quite as ignorant as the most primitive of men—we do not know where we came from. We do not know how or why or when the human race began its career upon this Earth. With a million facts at our disposal we are still obliged to follow the example of the fairy-stories and begin in the old way:
"Once upon a time there was a man."
This man lived hundreds of thousands of years ago.
What did he look like?
We do not know. We never saw his picture. Deep in the clay of an ancient soil we have sometimes found a few pieces of his skeleton. They were hidden amidst masses of bones of animals that have long since disappeared from the face of the earth. We have taken these bones and they allow us to reconstruct the strange creature who happens to be our ancestor.
The great-great-grandfather of the human race was a very ugly and unattractive mammal. He was quite small. The heat of the sun and the biting wind of the cold winter had colored his skin a dark brown. His head and most of his body were covered with long 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.
When he felt the pangs of hunger he ate raw leaves and the roots of plants or he stole the eggs from the nest of an angry bird.
Once in a while, after a long and patient chase, he managed to catch a sparrow or a small wild dog or perhaps a rabbit These he would eat raw, for prehistoric man did not know that food could be cooked.
His teeth were large and looked like the teeth of many of our own animals.
During the hours of day this primitive human being went about in search of food for himself and his wife and his young.
At night, frightened by the noise of the beasts, who were in search of prey, he would creep into a hollow tree or he would hide himself behind a few big boulders, covered with moss and great, big spiders.
In summer he was exposed to the scorching rays of the sun.
During the winter he froze with cold.
When he hurt himself (and hunting animals are for ever breaking their bones or spraining their ankles) he had no one to take care of him.
He had learned how to make certain sounds to warn his fellow-beings whenever danger threatened. In this he resembled a dog who barks when a stranger approaches. In many other respects he was far less attractive than a well-bred house pet.
Altogether, early man was a miserable creature who lived in a world of fright and hunger, who was surrounded by a thousand enemies and who was for ever haunted by the vision of friends and relatives who had been eaten up by wolves and bears and the terrible sabre-toothed tiger.