6. How the Earliest Men in Europe Lived. How long men have lived in Europe no one can say, for they dwelt there thousands of years before anybody knew how to write or to leave records. Of the wars, the journeys, the adventures of these earliest men we therefore know nothing. But of their character and way of life we can learn at least a little, for their weapons, their tools, their graves, even their pictures rudely scratched on bits of bone, have been found in many places.

Rough savages they were at first, shivering in caves and woods, fighting tooth and nail with fierce animals like the mammoth and the cave bear, now starving wretchedly for days, now cramming their stomachs in savage feasting upon some slain beast. But ignorant and fierce as these shaggy cave-men were, they did not stand still. The earliest tools discovered are of rough stone, clumsy, and Form. Later they found out how to shape and polish broken pieces of stone into arrowheads, axes, and hammers, --poor and weak indeed, but better than nothing. Finally metals were discovered: first bronze, long afterwards iron. With tools and weapons made of these metals, men became indeed masters over beasts and forests.

As the centuries rolled past, great inventions came, --how, we shall never know; perhaps it was often by accident. Men found how to make and use fire. They invented the bow and arrow. They learned to till the fields in rude ways. They tamed some of the animals. They learned to weave cloth. To early men, savage and ignorant, these things must have meant as much as did the discovery of the steam engine and the telegraph to people of our own time. When real history begins the people of Europe were no longer savages, though still barbarous and rough.

7.Civilization Begins in Egypt. But long before Europeans had become really civilized both Africa and Asia saw nations appear which led the way to knowledge. Almost opposite Greece, to the south, in Africa, lies the wonderful land of Egypt. Here the traveler sees the remains of huge temples covered with mysterious picture writing, of strange statues and monuments, and above all, those gigantic pyramids which still fill the mind with awe. The men who built some of these things lived at least five thousand years ago, and probably long before that.

In early times men, if they are to learn, must have a fertile country, so that all their time need not be spent in seeking food.

They must also be protected from their foes by mountains or deserts. Egypt both protected and nourished its people. On almost every side stretch wastes of sand, impassable for the armies of that early day. But though rain hardly ever falls in most of this strange land, Egypt itself is no desert. Through its heart runs the great river Nile. Every year this mighty stream rises in flood, overflows the fields which lie along its banks, and then goes down again, leaving the land covered with rich mud, just the thing to produce great crops of grain. The ancient Egyptians, moreover, knew how, with cuning skill, to catch the water of the Nile in reservoirs, and to direct it by means of ditches to points where it would do the most good.

Of the early history of Egypt modern people long knew very little that they could be sure was true. The great Egyptian monumentswere indeed covered with strange black and red picture writing, which seemed to tell a great story, but no one could read it.

But at last a queer black stone was dug up near one of the mouths of the Nile. This "Rosetta Stone" was covered with Egyptian writing, but below this was other writing in the Greek language which many scholars could read. While people believed the Egyptian writing and the Greek writing said the same thing, still, though many tried, none could discover how to read the Egyptian pictures. Finally however, a great French scholar solved the puzzle, and thanks to him we can now know exactly what the old Egyptians wished to tell us of their kings and queens, of their wars and victories, of the strange gods whom they worshiped.

For over four thousand years ancient Egypt flourished under its kings. The most famous of them all was the great warrior Rameses II. During most of this long time the Egyptian people in general seem to have been happy, yet they were not free, as we are, to do as they wished. The will of the king was supreme. Moreover, the people were divided into classes, each of which had its special privileges and duties, -- nobles, priests, government officers, soldiers, merchants, workmen, and peasants.( Of the lower classes the lot was often very hard indeed, for they must pay heavy taxes and sometimes work hard for the king without pay.

The Egyptians were a very religious people. Their priests, who were the best educated men, had great influence. The common people were most superstitious, and paid a foolish reverence to such things as palm trees, cats, goats, and crocodiles; the more intelligent had higher notions, though all believed in a great number of gods and goddesses of whose power and works strange tales were told. Yet the Egyptians believed in a life after death, when the good were rewarded and the bad punished. They thought that the souls of the dead would one day come back to dwell again in their bodies. Therefore they took great pains to embalm the bodies of those who died so that their souls might not be without a dwelling place. With such wonderful skill did they do their work that in our own times the "mummies" of many of their great men and women have been found, wrapped in their "mummy cloth" and perfectly preserved. We can even look on the face of the fierce Rameses II, who died over three thousand years ago.

Many other important things the men of ancient Egypt knew. They studied the starry skies, and learned much about the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman