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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the process of the historical-evolutionary formation of the human physical type and the initial development of human labor, speech, and society. The investigation of the factors, pathways, and laws of this process is the key problem of anthropogenesis, one of the principal divisions of anthropology. Some of the most important questions dealt with by anthropogenesis are the site (original homeland) and time of the appearance of the most ancient people, or hominids, the direct ancestry of humans, the basic stages of anthropogenesis and the motive forces of anthropogenesis at different stages in its progress, the relationship between the evolution of the human physical type and the historical progress of human culture, and the development of primitive society and speech. The solution of the core problems and the specific problems of anthropogenesis is approached and achieved with the aid of data from anthropology (particularly paleoanthropology) and allied sciences, such as evolutionary morphology and embryology; primatology; the paleontology of primates; psychology and physiology; the geology of the Paleogene, Neocene, and Anthropogene; the archaeology of the Paleolithic; ethnography; and linguistics. The methodological basis of the analysis and synthesis of materials drawn upon for the solution of problems in anthropogenesis is laid by C. Darwin’s theory of evolution, and, of major importance, the philosophy of dialectical materialism, and—as the concrete manifestation of dialectical materialism in this field—the labor theory of anthropogenesis developed by F. Engels in the 1870’s. The central concept is that the principal factor in the progressive evolution and historical development of the human being in the process of anthropogenesis was labor activity carried out collectively at different stages in the development of society.

The preparation and application of tools of labor and the acquisition of consciousness of labor gave early humans steadily increasing possibilities for actively exerting an effect on nature and gradually eliminating the effect of biological factors in evolution. Here we find the qualitative difference between anthropogenesis and the evolution of the organic world, the latter being governed exclusively by naturally occurring phenomena. K. Marx and F. Engels repeatedly stressed the fact that labor and productive activity lie at the root of human history and of the social combinations and associations of human individuals—that is, society. “The first historical act on the part of those individuals which differentiated them from the animals was not thinking, but rather beginning to produce their necessities of life” (Soch., 2nd ed. vol. 3, p. 19, footnote).

The creator of the materialist theory of the origin of humanity, C. Darwin, also assigned importance to labor in anthropogenesis, but he was unable to evaluate its role as the principal motive force in that process and could not see the dialectical “jump” in anthropogenesis which signals the transition from the evolution of an animal to the history of a social being—the human being. The most fruitful aspect of the Darwinian theory of anthropogenesis lies in the synthesis of the data drawn from different sciences and the historical continuity with the views of his predecessors. In particular, Darwin took cognizance of the views put forth by the British geologist C. Lyell on the great antiquity of human existence and of the hypothesis advanced by the French naturalist J. Lamarck on the origin of humanity from a developed form of quadrumana—that is, apes. Darwin’s theory is often referred to as the simian theory of evolution because it derives the origin of the human from fossil higher-order (hominid) apes. The similarity between modern humans and modern anthropoid apes, particularly some African species (chimpanzee and gorilla), is manifested in many anatomical traits, in the structure of their respective embryos, and in their biochemical and physiological traits. This, as well as data on the paleontology of primates, offers serious confirmation of Darwin’s theory. By proving that the precursor of humanity was one species of ape, Darwin also laid the foundation for the unity of the human species and the common origin of the human races (monophylety). He suggested that ancient people may have originated in Africa.

The question of the homeland of the earliest humans has not been definitively resolved in anthropology. Some investigators hold the view that people originated in Africa, and others place the origin in the southern Eurasian landmass. There are scientists who maintain that the so-called Mediterranean region, encompassing northeast Africa and southern Europe and Asia, is the place where the human species originated. Australia, northern Eurasia, and the Americas are absolutely excluded as possible birthplaces of the human species. In Australia the evolutionary development of mammals did not go beyond marsupials, and northern Eurasia and the Americas did not provide habitats for the higher-order apes.

Anthropogenesis as a unified process in the evolutionary development of the human being and the historical shaping of society can be divided into several stages. The successions of these stages are due to the most significant qualitative transformations in human labor activities, in human morphology and consciousness, and in the structure of human social organization. The approach to the problem of anthropogenesis by stages is a major contribution made by Soviet scientists—anthropologists, archaeologists, historians of primitive society, and philosophers. Most researchers distinguish three stages in anthropogenesis: (1) the anthropoid ancestors of humans—highly developed bipedal primates making systematic use of natural objects as tools (sticks, stones, and the fragments of animal bones); (2) the most ancient hominids and ancient hominids (archanthropoi and palaeoan-thropoi) with whom the appearance of artificially fashioned tools of labor, and the increasing complication of those tools within certain limits, are associated—this being the initial form of social organization; and (3) people manifesting a modern physical structure (neoanthropoi)—this stage having begun in the epoch of the Upper Paleolithic. The stages are of different durations: the first stage began 2 or 3 million years ago, the second began about a million years ago, and the third began 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. The first stage of anthropogenesis was preceded by an intense evolution of the higher apes in different directions. Different forms of tree-dwelling and ground-dwelling anthropoid apes made their appearance, inhabiting Europe, southern and Southeast Asia, and Africa. Some of them are characterized by traits similar to human traits. These include the Ramapithecus, Oreopithecus, and Dryopithecus. Many scientists regard the latter as the precursors of the gorilla, chimpanzee, and human being. The time when they flourished is known as the Miocene (20 to 25 million years ago); there are some researchers who maintain that the earliest precursors of humans appeared as long ago as the Oligocene (40 million years ago).

The descendants of the archanthropoi are ancient people, or paleoanthropoi (such as the Neanderthal man), from the last phase of the second stage of anthropogenesis. They show more traits in common with modern man, and their brains did not differ in capacity and structure from that of modern man. The tools of paleoanthropoi were highly varied in form and purpose. Tools made from flakes expressly slivered off a stone disklike core were quite typical. Primitive artificial dwellings made their appearance. The basis of social activity was the collective hunt, predominantly for large animals. The evolutionary development of the paleoanthropoi was still affected by natural factors and by selection. Some groups of these ancient people acquired a morphological structure in the course of their evolution which held back their real development in the direction of the modern human type; this was a result of unfavorable environmental conditions and the prevailing low level of material culture and social organization. However, on the whole, the anthropogenetic process took place through the transformation of the paleoanthropoi into human beings of the modern type (neoanthropoi). The most important factor in the progressive development of humanity, and the reason for the transition to the third stage of anthropogenesis, was the improvement in social organization and in productive activities. The collective groups in which this organization and activity were built up and in which they were brought to fruition most readily found themselves in the most favored positions and experienced the most rapid population growth and found the broadest areas for settling. The progressive development of means of communication among people, primarily speech, as a means of transmitting accumulated productive and social experience, is of vast importance and provides a basis for establishing a system of social institutions. Speech contributed to the mastery and retention by human communities of concrete knowledge, observations, technical practices, and work habits invented by individual members of those communities. The reinforcement of human independence from surrounding nature, the fashioning of an artificial environment, and the appearance of society all contributed to the situation in which natural selection completely lost its significance as a factor in the evolutionary transformation of the human species, so that the process of biological evolution and speciation came to a halt.


Engels, F. Rol’ truda v protsesse prevrashcheniia obez’iany v cheloveka. Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20.
Darwin, C. “Proiskhozhdenie cheloveka i polovoi otbor.” In Soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1953.
“Iskopaemye gominidy i proiskhozhdenie cheloveka.” Moscow, 1966. (Tr. In-ta Etnografii AN SSSR: Novaia seriia, vol. 92.)
Nesturkh, M. F. Proiskhozhdenie cheloveka. Moscow, 1958.
Nesturkh, M. F. Primatologiia i antropogenez. Moscow, 1960.
Roginskii, Ia. Ia., and M.G. Levin. Antropologiia,2nd ed. Moscow, 1963.
U istokov chelovechestva: Sb. st. Moscow, 1964.
Ideas on Human Evolution: Selected Essays, 1949–1961. Cambridge, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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Yusoff K, 2012, "Anthropogenesis: human origins, the Anthropocene and the corporeality of geologic life", lecture at the University of New South Wales, 23 August