What exactly creates a culture is a hotly debated topic, but music, art, language and other traditions are regarded as key components to a community’s way of life. With all its facets, the culture of any society is extraordinarily intricate and complex. Simply by virtue of this complexity, it becomes almost impossible to define the culture of any group without making broad generalizations or excluding several types of social sub-culture. For example, if you tried to define what exactly “American culture” is, there may be stereotypes that come to mind, but certainly these attributes don’t accurately portray, or apply to, each member of our society. Trying to define what constitutes “human culture” then, is a seemingly impossible task, as there is a richness and intricacy in every aspect of our culture. The complexity of our culture, though it makes it hard to define, can be attributed to how our customs, rituals and traditions evolved with the human species. The development of culture can be largely credited to three prominent factors: language, the formation of a higher consciousness and the biological adaptations that made these possible.
The development of language proved to be a huge step in creating a distinct human culture. Language first began as a form of rudimentary communication via grunts and other sounds. Slowly, however, language developed to include words and sentences, making it possible for humans to communicate more effectively. This complex language is thought to have first appeared around 100,000 — 200,000 years ago and proved to be a huge step in the evolution of culture. As language became more sophisticated, humans were able to relay stories and experiences to each other, creating further cooperation between individuals and tight-knit communities. In addition to spoken language, the written word was also instrumental in creating complex culture. Writing is believed to have developed sometime in the third millennium BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The creation of the written word allowed humans to pass down knowledge to subsequent generations. This facilitated the increasing growth of traditions, in the form of music, art, and storytelling, to create rich cultural groups. Arguably, however, the most important use for language is that it was used to convey the newly emerging human consciousness from one individual in a community to others in that community.
Human consciousness, or the idea of being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings, or emotions, also proved key in the development of human culture. While it is commonly believed that many animals posses some sort of consciousness, it’s also thought that humans posses a higher level of awareness; we’re able to feel complex emotions and produce rational thought. Consciousness is believed to have formed in humans as a way for our species to create intelligent and reasoned solutions for environmental challenges. When coupled with the formation of language, consciousness had a drastic impact on the creation of a human culture. As language provided a way for individuals to communicate ideas of consciousness and emotion, intricate societies began to form. Equipped with language and consciousness, human communities developed laws, traditions, and cultures of their own.
Differences in culture between communities, however, inevitably lead to clashes between societies and also to the meshing of different customs. The blending of cultures can be seen time and time again throughout history, even in our own country where immigrants brought with them their own traditions to help create the melting pot that America is today. The wealth of human culture that exists today can be attributed to the fact that these traditions accumulate from generation to generation and become combined with the customs of other cultures.
While the creation of language and the rising of a consciousness proved to be pivotal points in the course of human development, they would not be possible without the biological evolution that arose alongside them. The increasing complexity of language was made possible though the physical evolution of the human species. It’s believed that language was formed as a response to humans’ evolved brain, around 100,000 — 200,000 years ago. Developments in the vocal tract of humans, although making choking on food more likely, were critical in facilitating the formation of language. Without the evolution of vocal tract, complex sounds (the basis for language) couldn’t be made. In addition to the development of voice, the development of a cognitive brain was also key to the creation of both language and a higher consciousness.
Given the discovery of language, the formation of a higher conscious and the biological adaptations that allowed for these to occur, humans began to develop the rich cultures that we see today. The ending of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, left behind fertile land and large bodies of fresh water, setting the stage for a major transition in human history. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began to shift from a primarily hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural one, planting seeds and domesticating animals. This shift allowed for a prominent change in culture that has lasted even into the 21st century, providing the foundation for extraordinary cultural growth and development. Since then, traditions and cultures have built upon one another, morphed with time and have created the many facets of the rich human culture that exists today.