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The origins of humanity?
The comparative study of human society received a tremendous boost in 1859 when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. Darwin's theory of evolution reinforced a deeply held European conviction that just as animal and plant species were evolving, so too were the social forms of human societies. Aborigines thus became 'interesting', as an example - still available for study - of what human beings must have been like at the very beginning of human society.

The idea that human history was a progression through 'stages' stimulated a few Australian researchers to make the first systematic studies of Aboriginal systems of kinship. William Alfred Howitt (1830-1908), Lorimer Fison (1832-1907), W Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) and Francis Gillen (1855-1912) wrote a series of books and papers over a fifty year period, from the 1870s to the 1920s, about the complexities of Aborigines' 'primitive' society. Their work included the earliest accounts of Aboriginal religion.
Keywords: anthropology, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, custom, Darwin, Charles, Fison, Lorimer, Howitt, William Alfred

Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor