What element is missing from early man that makes it difficult to know more about culture?
The element missing from early man was the written language. We can make many inferences about early man by examining artifacts, art forms, and sites. We can, for example, see what kinds of tools and cooking implements were used, and we can learn much about how early man worked or ate. Sometimes we even find traces of plants or animals that were eaten in a particular time and place. We can look at paintings created by early man, for example cave paintings, which are probably the earliest written form of storytelling. These paintings have a great deal to tell us about how people lived. We can examine the remnants of buildings, graves, roads, and water systems and they, too, will "speak" to us about early man's life. But until recently, written language was the only way we could transmit information and ideas, and without this ability, early man cannot speak to us clearly.
Exactly! We can extrapolate from primitive societies Western man has studied in the historic period, and we can speculate endlessly on the behavior of early mankind, but we cannot know for sure because of the lack of written records. We can imagine why the cave paintings were made, and we can speculate that they were depictions of adventure, or religious rituals to help in hunting, or storytelling, but we cannot know for certain. Nor can we tell why exactly Stonehenge was built the way it was, what the prehistoric religions of Asia, Afrca or Europe were like, or anything else. We can draw correlations about early man based on primitive societies found in the Americas or Africa or Asia, but for the most part our guesses tell more about who we are than about what our ancestors were really like.