I recently came upon a fascinating insight by anthropologist Margaret Mead. When asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture, the student expected Mead to talk about clay pots, tools for hunting, grinding stones, or religious artifacts. However, Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000 years-old fractured femur found in an archaeological site.

In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it takes about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur (the longest bone in the body) to heal. This particular bone had been broken and had healed.

Mead explained that a broken leg in the animal kingdom meant death. Where the law of the jungle—survival of the fittest—rules, no healed femurs are found. Unable to run from danger, unable to find water to drink or hunt for food, people wounded in this way were dinner for their predators. No creature could survive a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

But the finding of this broken femur that had healed was evidence that another person had taken time to stay with the fallen, bound up the wound, carried the person to safety and tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life. The first sign of civilization is compassion.

“Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts,” Margaret Mead said.

Compassion, our concern for others, is a sign of our humanity. If we are losing our compassion, we are losing our humanity.


  1. Where have you seen signs of civilization developing?
  2. Where have you seen signs of civilization in decay?

From our Top 20 team…Willow, Kevin, and Tom…who symbolically have experienced healing femurs.

Paul Bernabei
Top 20 Training