This is not a history lesson.
That's because history is primarily the study of written documents. Writing
didn't begin until about 5,000 years ago when the people of Kemet (Ancient
Egypt) began to prepare burial records to accompany their dead to the
This is the story of what happened before people began to write things
It's called prehistory and it covers 99% of the time we humans have been around.
Human beings have been on earth for a long, long time.
Scientists have found human-like skeletons and fossils in Africa that are 4 to 5
million years old. In 1974 in Ethiopia, scientists discovered the remains of one of our most famous
human ancestors. They called her Lucy. She is 3.18 million years old. New discoveries are being made all the time.
The scientists who study prehistoric fossils are called paleontologists. What we
know about prehistory comes mainly from them as well as from archeologists. They study the actual things people leave
behind like weapons, artifacts, tools and food remains. These are very important
because how people get their food -- and eat it -- plays a major role in who
Hunting. Fishing. Gathering.
All early people were hunter-gatherers. That means they hunted wild animals, fished
and gathered wild food plants like berries, nuts and wild root
Some nutritionists think this is still the ideal diet.
Gradually, people began to make tools such as sticks to dig up wild tubers (vegetables),
poles to knock fruit from the trees.
Eventually, about 2 million years ago, they start to making tools out of stone.
The Stone Age had begun.
The Stone Age
Scientists divide The Stone Age into 3 different periods.
The Paleolithic Period began about 2 million years ago and ended about
The Mesolithic Period lasted from 13,000 BC until about 8000 BC.
And the Neolithic Period began to develop about 8000 BC and lasted until
about 4000 BC in most places. Stone Age culture still exists in some
remote locations even today.
The first and longest period of The Stone Age is the Paleolithic. It's the
period paleontologists study most.
In fact, it's where they got their name.
The Paleolithic Period
The Paleolithic Period was a time of astonishing human development even though the climate kept changing drastically.
For a long, long time, the earth was very cold. The Great Ice Age began over one-and-a-half million years ago. Geologists call this the Pleistocene Epoch.
Glaciers spread over much of the world.
But Paleolithic hunters adapted. They used animal hides and fur for clothing and they discovered fire.
Fire changed everything.
It kept wild animals away which helped the people survive. Fire kept them warm
and it made cooking possible.
People learned to cook food long before they learned to grow food.
They roasted meat or fish in the fire or on hot stones. Eventually, they made
fireproof pots to cook in so they could prepare plant-based foods like soup,
roasted cereals and porridge.
Cooking also brought people together. They gathered around the fire.
Cooking and eating became a communal activity.
Something else very important happened during the Paleolithic Period.
People began to walk upright on two legs. This is called Bipedal.
Hunter-gatherers were nomads. They emerged on the savannas (grasslands) of
Africa. They traveled great distances to find food in small groups of from 25
to 60 people.
Walking upright helped them cover long distances more quickly to hunt, to
search for wild food, to find shelter and to spread throughout the world.
Scientists believe that early people began moving out of Africa into Europe and
the near East about 700,000 years ago. About 30,000 years ago, small groups walked over the land bridge across the
Bering Strait into North America.
Walking upright also meant that people could carry tools.
As we told you, the first tools were sticks. But soon people began to make tools
out of stone.
At first, these were just chipped pebbles or flaked stones. The same tools were
used for everything. But gradually people began to develop special tools for
special purposes like hunting or skinning animals. So they could use animal hides and fur for
During the later part of the Paleolithic period, both Neanderthals and modern
humans (Homo sapiens) learned to make highly specialized tools
including needles for sewing and harpoons for fishing.
(Homo sapiens neanderthalensis - "Intelligent Man")
Several branches of man developed during the Paleolithic Period.
Among the earliest were the Neanderthals (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis).
Neanderthals existed between 230,000 and 30,000 years ago.
They were tough, adaptable people well suited to the cold of the Ice Age. They
were short and very strong.
They lived in caves and rock shelters during the winter and ranged widely over
the countryside in the summer.
They made elaborate tools like stone arrowheads affixed to shafts for hunting.
These tools were greatly advanced over the tools made by their Paleolithic
They were also the first people known to bury their dead.
Some even engaged in elaborate rituals involving the Cave Bear the most
formidable of all Ice Age prey.
They died out about 30,000 years ago.
(Homo sapiens sapiens -- "Modern Intelligent Man")
For millennia, Neanderthals lived side by side with early modern humans.
The first true modern humans were the Cro-Magnons. Scientists think they emerged
about 120,000 years ago.
They were different from the Neaderthals but a lot like us.
They were skilled hunters, sophisticated toolmakers and accomplished artists.
They invented the stone ax, bone fishhook and bow and arrow.
We'll tell you more about Cro-Magnon culture in our next Instruction.
But first we ought to say a little something about language which both the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons possessed.
Language is one of the main things that makes humans human.
Only humans have the genetic ability and facial structure for speech.
Like the use of fire and BiPedalism, language emerged during the Paleolithic
Period. Some time between a million and 500,000 years ago, early humans began to
develop and refine language and speech.
This helped them work together on the hunt and to pass knowledge down from
generation to generation.
It also helped them think because language not only operates between people. It operates inside each
individual. It enables us to organize and categorize our experiences to perceive ourselves
and to perceive our own perception which is human
Language is also the basis for culture.
We'll tell you more about in our next Instruction.
The Neolithic Revolution
The earth began to get warmer about 13,000 BC during the Mesolithic period.
Then, about 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic Revolution began.
This is when agriculture and settled life -- modern life -- began.
It started in the Middle East and spread to Asia, the western Mediterranean and
As populations grew, hunting grounds filled up. People started to stay in one
place like river valleys.
Hunter-gatherers were expert at managing their resources. They developed
excellent storage techniques for fish, plants and other foods including
pounding and drying bison and salmon.
Agriculture may have been the next logical step. People began to cultivate
familiar plants so there would always be resources to draw on.
They also began to domesticate animals.
The First Domesticated Animal
Domestication means taming an animal for human purposes.
Fossil and skeletal evidence suggests that the first domesticated animal was the
All dogs are descended from wolves.
Paleontologists think that man began to breed the aggression out of wolves about
15,000 years ago in East Asia so they could be put to work.
They were guarding caves and campsites herding bison and mastadon in hunts and pulling
loads or carrying loads on their backs.
Other early domesticated animals include the ox, the prairie dog (for food) and
the camel (for transportation).
Agriculture and the domestication of animals spread fast.
10,000 years ago, everybody lived by hunting and gathering.
By 2,000 years ago, almost everybody lived as farmers or herders. Only a few
people still lived as hunter-gatherers. There are fewer still today.
Some hunter-gatherer societies still do exist in remote areas of
Africa, India, Southeast Asia, South America, Siberia and Canada where Nunavut, a self-governing territory the size of Western
Europe, has been set aside for Inuit hunter-gatherers. They are determined to
maintain their ancient way of life.
But elsewhere their continued existence is in doubt.
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Parents and Teachers
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Early Cultures (top)