Chapter 1 Section 2
Based on the evidence gathered by anthropologists over many years, scholars have divided prehistory into different eras. They call the long period from at least 2 million B.C. to about 10,000 B.C. the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic Period. They refer to the period from about 10,000 B.C. until the end of prehistory as the New Stone Age, or Neolithic Period. During both eras, people created and used various types of stone tools. However, during the New Stone Age, people began to develop new skills and technologies that led to dramatic changes in their everyday lives.
Skills and Beliefs of the Old Stone Age
Early modern humans lived toward the end of the Old Stone Age. Researchers have pieced together evidence left by early modern humans to paint a picture of what daily life was like for them. Early modern people were nomads, or people who move from place to place to find food. Typically, about 20 or 30 people lived together in small bands, or groups. They survived by hunting and by gathering food. In general, men hunted or fished. Women and children gathered berries, fruits, nuts, grains, roots, or shellfish. This food kept the band alive when game animals were scarce.
Humans Develop Strategies for Survival
Early people depended heavily on their environment for food and shelter. They also found ways to adapt their surroundings to their needs. As hominids had throughout the Stone Age, early humans made simple tools and weapons out of the materials at hand—stone, bone, or wood. They built fires for cooking and used animal skins for clothing. At some point, early modern humans developed spoken language, which allowed them to cooperate during the hunt and perhaps discuss plans for the future.
Some Old Stone Age people also learned to travel across water, which helped them spread into new places. For example, people boated from Southeast Asia to Australia at least 40,000 years ago, most likely using rafts or canoes. They may have stopped for years at islands along the way, but in between they would have had to boat across as much as 40 miles (64 kilometers) of open ocean.
Clues About Early Religious Beliefs
Toward the end of the Old Stone Age, people began to leave evidence of their belief in a spiritual world. About 100,000 years ago, some people began burying their dead with great care. Some anthropologists think that this practice suggests a belief in life after death. Old Stone Age people may have believed the afterlife would be similar to life in this world and thus provided the dead with tools, weapons, and other needed goods to take with them.
Many scholars think that our ancestors believed the world was full of spirits and forces that might reside in animals, objects, or dreams. Such beliefs are known as animism. In Europe, Australia, and Africa, cave or rock paintings vividly portray animals such as deer, horses, and buffaloes. Some cave paintings show people, too. The paintings often lie deep in caves, far from a band’s living quarters. Some scholars think cave paintings were created as part of animist religious rituals.
The New Stone Age Begins With Farming
The New Stone Age began about 12,000 years ago (or about 10,000 B.C.), when nomadic people made a breakthrough that had far-reaching effects—they learned to farm.
The Neolithic Revolution
By producing their own food, people no longer needed to roam in search of animals, fish, or plants. For the first time, they could remain in one place throughout the year. As a result, early farmers settled the first permanent villages. They also developed entirely new skills and technologies. This transition from nomadic life to settled farming brought about such dramatic changes in way of life that it is often called the Neolithic Revolution.
People Domesticate Plants and Animals
These early farmers were the first humans to domesticate plants and animals—that is, to raise them in a controlled way that makes them best suited to human use. Plant domestication may have begun with food gatherers realizing that seeds scattered on the ground would produce new plants the next year. Animal domestication may have begun with people deciding to round up the animals they usually hunted. They could then use the animals as they always had—for food and skins—as well as to provide other benefits, such as milk or eggs.
Evidence shows that people began to farm in different parts of the world at different times, and that they did not domesticate all the same plants or animals in each place. For example, domestication seems to have begun in China about 13,000 B.C., when people domesticated the dog. From about 8000 B.C. to 6000 B.C., people in western Asia domesticated goats, sheep, and pigs, while people in Turkey and western Africa domesticated cattle, and people in South America domesticated llamas and alpacas. Around the same time—from about 10,000 B.C. to 6000 B.C.—people in Africa and Southeast Asia domesticated yams, in China millet and rice, in Central America and Mexico squash and gourds, and in the Middle East barley, chickpeas, peas, lentils, and wheat.
World’s First Domesticated AnimalAbout 10,000 years after people first domesticated dogs, people in some cultures began depicting dogs in their artwork. Around 2000 B.C., an artist from Mesopotamia created this stone sculpture of a dog, which is covered in ancient writing
The Neolithic Revolution Brings Dramatic Change
Once the Neolithic Revolution had begun, no greater change in the way people lived took place until the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s. Settled farming led to the establishment of the first villages and to significant advances in technology and culture. As you will read in the next section, these advances eventually led to a new stage of development—the emergence of cities and civilizations.
Earliest Villages Established
Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of some of the first Neolithic villages, including Çatalhüyük (chah tahl hyoo yook) in modern-day Turkey and Jericho (jehr ih koh), which still exists today as an Israeli-controlled city. Jericho was built between 10,000 and 9000 B.C. Although the village was tiny—about the size of a few soccer fields—a few thousand people lived in it. The village was surrounded by a huge wall, which suggests that it had a government or leader who was able to organize a large construction project. Çatalhüyük seems to have developed around 7000 B.C. and may have had a population as large as 6,500 people. The village covered about three times more land than Jericho and included hundreds of rectangular mud-brick houses, all connected and all about the same size.
Settled People Change Their Ways of Life
Like their Paleolithic ancestors, early farmers probably divided up the work by gender and age. Still, important differences began to emerge. In settled farming communities, men came to dominate family, economic, and political life. Heads of families, probably older men, formed a council of elders and made decisions about when to plant and harvest. When food was scarce, warfare increased, and some men gained prestige as warriors. These elite warriors asserted power over others in society.
Settled people had more personal property than nomadic people. In addition, some settled people accumulated more possessions than their neighbors, so differences in wealth began to appear.
Villagers Invent New Technologies
To farm successfully, people had to develop new technologies. Like farmers today, they had to find ways to protect their crops and measure out enough seed for the next year’s harvest. They also needed to measure time accurately to know when to plant and harvest. Eventually, people would use such measurements to create the first calendars. As well, many farmers learned to use animals such as oxen or water buffalo to plow the fields.
Archaeological evidence shows that some villages had separate workshops where villagers made tools, including smooth, polished ax heads and chipped arrowheads. In some parts of the world, Neolithic people learned to weave cloth from animal hair or vegetable fibers. Many Neolithic people began using clay to create pottery for cooking and storage. Archaeologists have learned about life during this period from finds such as “the Iceman”—the body of a Neolithic man found preserved in snow in the European Alps alongside various tools and belongings.