The Stone Age for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are walking through the forest. You hear birds whistling in the air and watch a squirrel scurry up a tree trunk. You look down at your feet. They are bare! And your clothes are rough and made out of deer skin. You move around the forest looking for berries and nuts. You suddenly see some and shout for joy. You pick as many as you can, place them in a leather sack, and then run along a path out into an open meadow. In the meadow are brown huts made out of sticks and mud and clay. Smoke from campfires rise above the meadow and the people of your tribe are busy roasting fish and nuts. You find your family and show them your find of berries and nuts. Your mother and father are very happy and gets to work smashing them up for dinner. This is what it may have been like to live as a child during the Stone Age.

Like this child, if you had been born 10,000 or more years ago your life would have been very different! Would you like to live during this time? Or not? 

In our last episode, we learned all about the first human cities. We talked a little about what life was life was like before cities. Most humans lived in small tribes and wandered for their food. And groups of humans lived like this for a very, very long time. This was a time known as the Stone Age because the best tools people had were made out of stone. The Stone Age was divided into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Age. During much of this time, the earth was very cold during what was known as the Ice Age.  

As you can imagine, during this time the main purpose of these early humans was to just survive. This means finding food to eat and staying safe. Their world was very dangerous. They had to worry about staying warm, keeping the bad weather off, and avoiding dangerous animals. And getting enough to eat, of course. So they spent most of their time looking for food and trying to stay safe. Stone Age humans found food in many different ways. One of those ways was by gathering it. They looked high and low for berries to eat, roots, mushrooms, seeds, edible plants, nuts, grasses, and really anything that would give their body nutrition. The children probably spent most of the time just trying to gather anything their tribe could eat. They used their stone tools to smash whatever they gathered in stone bowls until it was easier to eat or cooked it into soups. They also ate meat. If they lived near a river they speared fish or at certain times of the year they hunted larger animals. When they did kill animals to eat, they often had big feasts and ate as much as they could because they weren’t sure when it would be until they could find meat again. And they didn’t only eat the meat, but used every part of the animal possible to stay alive. For example, when they killed a mammoth they used the hides for clothing and for their homes and the tusks for tools. Through the Ice Age humans relied on the big mammoths. If you haven’t seen a picture of a wooly mammoth before, they are similar to elepaphants but are hairier with longer tusks. 

They also hunted deer, bison, pig, and any other type of animal that would give them meat. A very long time ago, huge animals such as the wooly mammoth roamed the earth. The other big animals were saber tooth tigers which were like modern day tigers, but bigger and had had huge curved teeth. 

Stone Age humans were able to survive because they had found ways to sharpen stone tools and use very strong stones such as flint. Flint tools allowed them to chop meat and cut hides into clothing. They made arrowheads and spears out of flint, which gave them an advantage over animals. Eventually they developed hunting tools like a slingshot and bow and arrow. They also made harpoons for fishing out of ivory, which was the tusks of mammoths and hammers out of the hard stones they found.

Eventually, after the Ice Age, humans also found ways to start some basic farming, by planting their own seeds, and by domesticating animals. This means keeping animals in a fenced area and using them to make more animals. They domesticated goats, pigs, chickens, and other animals. 

Through the Ice Age humans were only able to survive becaus they used animal skins and furs to keep themselves warm and build shelters. Their shelters were like tents when they needed to be on the move or were huts made out of strong sticks and mud and clay with straw roofs. Often they also found deep caves that kept them warm. They had also learned how to start fires by striking flint in order to create a spark. This spark was struck into kindling, which was then used to build a fire. Fire kept humans warm through the winter and was also used to cook and preserve meat. It was also used in other ways to make food. With all of these special skills, many tribes of humans were able to survive the long Ice Age until the earth warmed. Once the earth warmed humans were able to grow faster and settle in places like rivers. This is around the same time the megafauna like the Wooly Mammoth died out. We aren’t sure whether this happened because of the change in the weather or because they were hunted to extinction by humans. But with the good weather, humans moved into the period called the Neolithic where they farmed more, domesticated more animals, and didn’t have to move so much like their ancestors. 

Stone Age humans spent most of their time eating and staying safe, but they also spent some time creating the first art. Paintings can be found in caves and on rock from thousands of years ago. Rock drawings are called petroglyphs. They carved pictures of the animals around them and human shapes that look like some of the stick figures you or your brothers or sisters might draw. Very ancient cave paintings were found in a cave in France near a town called Altimira nearly 14,000 years ago. These people also found ways to play music using very early flutes and drums. Our Stone Age ancestors were creative we are today. They probably sang and danced and told stories around the fire at night. Because they hadn’t figured out how to write stories down, the people who told stories had to memorize them or make them up. Then these stories were passed down. This is also called an oral tradition. The stories were about their lives, their hunts, or the gods they believed in that caused mysterious things to happen like the change in weather. They didn’t understand why things happened, so they made up stories to explain them. This is called mythology and each group probably had different gods and explanations for why things happened. 

Often large groups of tribes had the same beliefs and constructed the first basic temples to their gods. In some sites, large stones have been found standing in a circle. It must have taken many humans pulling on ropes to make these hugs rocks called megoliths to stand upright. It was here that together they worshiped their gods. When their loved ones died, they created grave sites and buried them with their things. They found way to memorialize, or remember them, after they passed away.

Over time, humans began to gather into communities and then into towns and eventually large cities. Be sure to check out our episode about The First Cities to learn more about Bronze Age humans. But even though many people turned into city-dwellers, many other humans lived like Stone Age humans for a long time after this. Even today there are small tribes that live deep in the jungles of places like the Amazon and still use stone tools and hunting and gathering to survive. Isn’t that wild!? 

Would you like to live like our Stone Age ancestors, or do you like living like we do today? If so, why? Are there things better about their lives in some ways? And in what ways is your life better? Think about some of the things you have to be grateful for that they didn’t have. We usually have more food to eat and are safer than they were. We have many modern conveniences to be grateful for. When I asked my kids, they said some things about Stone Age life sounded fun. Like being able to be outside and roam around in nature all day. Like many things are ups and downs to all ways of life. Spend some time thinking about what it would be like if you lived during their day.

Thanks for listening to this episode about the Stone Age and be sure to tune in next Monday for a brand, new episode!

History of Athens and Sparta for Kids

Greek Parthenon

Close your eyes and imagine you’re walking down an ancient, stone road. In the distance, you hear music and the voices of people gathering and singing songs. You join the crowd along the road and slowly walk up a very tall hill. At the top of the hill is a magnificent white building supported by gigantic marble pillars. People are streaming into the building as they clap their hands, sing and celebrate. Inside the temple, you gaze up at an enormous statue of Athena, the greek god who protects your city. You place a wreath of flowers and food at her feet as an offering. Others around you do the same. Today is Panathenia, the festival celebrating Athena’s birthday. It’s the most important holiday of the year in the city of Athens.

Tonight we’re going to learn about Athens and Sparta, two of the earliest civilizations in Western History. Athens and Sparta were located in what is now known as Greece in Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. 

Around 2,500 years ago Greece had over 1,000 city-states. A city-state was like a very small country. Athens and Sparta were two of the most powerful. At the time the Persian Empire controlled Greece and many of the city-states. But the Greek city-states wanted to be free of Persian rule, so they went to war and eventually beat the Persians during the Battle of Marathon. After the Greco-Persian War Athens and Sparta grew in number of people and in wealth.

Even though they lived nearby each other, the people of Athens and Sparta couldn’t be more different. The people of Athens were known for their love of wisdom and subjects such as philosophy, history, science, and art. The word philosophy is a Greek word that means “love of wisdom.” The earliest and most famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were Greek. They spent their days studying the world around them and reflecting on their own thoughts. One of Socrates most famous quotes was an “unexamined life is not worth living,” which means we should focus on trying to understand our own thoughts and motivations and trying to make sense of the world around us. Inscribed on the Temple of Delphi were the words: “know thyself.” As we come to understand our own minds and intentions, we can improve ourselves and likewise the world around us. The philosopher Aristotle was known for studying nature and making observations about it. He was fascinated by the world around him. 

During its Golden Age Athens formed one of the first democratic governments, which means large groups of people made decisions for their city-state rather than a single ruler. This style of government was ahead of its time and later influenced the democratic governments we enjoy today, ruled by the people instead of a king. One of their leaders was named Pericles. Pericles was a talented speaker who loved wisdom and was known for thinking rationally, which means making decisions based on truth rather than strong emotions. The people loved Pericles and he led them to make good decisions for Athens. Most children were able to attend school and taxes were used to make the city a better place. The Athenians built beautiful temples to the Greek gods. The Parthenon was the most famous temple whose ruins can still be seen today on Acropolis Hill. Inside the Parthenon, they built sculptures of the goddess Athena and Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. 

The Athenians wrote stories about their gods, which became known as Greek Mythology. Each of the gods had personalities and behaved like humans. Sometimes they were angry, sometimes they were happy, and even threw parties. In the stories, the gods fought wars and often used humans to do the fighting for them. The Athenians used their gods to explain acts of nature like hurricanes and the crash of thunder. The stories often also included moral stories to teach how people should behave. Some of the other well-known gods were Poseidon, god of the sea, Hera, goddess of marriage and family, and Ares, god of war. 

The theater was also very popular in Athens. The people loved to gather and watch plays and listen to songs and music. Some of the great playwrights of the time were Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylus (ES-kul-us), and Aristophane. 

The Athenians loved art and wisdom, but to protect themselves and secure their freedoms, they also built a powerful navy. A navy was important because Greece was located on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by islands and other coastal city-states, which often attacked each other. Athen’s navy was made up of triremes (tri-remes), huge wooden warships that carried 170 rowers manning 3 banks of oars. The ships were 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. At one point Athens had over 400 warships and 80,000 sailors that protected their coasts. All young men joined the military when they were 18.

Athens wasn’t the only powerful city-state in Greece at the time. Sparta was another very powerful city-state, but they couldn’t be more different than their neighbors. The Spartans were ruled by two kings and a small group of leaders who controlled the people by force. They prized military strength above all else. They were all about being strong and dangerous — a true warrior society. At the age of 7, Spartans joined a military school called the Agoge (ah-go-gey), that trained to be tough and fierce. They went everywhere barefoot, so their feet could be strong. They ate bland food and wore uncomfortable clothes to toughen them. They learned how to wrestle and fight as soldiers. They were taught self-control and to be courageous in the face of danger. All Spartans were expected to devote their lives to their city-state above all their personal wants and needs.

Sparta was made up of three groups: the Spartans, who were full citizens and full-time soldiers, the Helots, who were slaves to the Spartans, and the Perioeci (peer-ee-oh-see), skilled craftsmen who built things such as homes and weapons of war.

Spartan soldiers were called hoplites. In battle, they wore bronze helmets, breastplates, and red cloaks. They carried large round shields, and a spear or sword. They were truly fierce warriors and were known for their tight fighting formation called a phalanx. In a phalanx, hoplites stood close together with their shields overlapping to form a single wall of armor. Then they attacked together as one body. 

One of the most famous Spartans was King Leonidas, who led his army against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae. According to Greek historians, when Leonidas saw they were losing he sent most of his troops home, but stayed with 300 soldiers to fight a much larger army of Persians for three days. Leonidas and the other Spartans fought bravely, but the Persians found a way around them and eventually won. Even though Leonidas and his army lost, they would forever be remembered for their courage to continue fighting even when they were outnumbered.  

Spartan women were known for being strong-minded and independent. They were also expected to be fit and physically strong. They received some education and competed in games such as javelin throwing and wrestling. They also enjoyed dancing and singing and were able to own their own property, which wasn’t common in other parts of Greece.

Sadly, Sparta and Athens didn’t get along. As they grew more powerful, Athens tried to control the other city-states like Sparta, who wouldn’t stand for it. In 431 B.C. Sparta and its allies attacked Athens in what became known as The Peloponnesian War. Athens had a strong navy, but Sparta was stronger on land and besieged Athens. A siege is when one army surrounds the city of its enemy. During the siege a plague also hit Athens and many of its people didn’t survive, making the city even weaker. Surprisingly, Athens survived the siege, but the war went on another 15 years. Athens tried to use its navy to beat Sparta, but in 405 B.C. the Spartan general Lysander and his armies finally beat Athen’s navy and besieged the city once again. This time they conquered. Athens had to surrender and join the new Spartan Empire. 

Eventually Sparta faced its own problems, like the revolt of its slave class who didn’t want to be ruled anymore. By around 300 B.C. the more powerful empire of Alexander the Great conquered Greece and the Sparta, too. 

Even though Athens lost the war against Sparta, their ideas about philosophy and history and science and art spread throughout Greece and beyond. Later the Roman Empire admired Greek thought and culture and it’s beautiful sculptures were admired through the ages. During the Renaissance Greek culture was rediscovered by the Italians and once again the philosophy of Socrates and Plato was read. In fact, you can read their writings today and they have formed the foundation of modern philosophy.

Tonight think about the values of each of these amazing groups of people. Neither were perfect, but you can take what is best about them and apply it to your own life. The Athenians loved the mind and wisdom. What does it mean to you to “know yourself”? Spend some time thinking about your own thoughts and why you do things or maybe why you were upset about something the other day. As you come to know yourself first, you can better manage yourself, and in turn help those around you.

Also think about Aristotle and how curious he was about the world around him. He studied every living thing he saw: the sky, the trees, the birds and other animals. He made observations about them and continued learning and sharing his ideas with others. 

The Greeks loved beauty and found ways to express it through their sculptures. You could do the same by drawing beautiful things around you.

The Spartans were dangerous and aggressive, but we can take their values of courage, strength and apply them to ourselves. Spartan children didn’t always get what they wanted, this taught them to have self-control. Sometimes when we get everything we want, we don’t appreciate things as much. They also found ways to strengthen their bodies by running and swimming and doing sports. It’s important to keep your own body strong and healthy. Think of ways you can be physically fit like a Spartan.

Spartans also had courage and continued to fight even when they were outnumbered. The struggles you face may not always be physical, it may just be a problem you’re trying to solve or something you’re trying to be better at, but you can continue trying and persevering even when it seems like you can’t win.

May you have the mind and heart of an Athenian and the strength and courage of a Spartan!