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!