The Old Stone Age
The Old Stone Age
Thousands of years ago, the Earth was a very different place. The northern part of the world was covered by thick sheets of ice; the animals were far larger than any we have ever seen, and they were covered in long wooly hair that afforded them warmth and protection. The ice and frigid cold caused these animals to migrate, they trekked across thousands of treacherous miles in search of a warmer climate and food sources; they migrated in order to survive. If we were afforded the opportunity to watch those migrations firsthand we'd see other things as well; for not so very far behind another form of life followed in earnest; that life form was man.
"Survival of the fittest" is an apt cliché when looking at the small bands of hunter-gatherers who plodded on behind one of their most important sources of food; this wasn't evolution, it was conformity. Only those with massive amounts of strength, courage, endurance, and most important of all, intelligence would survive the journey; most would die of starvation or succumb to the elements, but those few who did survive would find themselves on the Earth's most southern part. They weren't aware of how far they'd traveled, and they had no idea that others had proceeded them there, or that others may have been there all along. What they would have been aware of was that they'd survived long enough to realize their purpose, that they weren't wrong to have trusted the instincts of the animals they followed, and that the environment could only be beaten if you had the courage change it, to physically change it by moving on.
The hunter-gatherer societies were adept at hunting for their food and gathering other food sources from the plants around them. Plant remains discovered by archaeologists have also displayed that they held far more knowledge about botany than previously believed. Trial and error had educated them as to the dangers and uses of plants. In time, these societies knew which plants were medicinal, which were deadly, and which were safe to eat.
The hunter-gatherers often lived in caves. This type of housing afforded them safety from the elements, and it also allowed them to keep watch over the areas below their campsites. Evidence from South Africa gives us a glimpse of the way they lived, and the discovery of a place called the Border Cave has allowed archaeologists to envision what life was like 40,000 years ago. The picture they paint contains a natural cave built into the side of a cliff. Surrounded by buffalo-thorn trees and other types of shrubbery, the cave overlooks a grassy river settled deep inside of a luscious valley. The valley itself is home to a variety of animals, animals that the hunters would need for food. Each year, herds of eland (a breed of antelope) would come back to the valley, and each year the hunters would wait for their arrival.
Tools and Technology
The world's first technology was without question the "stone tool," and up until around 12,000 years ago, stone tools were the most common known to man. Some stones were naturally shaped and others had to be shaped by their users, but a knifelike sharpness was necessary for them to serve their function. Hides needed to be cut, meat had to be prepared, and wood needed to be chopped.
As time went on, man discovered that certain types of stone were better suited for tool making, that "flaking" the stones made them sharper, that flint was the most desirable, but that in a pinch obsidian and quartz would do just fine. Eventually, they came to realize that different sizes and shapes could be used for different purposes, and later, they discovered that baking the stones in fire made them harder and more durable.
Fire itself, was another important piece of technology. For the early hunters, this meant that meat and other foods could be cooked. For those living in colder climates it meant survival. The caves in South Africa have shown that grass was used for bedding and warmth, but that fires had been lit as well. Those fires provided warmth, food, and light, and they were often the deciding factor in who would live or who would die.
The discovery of fire also stirred people with the desire to create more permanent shelters. Ancient shelters have been found around the globe; huts made from mammoth bones in Siberia and huts of branches in Africa. Ancient bedding was found in Israel, the oldest known to man In a place called Ohalo II, near the Sea of Galilee. Israel is also home to the oldest brush huts ever found; the huts are believed to be some 19,400 years old. Prior to the sea level falling due to a major drought this find was kept well hidden; the drought unveiled six huts, a grave, hearth areas, and an array of artifacts, tools, burnt fruit and seeds.
The peoples of the Old Stone Age were for the most part hunter-gatherers, but over time that changed. Small bands of nomadic people began to grow in size. The thousands of years that the Earth had spent in a cycle of warming and cooling had started to level out. Warmer climates enabled humanity to stay put just a little longer before the time came for them to move on, and because of this the capacity to socialize became essential.
The elders of the group were responsible for socialization. They made the rules, and they made sure that those living within the group respected those rules, not so very different from today. What was far different was the way their world was seen. The people of the Old Stone could only see with their eyes; everything else was a mystery and often feared. They could only travel as far as they could walk; they could only eat what they could gather or hunt, and they could only live in places that were provided by nature or made with things that nature provided.
As the Earth's climate continued to change, the lives of people and animals changed as well. New and abundant plant sources supplied food, the changing coastlines provided marine life, and groups of people began to form settlements in areas that were rich with natural resources.
Technology continued to slowly develop with the discovery of metals, the invention of long distance weapons (spears), bows and arrows; things that could make hunting safer and more effective. Tools also aided in what would be the next major change in human life, agriculture, but that would bring us to the New Stone Age, and that is for another day.