The Paleolithic Age
The Paleolithic Age defines the time period when humans hunted and gathered their sustenance. This means of making a living necessitated fairly sparse populations as the amount of consumable products provided by unmanipulated nature was seldom plentiful and was generally unreliable.
Spanning perhaps a million years, the Paleolithic Age encompassed the time period when humans began using tools to the time period about 9000 years ago when they started to farm and domesticate animals. Of course, the dates here must be mere conjecture. They are based mainly on archeological studies where bones have been found at campsites and grave sites. The bones have been subjected to carbon dating which is a process that examines the radio-active component in carbon-based life forms called carbon-14. Organic matter ceases to renew these carbons when death occurs. Carbon-14 decays at a rate of about half its strength every 5730 years. The length of time since the death of the animal or human can be estimated up to about 50,000 years.
The Paleolithic Age is not a part of recorded history as writing was not invented until long after the subsequent Neolithic Age began. However, it does form the antecedents of ancient history. There are several attributes peculiar to humans that allowed them to be able to advance to the hunter-gatherer stage of development. This had much to do with brain size and the opposable thumb. The ability to sit up and walk upright also allowed early humans to put these two advantages to use. Tools and weapons could be employed because hands were not necessary to transportation. Tools proved to be a huge benefit in hunting and gathering.
Social structures, usually based on the family and tribe, provided a means to leverage work and enabled these people to take on bigger animals. The groups also provided protection in the face of competition for resources and natural disasters. They also allowed the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. The manner in which tools were made or a fire started could be vital for the survival and advancement of the tribe. The advent of language, whenever it came about, added to this process.
It is thought that people of this period began to build rough lean-tos. They certainly lived in caves. With a central base of operations the food gathered could be stored, which helped to regularize diets and prevent the uneven availability of food. Containers were made to store the food. Drying was used as a primary means of food preservation. Grains could be especially amenable to this treatment. The skins of animals were used as protection from the cold and other elements. Even a crude form of sewing to link animal skins together came about during this period.
Tools could be made from a variety of substances including wood, stone, bones, and shells. Trade between different areas developed during the latter part of the Paleolithic Age. In this manner tool-making technologies probably migrated across peoples and regions. Neanderthals were known to have been skilled in creating tools which utilized flaked stones and spears.
Fishing as a means of hunting is thought to have come into existence by 22,000 B.C. Toward the end of the Paleolithic Age, objects beyond tools began to be made, including jewelry and instruments. Paintings found in caves, as well as carvings, were made that may have had religious significance or may have been used to tell stories.
Life expectancy during this period is hard to determine. However, modern estimates, based on archeological digs, put the average age at death at about 30 for people who managed to live past childhood. A very small percentage would live to old age.
A period of transition occurred, beginning about 10,000 B.C. It is sometimes referred to as the Mesolithic period. It was marked by a refinement in tools and an increasingly stationary way of life, often tied with fishing, near rivers and oceans. It was in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, in the region of present day Iraq, that agriculture was invented. It probably sprang from people who harvested the seeds of grasses that are the ancestors of our current wheat and barley grains. They probably found that they could plant areas with the grain and increase the yield per acre. It would be many millenia before these techniques would spread throughout the world. Even so, it would spark new social structures, making possible cities, governments, and civilization.
The Neolithic Age: When Agriculture Began