In earliest times, the earth had long cold periods. This time, known as the
Ice Age, lasted millions of years. During the Ice Age,
glaciers,or great sheets of ice, covered parts of the earth. The glaciers moved slowly but powerfully, like rolling mountains of ice. They moved south from the Arctic regions and covered large areas of Europe, Asia, and North America. At the peak of the Ice Age, glaciers covered almost one fourth of the earth.
It was during the Ice Age that people began to live together in small groups. Although they lived long ago, we know many things about them. They left behind traces of their campsites, artwork, and tools. From these things, we have learned about their cultures.
This first time stage of human life is called the
Old Stone Age. The Old Stone Age began about 2 million years ago and ended only 10,000 years ago. It got its name from the fact that Old Stone Age people made their tools from stone. People discovered how to use fire for warmth and cooking during the Old Stone Age. This was a time when people were learning how to work together. As you will learn, it was an exciting time of rapid change.
Imagine that you have gone back in time to the Old Stone Age, more than 12,000 years ago. The world was a very different place.
One day a boy named Gam was just waking up. The gray light of dawn was beginning to lighten his shelter. During the night the fire had died out in the hearth, so Gam drew his deerskin tightly around him for warmth. Sitting up, Gam could see that the other members of his group were still sleeping. His group consisted of family members and close relatives. All 24 of them were there.
Before long the campsite was stirring as everyone rolled up their deerskins and began relighting the fires. But Gam did not move. It was too cold to get up. Perhaps if he just lay still . . . but another day of hunting and food gathering was about to begin.
Gam recalled reaching this campsite several days earlier. His people were following a deer herd that was on the move. Like other Old Stone Age groups, Gam's people were
nomads, traveling from place to place in search of food. They had no permanent homes or villages. They made temporary homes in caves or tents.
Gam's people were nomads because their lives centered on hunting and gathering. This way of life kept Old Stone Age people on the move. When the animals left their area or the food supply ran short, the people moved on.
It was clear to Gam why his people constantly followed deer herds. Deer filled many of their needs. Deer flesh provided them with food, Deer hides gave them skins needed to make clothing and tents. Even deer bones and antlers had many uses. They were carved into needles and other tools.
Deer herds were not the only animals Gam's people hunted. During the Old Stone Age, people also followed herds of bison, wild horses, and mammoths. In those days the shaggy mammoths were one of the world's largest animals. Mammoths stood up to 14 feet (4 m) tall.
People of the Old Stone Age were skillful hunters. In order to catch a wild animal, Gam's people had to work together. Sometimes they would disguise themselves as deer and close in on a herd. Together, they would surround an animal and charge at it with their weapons. Sometimes early hunters killed animals by chasing them over a cliff.
The earliest hunters used stones and sticks for weapons. Later hunters learned to use flint, or a stone that could be chipped to make a sharp cutting edge. Using flint, early hunters made many kinds of tools. These included knives and spearpoints for hunting, scrapers for cleaning animal skins, and axes to cut up meat.
The hunters of Gam's time also made spear-throwers. A spear-thrower helped hunters to throw weapons very far. Spear-throwers were often beautifully carved.
While some of Gam's people were hunters, othes were skillful food gatherers. Early people could not always depend on a good hunt. Thus, it was important to find other sources of food.
Gam's people knew that the earth gave many kinds of foods. The gatherers of his group knew which plants were the best to eat. Some plants, they knew, were poisonous. Others were good to eat. They often picked berries, pine nuts, and fruits. Sometimes Gam helped the gatherers dig into the earth in search of roots. Early people used digging sticks, carved out of branches, to make the job easier.
Early people, like members of Gam's group, developed their own special cultures. An important part of that culture grew from the ways people met their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. At the same time, people also developed unique languages and religious beliefs.
The development of language had a major effect on the growth of culture. Through the use of language, people could share ideas about religion, values, customs, and skills. Thus, a group's culture could be learned and spread more quickly.
The religious beliefs of Old Stone Age people were tied to their environment. Other beliefs were tied to important parts of their daily life like hunting and gathering. Such beliefs may have led early people to paint pictures on the walls of the carves in which they lived. They painted pictures of the animals they hunted. These paintings probably had religious meaning for early people. The paintings may also have helped hunters teach each other hunting skills.
What were the achievements of people who lived during the Old Stone Age? You have learned that it was a time when people struggled to meet the needs of daily living. Remember that early people developed the first languages and religious beliefs. They worked together and learned important skills. These accomplishments mark the beginning of culture.
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