The Life &
Early Human Life
Why did Cro-Magnon man crawl on his belly through dangerous mazes in
deep dark caves? How did the "Upright Man" travel from Africa to America
without a boat? Who were the Neandertals? Did man live at the same time as
dinosaurs? Find out here! Explore the life and times of Early Man! For those
in a hurry, click on the Cheat Sheet for a very quick
look at 3 million years of man's history!
Welcome to the Stone Age!
Please take a look at the Mr Donn and Maxie Series
of Educational Materials for Social Studies Teachers!
Each unit includes complete lesson plans and creative
to keep your students busy and productive for weeks.
Have a great
Did early man live at the same time as dinosaurs? The
answer to that one is simple. Nah! No way. Not a chance. Nobody knows for
sure why dinosaurs disappeared, but they do know that dinosaurs died out
about 65 million years ago. The first hominids (human-like primates) did
not appear until 3.6 million years ago. Even if scientists are off a few
million years or so, early man simply did not live during the same period
in history as dinosaurs. This is not to say that early man had it easy. They
did have to face sabre-toothed tigers, cave lions, and woolly mammoths! But,
they did not have to fight dinosaurs! (Some of the movies you've
seen have men fighting dinosaurs - fortunately for mankind, this is movie
nonsense. Dinosaurs were long gone before man first appeared.)
As you learn about Early Man, you may find words with which you are
not familiar. If you get stuck, you can look up their definitions at
I'll give you three definitions right now, because these are terms
you will see quite often!
Hominids are the family of mankind and his or her relatives.
Fossils are remains of living things (plants, animals, people),
not things that were made.
Artifacts are remains of things that were made, not remains
of living things.
The Old Stone Age people were hunters/gatherers. We know about
these people because scientists have found fossils and
artifacts, which reveal traces of their life. Human-like
hominids first appeared about 3 million years ago! Man went
through a lot of different stages to evolve into the human being of today!
Since the evolution of man (and the Stone Age) covers a period of roughly
3 million years, here's a cheat sheet, a sort of who's who for Early Stone
Cheat Sheet: Who's Who of Early
3 million BCE
Basic traits of humans. Special because he could stand up. Main physical
difference between early man and apes are the hands.
2 million BCE
|First true humans
Stone tools - the first tool-maker
Lived in Africa
Taller, had a larger brain
1.5 million BCE
|Made and controlled fire
The first hunters
Traveled over land bridges from Africa, to begin to populate the
world, about 1 million years ago
|Neandertals Buried their dead with
Stone-tipped spears, bone needles, bone fish hooks, sewed their clothes from
animal skins, warm boots
25,000 BCE until about 10,000 BCE
Homo Sapiens Sapiens &
Cro-Magnon & "Moderns"
Bow and arrows, well constructed huts with central hearths for
fires; necklaces & pendants, cave art, little statues made from ivory,
antler, bone; tools and weapons for hunting and fishing, oil lamps.
Used honey to sweeten food. End of the last Ice Age about 10,000
Humans/Archaeology PowerPoint Presentations
3.6 to 1.8 million BCE
About 3 million year ago, the earth was populated with deer, giraffes,
hyenas, cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, gazelles, horses, elephants,
rhinoceroses, camels, ground squirrels, beavers, cave lions, ants, termites,
porpoises, whales, dogs with huge teeth, and sabre-toothed tigers! Giant
sharks, about 42 feet long, were plentiful. There were all kinds of birds
and plants and fish, similar to birds, plants and fish today. (Dinosaurs,
in case you missed the introduction, died out about
65 million years ago. They were long gone.)
About this same time in history, around 3 million years ago, the higher
primates, including apes and early man, first appeared. There was a difference
between apes and man. Human-like hominids could stand upright. Apes could
not. Their hands were different, too. Ape hands were made for climbing
and clinging. Early man's hands were jointed differently, which allowed them
to not only use tools, but to make tools. No one knows if these
very early human-like people actually made tools, but remains of polished
bones have been found in South Africa, which suggests they might have made
simple digging tools from bone! Their diet was mostly vegetarian, along with
some meat, probably obtained by scavenging.
You might wonder how we know anything
about hominids who lived over 3 million years ago! How do we know they even
existed? Lucy told us!
In 1974, a skeleton was found in Africa. The bones were those of young
female, approximately 20 years old when she died. Scientists named this "young
lady" Lucy. About 3 million years ago, when Lucy was alive,
she was rather short, about 4 feet tall, and probably weighed about 50 pounds.
Her brain was about the size of an orange. Her bones showed she probably
walked erect, although she still had the ability to climb trees easily.
There were no signs of broken bones or teeth marks that might show why she
died. Scientists suspect that she probably fell into a lake or river and
are like detectives. They can tell a great deal from a skeleton, whether
it's a year old, or 3 million years old!
Homo Habilis "Handy Man"
1.8 to 1.6 million
The first true humans! The first tool-makers!
This early man lived in Africa.
This was the beginning of the Stone Age, and the dawn of early man.
This period of time is called the Stone Age because these very early men
created tools made of stone. The Stone Age ran from about 2 million years
ago to about 10,000 years ago, which was the end of the Ice Age. As far
as we know, true humans first appeared in Africa.
Man did not have strong claws to help them fight. They could not out
run sabre-toothed tigers or cave lions. Man had to get smart to survive.
The Homo habilis man is credited with creating stone tools to help live more
comfortably, and to better protect themselves against the many carnivore
(meat eating) animals of the time.
Homo habilis were taller than their ancestors, the human-like primates
(Lucy's people), and had larger brains. They followed food sources,
and set up camp as needed. They sheltered under cliffs, whenever possible.
You might think they would look for caves to spend the night, but caves quite
often had dangerous occupants, just as they do today. Although this group
made stone tools and weapons, these weapons were still pretty basic.
Their main diet was probably fruits, roots, nuts and vegetables that they
found growing wild.
Small groups banded together for protection and efficiency. The
size of the group depended upon the amount of food available. Groups would
disband and move on, as food required. Scientists are pretty sure that homo
habilis built campfires. But they did not know how to make fire.
Since they did not have fire-making skills, they had to wait
until they found something burning from natural causes, set aflame, for example,
from a lightening strike. A campfire had to be carefully watched, because
if the fire went out, they did not know how to start it again. The area around
the campfire was probably used as a sleeping area. A roaring campfire would
keep most wild animals away, as most are afraid of fire. When they broke
camp, they probably attempted to bring their fire with them by carrying several
lit branches, with which to start a new campfire when they stopped again.
If their branches went out, they did without fire until they found something
Remains of their
campfires have been found and dated. Scientists have found stone tools at
these sites! Animal bones have been found, as well. Technically, although
animal bones would be called "trash", they indicate that Homo habilis man
hunted game and/or scavenged fat-rich marrow from bones. These remains also
tell us that Homo habilis probably did not stay in one place very long,
but were always on the move, in search of food.
Homo Erectus "Upright Man"
1,600,000 BCE to about 300,000
These early men learned to make
They traveled over land bridges from Africa, and began to populate
the world, about 1 million years ago.
It took man another 200,000 years to grow up. Homo erectus man was about
the same size as modern humans, although they only had two-thirds the size
of our brains. Their tool-making skills were considerably improved. Their
weapons included stone axes and knives. Homo erectus man was probably
the first hunter.
Very importantly, Homo erectus man
had fire-making skills. Like all new, major inventions, this
discovery changed life dramatically.
Why was the ability to able to make fire so important? As man had already
discovered, most animals were afraid of fire, so a roaring campfire gave
protection to the group or tribe. They no longer had to shelter out of the
wind, unless they chose to do so. If their fire went out, they could relight
it. They could choose where they camped. On a hot night, if they could find
a relatively safe place, a breeze might feel good. Control of fire made moving
into colder regions possible, as fire they could count on would provide them
with warmth. It also changed the way they prepared food.
These people began to cook their food consistently. Food that is cooked
is more secure from disease and much softer to eat. As a result, it would
have been easier for the young and the old to survive.
The Homo erectus species was the first to look like....people, because
their teeth and jaws were shaped somewhat like ours our today. You might
think this change in appearance happened over time, because they cooked their
food. But, according to
Dr. John J. Shea, that's not true at all. Dr. Shea told us: "The reduction
of teeth and jaws due to cooking is a popular idea, but not evolutionarily
plausible. If you relax selective pressure for massive jaws--say by cooking
food--you get greater variability, not reduced robusticity. Jaw reduction
probably had something to do with changes in respiration, maybe speech."
(In other words, nah...they looked far more like people do today because
that's how they looked!)
Thanks to their fire-making skills, a nightly campfire became a possibility
and a routine. What was once comfort and safety, was now also a social occasion.
People would collect around the fire each night, to share stories of the
day's hunt and activities, to laugh, and to relax.
|About one million years ago, these people began to slowly
leave Africa and travel to other continents. They did not need a boat.
The Ice Age was here! They traveled across giant walkways, natural
bridges of solid, frozen ice and land. These "walkways" allowed them to travel
over what would later be vast rivers and seas. For a very long time, the
earth was frozen, creating giant walkways. Some of these walkways were a
hundred miles wide! These early people wandered from Africa to Europe and
Asia, and from Asia to America, probably in search of food.
How do we know so much about Homo Erectus?
Like the discovery of
Lucy, scientists found another skeleton near Peking, China, that dates
to this period. This skeleton is referred to as the "Peking Man".
Artifacts have also been found of their tools and weapons, which help
us to understand how they lived, where they went, and how they got there.
Homo Sapiens "Wise Man"
500,000 BCE to 30,000 BCE
|Some of the species of man during this period: Homo
heidelbergensis (500,000-300,000 BCE), Homo Neandertalensis (300,000-30,000
BCE) and Homo sapiens (130,000 BCE - present CE)
|H. heidelbergensis was probably the common ancestor of both Neandertals
and modern humans.
|Stone-tipped spears appear in the 300,000-30,000 BCE time range.
|Neandertals became extinct around 28-30,000 BCE, and almost certainly
overlapped in time and space with early modern human Europeans.
|No evidence for modern humans killing Neandertals, but competition
|Is it Neandertal or Neanderthal? That's easy! This early man was
named after the valley in which the first skeletal remains were found, Neander
Tal. But saying Neanderthal is not wrong, and some scientists choose
to spell it with an "h" (especially the Brits). What's important is to know
that it's the same early man, no matter which of these two spellings
you choose to use. After all, it's only a nickname. This early man's real
name is: Homo Neandertalensis
From fossils, scientists have discovered that these early men had
skeletons shaped like ours are, today. Homo sapien skulls grew more forward
than those of Homo erectus man, which left room for more brain to develop.
These early men were hunters & gatherers. They created stone tools, bone
needles, and bone fish hooks. They sewed clothes from animal skins with thread
made from other parts of the animal. They made warm boots.
One of the species of early man during this period
was Homo Neandertalensis, the Neandertal man, named after the valley (Neander
Tal) in which the skeleton of an old man was discovered.
In the beginning, scientists believed Neandertals were dim-witted brutes
with clubs and beast-like features, who walked with bent knees and shambling
gaits, with heads slung forward on their big squat necks. These were the
ancestors nobody wanted! It was the stuff of horror movies, and just as
fictional! Scientists had to rethink a bit when it was later discovered that
this old man was suffering from disfiguring arthritis! Thus, this skeleton,
the Neandertal man, was not misshapen because of his species; he was misshapen
because he had a disease that bent and crippled his bones!
Still, Neandertals were different from other species of early man.
They were much taller, and very strong. They had an almost modern mentality.
Their brains were actually larger than ours are today. (That doesn't mean
anything, really. The size of your brain doesn't necessarily make you smarter.
However, the Neandertals do seem to have been very advanced for their
time!) They were marvelous hunters. They often used caves as their
homes. They were adept at fire-making, and probably cooked their food, routinely.
They buried they dead with ceremony, which suggests they may have
had religious beliefs. Discoveries of Neandertal grave sites show that they
decorated their bodies with paint, possibly for religious reasons, or perhaps
for beauty. These sites provide the first evidence of the use of color, and
suggest the Neandertals were the first to think about the possibility of
The Neandertals died out around 30,000 BCE. One theory is that they
were killed off by some species of Homo sapien man, but there is no evidence
of this. Another theory is that they married into other groups, and that
over time, they ceased to exist as a separate species. But these are just
theories. Nobody knows why they disappeared. Considering how smart they were,
and how advanced for their time, it's an especially fascinating puzzle!
Homo Sapiens Sapiens
Cro-Magnon and "Moderns"
30,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE
Cro-Magnon cave paintings
|Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth was around 12,000 BCE in Europe,
but only 2000 BCE in Siberia. This probably reflects shift in climate, rather
than hunting by humans.
|New weapon: Bows and arrows appear (after 20,000 BCE)
|Most Cro-Magnon cave art was not made with charcoal, but rather
with mineral pigments, such as iron oxide (red ochre) or black manganese.
By this time, man had become very capable hunters/gatherers,
and had scattered all over the world. Scientists have found remains of these
early people in Europe, Asia, America, Africa, all over, really. Life was
harsh, but they had plenty of food and warm shelter. Many members of these
groups lived to a very old age. The Homo sapiens sapiens who lived in Europe
HOMES: These early men
built permanent homes, to shelter from the long, harsh winter of the Ice
Age. In the summer, they followed the herds, and lived in tents.
Winter homes were Ice Age huts, built tepee style, from branches and
mammoth bones, covered with animal skins. These huts were used for many years,
so they built them carefully. Holes were dug, deeply into the ground. Poles
were inserted into these holes, and then tied tightly together at the point
of the tepee, at the top, with string made from animal guts. Warm furs were
laid over this structure and sewn tightly in place. Large rocks were piled
around the bottom, to help hold the hut together.
Some huts were built to hold only a small group of people. In the Ukraine,
remains of "long huts" have been found, large enough to hold an entire tribe.
Long huts had several entrances, with rooms for several fires inside.
In the summer, the tribe moved, following the animals. They lived in
sturdy tents, that could be moved from place to place. As winter approached,
they returned to their winter shelters. Quite often, they had to chase out
the wild life that had moved in, during their absence!
hunter-gatherers ate a variety of seeds, berries, roots and nuts,
as did their ancestors. They also ate fish and seemed to have an ample supply
of freshly caught game. Their lives were not a constant struggle for survival
because they were such good hunters. They learned to organize hunts and
to cure and store food for the long winter. Hunting was done individually
and in groups. They used traps, which allowed them to catch food while they
busy doing something else. Fisherman used bows and arrows, nets woven from
vines, fish hooks, and even poisons. Some groups built rafts and canoes,
to catch bigger fish in deeper waters.
CLOTHING: In colder climates,
early man learned to soften leather to make warm, comfortable clothes, sewn
together with string made from animal guts, using needles made from bone.
In warmer climates, they made cooler clothes from woven grass, and even from
They made necklaces and bracelets out of shells, teeth, feathers, flowers,
and bone. Some decorated their bodies with paint and tattoos, made from natural
dyes. These may have been signs of social standing or tribal ID's (identification
ART: As well as
jewelry, they created pottery, and fired it to give it luster, strength,
and durability. They created little statues, carved from ivory and bone.
TOOLS & WEAPONS:
Man had learned to be a skilled toolmaker. Weapons
included stone axes, knives, spears, harpoons, wooden bows & sharp stone
tipped arrows. Both the sabre toothed tiger and the woolly mammoth became
extinct during this period, but that more probably reflects a shift in climate
rather than hunting by humans.
Cro-Magnon man, for whatever reason, painted
marvelous and astonishing paintings on rock walls, deep within caves. Paintings
were added, until a cave might have hundreds of different paintings, by
many different painters.
Most cave paintings focused on hunters and animals. Early man used natural
colors. You may have heard that they used charcoal to create these paintings.
Actually, most art was not made with charcoal, but rather with mineral pigments,
such as iron oxide (red ochre) or black manganese. They drew stick figures
for people, but the animals were well drawn, and usually filled in with natural
colors, to give them even more shape and substance.
When you think cave, you might think of a big place, with high ceilings.
Not so. In order to reach the places where cave paintings have been found,
Cro-Magnon man had to crawl on his belly, through mazes of narrow, dark tunnels,
by the light of a flicking torch or a spoon-like oil lamp (which had to be
hand carried and balanced carefully to hold the burning oil in the rounded
part of the spoon - while crawling along on your belly), and carrying the
paints he had carefully prepared, with no idea if he might run into, oh ..
a cave lion or a bear, on the way. Certainly he wasn't decorating his home,
as these marvelous paintings were hidden deep within the darkest portions
of the cave.
The other thing found in cave paintings, besides stick figures of
people and well drawn animals, are stencils of hands. It would appear
that Cro-Magnon man, after crawling on his belly and creating his addition
to these cave walls of art, then put his hand against the cave wall, and
outlined it with charcoal or paint. What were they saying? (I was here? I
made this?) Was this a way to sign their art? Or to prove they had achieved
their ... mission? It's not easy to figure out because not all paintings
include a stenciled handprint.
Why did early man seek out these caves, to add their paintings to the
many others that had been painted in the cave before them? And why such dark,
secret, hidden places? It might have been one of Cro-Magnon man's recreational
activities. It might have had something to do with their religion or their
rites of manhood. Nobody knows! It's a fascinating mystery.
Like many discoveries, the existence of cave paintings was discovered
accidentally. The caves in Lascaux, France were found around 1940, during
World War II, by some kids. They stumbled across the entrance to a cave that
had been hidden by the roots of a tree. If you would like to see some of
these cave paintings, go here!
Once people knew these paintings existed, people went looking for more
such caves, and found them! There are probably more caves with cave paintings
yet to be found! Wouldn't it be neat to discover such a cave? But, be careful.
Caves can be very dangerous places. If you find a cave, it would be
wise (very wise!) to get some adult help, before you go tearing inside, and
find yourself in some very serious trouble.
Here are some great links
about the life & times of Early Man
Prehistory Sites for Kids
Cave Paintings & Rock Art
Cave paintings let us learn about the lives
of people long ago.
People painted animals and even painted outlines of their hands. Take a look
Rock Paintings in India - This site offers examples
of cave art dating back over 20,000 years. One drawing looks remarkably like
a man walking a dog!
Virtual Tour of Cave Paintings
Cave Art in the Classroom
Dwellers in the hall of a Middle School
the Winter Caves Lesson Plans
Online Games &
Shockwave Game (PBS)
Stories - Ancient stories told to explain the natural wonders
and disasters observed by early man.
& Controversy - Creation vs Evolution, Thinkquest
Stones - You've heard about the Stone Age. Now step into it.
Visit this site to learn how the hunters gatherers really lived.
and Natural Selection - BBC Education site on Charles
You Try It (PBS) - When did humans evolve? Who are our ancestors?
Why did we evolve? Play the Human Evolution Game. Shockwave required.
Humans/Archaeology PowerPoint Presentations
Age Animals - Enchanged Learning
Ice Age - Thinkquest Junior
and Glacial Ages
First Dog Webpages
for Ice Age Studies - Tools and customs for survival, including
ice age lamps, shelters, daily life, clothing, religious ceremonies,
Littell NetActivities: Cave Art - Examples of cave art
of Western Culture - Human evolution from the Smithsonian
the Electronic Passport - Brief history of early man's culture
Hand-axes - Pictures and information
History - Simple to read presentation of tools in the stone,
bronze and iron age
Civilizations: Opening Unit (Archaeology/Early Man)
This book has three complete mini-units - Five Themes of
Archaeology, and Early Humans.
Each mini-unit includes complete lesson plans, learning modules,
and a daily mix of meaningful creative activities NOT found on our website.
For Teachers & Students:
Lesson Plans, Activities
History PowerPoint Presentations
Free Clip Art
Be a detective! See what you can find!
Our thanks to Anthropologist,
Dr. John J. Shea,
generously sharing with us some very interesting facts about early man!
(Ph.D., 1991, Harvard University)