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Friday, December 30, 2011



1.1 Introduction
1.2 Evolution of Modern Humans
1.3 Study of Hunting Gathering Cultures

1.3.1 Major Aspects of Study
1.3.2 Question of Periodisation and Spread of Early Cultures

1.4 Development of Tools

1.4.1 Lower Palaeolithic: Oldovian and Acheulian Tools
1.4.2 Middle Palaeolithic: Mousterian Tools
1.4.3 Upper Palaeolithic Tools

1.5 Habitation and Way of Life
1.6 Arts and Communication
1.7 Summary
1.8 Exercises


Life on earth began about 3000 million years ago. The life which started from a simple cell form developed into complex living beings in thousands of species. All these living beings have been changing and developing over time. The present day humans have also evolved from primates who lived about 55 million years ago. They had some characteristics similar to us. Till about the end of the 18th century it was believed that all life on earth has existed as it is since the beginning of life and that all life including plants and animals was the creation of God in this form. It was only in the late 18th and early 19th century that scientists began to put forward the views that the nature and life have changed over millions of years. It was argued that the present life forms have evolved through various forms and that many of these are now extinct. When Charles Darwin (1809-1892) put forward the theory of biological evolution in 1860, it influenced the thinking of large number of scientists and scholars. Now, the evolution of modern humans from a common ancestor was an area which became focus of researches and a number of discoveries were reported from different parts of the world. With the help of archaeological findings and anthropological researches it can be said with some amount of certainty that modern humans have had many ancestors with common biological characteristics. The whole question of human evolution has two major aspects. The first is the biological evolution and the second social and cultural evolution. The former is to be studied mainly through the changes which have taken place in the facial features, musculature, the structure of bones, limbs, toes, fingers, and sise of brain etc. of humans from the earliest forms. The latter is concerned with the changes in the way humans adapted to their immediate environment to arrange their food, the way they lived, their interaction and communication with fellow humans etc. through various phases and forms of their biological evolution.

Before you move on to study the above referred two aspects of human evolution we would like you to carefully go through the methods and sources which we
have discussed along with the introduction of Block 1. Apart from the sources 13

Early Human Societies

listed in the introduction to this Block the scholars have used another important source for the study of hunting-gathering people. This pertains to the study of many such groups living in isolated pockets in contemporary times in almost similar conditions and environments as our hunting gathering ancestors lived. Many researchers lived with them to understand their modes of hunting gathering, way of living, rituals practiced and other aspects of their culture. Examples of such groups are Eskimos of Arctic of North America, Athabascan hunters of Canada, Pygmies of the African Congo, the Bushmen of South Africa, some groups of Australian aborigines, the Semang of Malay peninsula and certain tribes of Andaman Islands of India.


Before we take up the study of the societies which depended on hunting and gathering as a mode of subsistence we would like to provide a very brief account of the evolution of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens ). In the beginning of this Unit we had mentioned that the present day humans have come into existence as a result of passing through various stages of evolution. Let us now take up these various stages through which this process had taken place.

Around 60 million years ago some of primates, the order to which our ancestors belonged, acquired important characteristics that were to be found later in humans. The position of the thumb, frontally arranged eye sockets and dentition similar to humans were some of the characteristics that are noticeable in various fossil finds. On the basis of biogenetic data it is now believed that around 5 or
6 million years ago the hominidae branch (Australopithecus and Homo) separated from that of the Pongidae (Chimpanzee and Gorilla). According to Yves Coppens the collapse of Rift Valley, separating east and South Africa from central and west Africa, was the cause of this dichotomy. The Pongidae remained in the humid zone of western and central Africa (gorillas and chimpanzees the descendents of Pongidae still live there). While hominidae lived in large and open environments of east and South Africa. They adapted to their new surroundings and their remains are found mainly in this region. It is here that the hominidae became bipedal around 3.5 to 4 million years ago - the most important stage in the process of hominisation. The standing position affected the anatomy of the hominidae. The foot became the main organ of propulsion, while hand now freed from the task of walking could be used for other activities. Its increased dexterity was a necessary prerequisite for making tools. The period from 3.5 million years to 1.5 million years ago saw the emergence of dichotomy between Australopithecines and Homo. The process of development is not unilinear and was much more complex. One of branches evolved as Homo habilis probably the first tool makers. They were mainly confined to Africa. The next stage of evolution of humans is identified as Homo erectus with some distinct anatomical features. In the light of the available fossils Leakey estimated that they lived one and a half million years to around
300000 year ago when Homo Sapiens began to emerge. Unlike Homo habilis whose bones have been found only in Africa the evidence for the presence of Homo erectus has been found in a number of areas like Europe, Western Asia, Southern Asia, China and Indonesia. According to Richard E. Leakey “the skeleton of Homo erectus was essentially modern. A little stockier than the average human today, perhaps, but not all that different. The head and face, however, were still ‘primitive’: the forehead sloped backwards and was mounted

with prominent brow-ridges, while the brain though larger than that of Homo habilis, was only seventy per cent of the sise of a Homo sapiens brain. The face protruded less than in Homo habilis, but it was not as flat or ‘tucked in’ as in Homo sapiens. The chin that is so characteristic of modern humans was present but poorly developed’ (The Making of Mankind p.110-112). The transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens was again gradual and is different in various regions in terms of the period of existence and physical features. The Homo sapiens again evolved through a gradual process in different regions. In Europe and some other regions developed a different branch termed Neanderthalensis (the first fossil was found in Neander valley in Germany). They disappeared around 35,000 years ago without leaving separate line of descendants.

In all of the world Homo sapiens sapiens emerged in different periods. In
Europe it is 40,000 years ago where Neanderthals survived side by side.

About the process of evolution from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens sapiens Leakey says: “If one views the evolution of the Homo line as having more to do with the programme of cultural capabilities than with environmental condition, then it is possible to imagine that Homo erectus populations throughout the world became more and more dependant on the development and exploitation of technology, and that this created its own selection pressure that propelled the species towards Homo sapiens. In each part of the world where there had been Homo erectus, there would eventually arise an early grade of Homo Sapiens. As selection pressure continued through the demands of culture, each population of early Homo sapiens ultimately emerged as Homo sapiens sapiens, modern man.”(p. 156)

Fig.1: Skulls of various human species left to right: 1) Homo habilis; 2) Homo erectus;
3) Homo sapiens; 4) Homo sapiens sapiens

The modern humans have evolved through a long and complicated process of hominid evolution and of the biological formation of human genus. Palaeoanthropologists have studied the process through the changes in physical characteristics. Archaeological discoveries and scientific developments help us to understand this process. Bohuslav Klima has studied the process in detail (see box).

“The Upper Palaeolithic cultures are connected with humans of the Homo sapiens sapiens type, representing the result of a long and complicated process of hominid evolution and of the biological formation of the human genus. The subject is the field of study of physical anthropologists, who at the same time look for reliable explanations for these process. Such studies depend not only upon new archaeological discoveries, but also upon contemporary scientific developments. From the morphological point of view hominid evolution embraces three functional complexes. The first group of features
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Early Human Societies

includes changes in the shape of the thorax and the related release of the upper extremes, allowing rotating movement in the shoulder joint. The second complex influenced by the hunting way of life, is seen in erect stature and perfect bipedal locomotion, associated with morphological modifications of the pelvis and of the lower extremities. The third complex includes changes in the cranial morphology, especially increase in the cranial capacity and a shifting of the foramen magnum forwards and thus changes in the complex disposition of the head; furthermore it comprehends changes in dentition and, very important final shaping of hand. The hand itself, together with the whole arm, changed so much that it became able to throw objects with great force and accuracy, using the mobility of the trunk carried by the pelvis and strong legs, under direct control of eyes. At the same time, the hand became sensitive enough to produce the most delicate objects and to imitate the beauty people observed around them and enjoyed.” (History of Humanity, Vol I p. 177)

As far as cranial capacity is concerned it is estimated that Australopithecus had a volume of brain round 400 – 500 cc. This increased to 700 cc in Homo habilis to between 900 to 1100 in Homo erectus and finally to between 1250 –
1450 cc in Homo sapiens (History of Humanity, Vol. I, p.643)


Until the advent of agriculture all human species made a living by gathering plant food and hunting. In last one hundred years archaeologists have found and unearthed a very large amount of artefacts, objects and sites.

1.3.1 The Major Aspects of Study

The available source material has helped archaeologists, anthropologists and the scholars of pre-history in studying and analysing all aspects of life of hunters and gatherer who were spread in different parts of the world. The main aspects studied include: i) the changes in physical and anatomical characteristics of various species of humans from Homo habilis to modern humans (which we briefly discussed in the previous sections), ii) the regions of the globe inhabited by these hunting-gathering humans, iii) the kind of food available to them and the manners in which they procured it for their survival. Did they have access to some tools and implements for acquiring their daily needs and survival? iv) the changes their tools underwent through 3 million years of history, v) at what stage of evolution and development they discovered fire and in what ways it was put to use to their advantage? vi) nature of their social organisation and groups they lived in. Was there any sort of social interaction and communication among the groups? vii) the method of communication within and outside groups, viii) how they disposed off their dead? ix) did they have any art form and what does it represent? Apart from these, lot more aspects have been studied by hundreds of scholars.

Inspite of the large amount of data available it is very difficult to provide detailed information on many of these issues. Many a times the information and knowledge is available for a limited region and it may not be proper to apply it across the board. Still, we would try to provide inputs on most of these issues in our discussion in this and the next Unit (on Pastoral Nomadism)

1.3.2 Question of Periodisation and Spread of Early Cultures

From the chronological point of view the period through which hunting and gathering cultures existed is rather long (around 2.5 million years). Scholars have provided divisions into periods on the basis of tools used and some other cultural traits. The period called Stone Age covers the longest period (more than 98%) of the total period of human history and is considered as pre-history as there are no written sources available for it. It is, divided into two broad periods the Palaeolithic (paleo - old; lithic-stone) and the Neolithic (Neo- New) The later is identified with the period when production of food rather than the gathering became the dominant form of living. One may say that it is the Palaeolithic period during which humans depended mainly on hunting and gathering mode of life. In this Unit we are focusing on this period only. During the whole of this period humans predominantly used stone tools. These tools underwent a lot of change like the types of stone used, the shape of tools, the way and purposes for which tools were used as also other materials used side by side with stone i.e. wood, bones and others. It was not only the tools which underwent change, even the physical features and anatomy of humans changed. One may mention Homo habilis, Homo erectus , Homo sapiens, Neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens sapiens as the major human species using stone tools. Depending on the tool types, the human species and other cultural traits the Palaeolithic period has been subdivided into lower Palaeolithic, middle Palaeolithic and upper Palaeolithic. In the archaeological context the objects excavated at the lowest stratum are the earliest and on the upper levels the latest. Therefore, the lower is the earliest while the upper the later Palaeolithic. Many scholars even further divide them into sub-sub divisions. At this stage you must bear one important point in mind that in chronological terms these periods did not start or end around the same time in all regions inhabited by hunting gathering people. In certain regions use of tools, human types and cultural traits which identified middle Palaeolithic or upper Palaeolithic may be quite different from the others. Another point to be kept in view is that in no region or place one type of tools or human species or cultural traits were completely replaced by the other. There are at times some amount of overlap in continuance of the types of tools and characteristics of users belonging to different periods. However, inspite of these limitations of classification some dominant identification of a period with people living therein can be suggested.

The earliest hominids date back to around more than 2-6 million years. Their spread is mainly confined to Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania or some parts of Asia. Closely following them we have more developed hominid species known as homo erectus dating back to around 1.5. million years. They have been noticed till around 2,50,000 years. Their presence has been recorded in fairly wide spread regions. Evidence for their presence is available in Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe), Africa (Ethopia, Tanzania, Kenya), Asia (Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Java, Philippines Parts of China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia). The presence of both these hominids has been confirmed by the presence of fossilised bone of skull fragments, tools and other artefacts. The period is referred as lower or earlier Palaeolithic.

During the long periods when Homo erectus inhabited various pockets, some sub species began to develop in different parts. These were various species of Homo sapiens. Of these most robust and wider spread were Homo Sapiens
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neanderthalnensis. They were discovered in all parts of Europe. There were a number of variants of these which are traceable from around 400000 years. However, Neanderthal proper are more clearly to be found from around 230000 years and their stable lineage from around 100000 years to 40000 years. In fact from around
400000 years to 100000 years different variants of species having mixed characteristics of Homo erectus and Neanderthals are recorded in different parts. However, from 100000 years all the regions had peculiar Neanderthals. These Neanderthals had a short and stout body, absent chin, protruding brow-ridges, a narrow forehead and an average cranial capacity of 1450 c.c.

The period of flourishing of their culture is referred as Middle Palaeolithic and their technology as Mousterian. The name is drawn from the site of Le Moustier in Southern France where their tools were found. The spread of Neanderthals is reported from Northern Africa (Northern Sahel, Sahara, along Nile Valley and Mediterranean and Atlantic Coasts); Southern Africa (Malawi, Zambia, Zaire, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland); East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania); Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Russia and other adjoining regions Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Greece, Belgium, Holland, Romania, England etc);Asia (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc.); Homo sapien Neanderthalensis gave way to Homo sapiens sapiens around 40000 – 35000 years back. These were like modern humans in physique, brain capacity, structure and facial features. The first fossils of this modern man were discovered near Les Eyzies in Southern France and was given the name Cro-Magnon after the rock shelter where it was found. There have been considerable debates among scholars as to whether this modern man first appeared in Africa, Asia or Europe. The latest researches are more inclined to indicate that it first appeared in Africa. The sudden disappearance of Neanderthals was also one of the complex questions. Did large scale interactions and movements of Neanderthals give rise to Homo sapiens sapiens? Were they exterminated as a result of violent clash? The discovery of skeletal remains in Krapina in Yugoslavia; Petralona in Greece and most important of all in six caves of Palestine (Zyttiya, Tabun, Skhul, Jabel, Qafzeh andAmid) indicate the mixture of Neanderthals and sapiens sapiens (Wenke, p. 119). There is no evidence of violent extinction and transition seems smooth. It is most probable that large scale migration and interbreeding led to the extinction of Neanderthal genes. They represent the last phase of Palaeolithic which lasted till around 12000 years back after which the Neolithic Culture appears. This phase as a whole is called upper or later Palaeolithic. However, within this phase a number of cultures flourished with distinct characteristics, tool types and regional and geographic variations. The important phases of upper Palaeolithic are :

i) Aurignacian (34000 to 30000 years ago)

ii) Solutrean (22000 to 18000 years ago)

iii) Magdalenian (18000 to 11000 years ago)

Other small cultural groups identified are Perigordian, Gravettian, Szeletian etc. Upper Palaeolithic culture has been recorded with a large number of evidences from all parts of the world including Australia, and North and South America. Their penetration into every continent, in different regions especially

to Americas might have been tedious through frozen tundras and grassy plains and Australia moving through islands. It was probably made possible by their ability to adapt quickly and perfectly to changing conditions due to the growth of mental faculties.

After the upper Palaeolithic cultures and before the Neolithic cultures another phase of hunting and gathering cultures an intermediate stage called Mesolithic culture is also identified. This phase is identified mainly with European hunting gathering culture.

It is also termed as final Palaeolithic and spans 10000 to 5000 BC yeas ago. In Northern Europe it can be divided into Maglemose (9500 – 7700 BP); Kongemose (7700 – 6600 BP) and Ertebolle (6600 – 5200 BP). BP here represents before present and is reckoned from 1950 AD.

Let us now move on to the making and use of tools by the hunting and gathering people.
Hunting and Gathering


A basic definition of a tool could be that it is an object other than body part which is used to do some manual work by the user. This basic definition does not automatically connect the tools with humans as its manufacturer. Chimpanzees are also known to use sticks to dig and find insects or roots or use stones to crack nuts to eat. In its earliest stage the humans also must have used such natural objects to obtain food. This sort of usage at best makes humans merely as tools user and not a tool maker. In the context of tools what separates humans from other animal forms is making of tools and that brings us to a modified definition of tools. Jean Chavallon defines it in the human context. According to him tool is ‘A human-made object used to perform manual work’ and goes on to add “Prehistorians and archaeologists can but approve this lexicographical definition The world ‘human made’should be stressed, however, because it clearly distinguishes the unworked implement, a pebble or piece of wood that human and ape alike can use, from the shaped tool made with a specific purpose in mind and whose function would be to scrape, cut or break. The adjective ‘human- made’ confers on the tool a social value, and it plays an increasingly demanding and pervasive role in human life, to such an extent that as the technology of artificial intelligence advances one may wonder whether the roles are not far from being inverted. Are we still able to control our tools, and if so, will we always be able to do so?” (History of Humanity, Vol I, p.35).

These human made tools have been found in all parts of the globe generally spread in and around the settlements inhabited by their users. We propose to discuss the growth of tools and their technology for the whole of Palaeolithic period identifying clear stage of development in the tools, raw materials used and their technology.

1.4.1 Lower Palaeolithic: Oldovian and Acheulian Tools

It is believed that regular tool making started with the emergence of Homo habilis
(Richard Leakey).

The earliest stone tools have been found in Olduvai (North Tanzania) and Melka
Kunture (Ethiopia). These date back to 1.8 to 1.6 million years. These tools


Early Human Societies

are referred as Oldovian tools. They were put to use to cut plant foods, digging roots and to skin meat of small animals. It is believed that meat constituted a small proportion of food during this period. Moreover there is no evidence to suggest that large game animals were killed. Procurement of meat at best was through scavenging of dead animals. The tools found at these sites are known as choppers and were made by removing flakes from one side of stone providing it with a cutting edge. The tools were mostly made from the stones available in the localised region with minimum changes in their natural form. It is suggested that probably flakes were also used for scrapping. Homo habilis were the users of these tools.

Further changes in tools are noticed in Acheulian tools. These are available for a very long period of time, from around 1.4. million years to 200000 years in Africa and 100000 years in Europe. They draw their name from St. Acheul a site in North France. Homo erectus were the main users of these tools. Acheulian tools had a simple range which were used for chopping, cutting, piercing and pounding. These were effective for both butchering meat and preparing plant food. The hand axe, cleavers and bolas (spherical ball type stone tool used probably to hit animal’s leg to capture them and crushing and pounding) were the main tool types. The hand axes were pear shaped or tear drop shaped with a pointed end and a broad end (for a grip). These hand axes had sharp cutting edge on both sides which was obtained by removing flakes from both sides towards the pointed end. The tools made by removing flakes from one side are termed unifacial and when removed from both sides are termed bifacial. In Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Israel) tools were oval or almond shaped bifacial. Now for the first time a distinction between core tools and flake tools is made. Flakes were those pieces which were detached from a large block while core tools were those from which flakes were removed. Flakes could be used for tasks which required sharp edges. In many cases edges were retouched to obtain a desired edge or to facilitate holding in hand. Flaking was done with a hammer stone. It is noticed that certain materials were favoured for making tools in specific regions even if it meant procurement from some distance. Generally siliceous rocks, chert and quartz were used for small tools which required sharp and tough edges. Lime stones were used for heavier tools. Quartzites, sand stones and basalt were other materials in use. During this period existence of a few bone or ivory tools has also been confirmed.

Fig. 2: Acheulean tools from Syria A, B&C are from earliest to later period (After History of Humanity, Vol. I)

The Acheulian tools have been found in all sites of lower Palaeolithic cultures.

1.4.2 Middle Palaeolithic: Mousterian Tools

The tools which are classified as Mousterian have been found in Middle Palaeolithic sites. The main finds are from Europe and Asia and their users have been identified as various species of Homo sapiens and predominantly Neanderthals. A large number of different types of varying tools have been ascribed to this culture. Among the stone tool types found are scrapers, borers, knives, blades, burins etc. Binford analysed tools from three different sites in Syria, Israel and France and analysed their types and uses and classified them into five main specified tool kits.

Fig. 3: Tools from La Ferrassie (France) a – points, b – side scrapers, c – double side scrapers (After History of Humanity, I, p. 138)
1) Tool kit I: twelve tool types including borers, end scrapers, and knives.
These may have been used to work bone and wood into shafts or hafts and to work skins for cordage. These tools are associated with tool making and maintenance activities.
2) Took Kit II: twelve tool types, including three kinds of points, scrapers and burins. The inferred function is hunting and butchering.
3) Took Kit III: seven tool types, most of them flakes and knives. the inferred function is fine butchering.
4) Tool Kit IV: four tool types, including used flakes and scrapers. The suggested function is preparing wood and plant foods and possibly the scraping of bones.
5) Tool Kit V: six tool types, including a projectile-point type, discs, scrapers and blades. This kit appears to be a blend of hunting and butchering and perhaps other kinds of tools. (cf. Wenke, pp. 112 – 113 )

One significant aspect of the middle Palaeolithic tools is the use of bones, horns and wood. Sharpened wooden sticks with points hardened with fire to be used and spears is indicative of the hunting of large animals.

1.4.3 Upper Palaeolithic Tools

The art of tool making reached new heights with Homo sapiens sapiens. Their major achievements in tool making were: i) Large variety of tools, ii) Regular use of materials other than stones, iii) Tools which could be used from a distance, iv) Composite tools, v) Use of tools for making tools, vi) Tools for fishing, vii) Manufacture of microlithic tools, and viii) Certain artistic and aesthetic sense in tool making.
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During this period technology of blade production was perfected. The shape of blade was regular with parallel edges to serve as knife. The tools were now processed by pressure flaking with stone, bone or wood. It was perfected by retouching the edge and point. Burins (or graver was a blade made pointed by removing a facet along one edge in such a way that it can be repointed by removing another facet) were perfectly made and was an important tool for engraving or drilling.

Fig. 4: Leaf shaped pointed tools
New weapons for killing a prey at a distance were light spear, spear thrower or atlatls and bow and arrows. Atlatls or spear thrower was akin to a mechanical device which, by one estimate, could increase the range of spear throwing to
150 metres. It is difficult to say exactly at what times bows and arrows made their first appearance. It was probably around the later period of upper Palaeolithic. A much more advanced tool noticed in West Asia towards the end of Upper Palaeolithic is a sort of sickle shaped tool with edges which was probably used for cutting grasses. It is difficult to say what sort of grasses were cut with it for what purpose but must have been used extensively once the domesticated grains were sowed and harvested.

Fig.5: Curved Knives
Selection of raw material for making tools is very diverse. For making stone tools flint, horn stones, quartzite, quartz, clay stones and crystalline schist were used. Use of precious stones like rock crystal, chalcedony, obsidian, opal, agate and jasper etc. has been indicated. Many of these were acquired from

distant places. The presence of non-local stone tools in a region indicates some sort of barters or exchange of materials.

The use of material other than stones is on a much larger scale in an organised manner. These were bones, horns, antlers, teeth, tusks and wood. According to Bohuslav Klima

“Although organic material were worked in the previous periods too, it was not until the upper Palaeolithic that tools of these materials become, alongside that stone tools, a standard component of the full toolkit. These tools comprised standardised forms such as spear points, daggers various points, picks, polished tools, retouchers, pins, needles, awls, hammers, cylindrical grinding implements, shovel-like and spoon like implements, clubs, perforated antlers and others which were designed for various important tasks. Some of them were composite tools or were lengthened by a handle.” (History of Humanity, Vol. I p. 180)

Fig. 7: Bone tools - harpoons

Many of these tools made of organic materials have not survived due to natural decay. Their remarkable feature is that have not been found only in their natural form but have been worked upon through shaping and creating edges, points etc. These modifications suggest that people were aware of physical and chemical characteristics through observation. Many available materials were put to other uses too such as hollowed logs as boats, concave stones as vessels or dishes.

Another important feature was introduction of very small tools called microliths. These were used as independent tools or were joined with some handle, or a sharp edge or harpoon or heads of projectiles for specialised tasks for hunting small animals, fishing, processing the hunted animal or giving shape to tools or engraving some aesthetic and art work. However, the full potential of microliths was exploited during the Mesolithic period only.

Finally, now we notice use of tools for making tools. Patterns of flaking or tool working shows that several tools were made from the same stone indicating that the methods of tool making also advanced.


The information on mode of living, habitation, means of subsistence, disposal of dead and rituals and belief systems of hunting gathering people is fragmentary. Mostly the inorganic substances have survived while the degradable organic material have not. However, the small fragments, tools, artefacts, locations of
Hunting and Gathering

Fig. 6: Spear thrower made of Reindeer antler from France (After History of Humanity p. 237)


Early Human Societies

finds and circumstances of their preservation throw some light about their habitation, means of subsistence and their social organisation.

During lower Palaeolithic period very little is known about the dwellings or sise of the groups of Homo habilis. Their main food came from plants and a small proportion from scavenging dead animals or very small animal hunt which was probably consumed in raw form.

From the period of Homo erectus we notice certain significant features like the use of fire, building dwellings, living in bands of 25 – 30 people, social relations and planned hunting. All these gave them a certain life style.

Their shelters are in the form of natural caves as well as built dwellings which were oval or circular in shape. Tree branches and covering of skins were used to erect these. Presence of hearth in dwellings indicates regular use of fire. Now the meat was consumed grilled on fire or cooked in pits. The hearths are open. Hunting was a regular practice which was mainly the work of men while women were involved in gathering of plant food and foraging. Human groups lived separately but did come together on seasonal or cyclic manner. The movements of groups were within a limited territory.

During the period of Neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens the methods of hunting, types of hunt, consumption of food, types of tool and the bones available at habitation sites suggest that large animals especially herbivores were also hunted along with smaller animals. We have evidence of hunt of large animals like bison, mammoths, horses, wild boar, Reindeer, various species of deer and other cattle. In Europe Reindeer was the main animal hunted and around 90% of the bones available pertain to them only. The use of spears must have facilitated big game hunt. The hunt of large animals was a group activity and confined to men folk. The hunted animals were to be shared by the whole group. Meat was consumed cooked, grilled or baked on fire. All parts of animals were consumed even the bone marrow was extracted with specific tools or by smashing the bones. The new item in animal food now added was fish and other water animals. Around 26000 bones found in Kudaro caves in great Caucasus belong to Salmon fish. At Ogzi kitchick in Kazakhistan out of 15000 bones around 13000 are the remains of steppe turtle. In upper Palaeolithic availability of suitable tools for hunting and catching increased the proportion of fish. This is especially evident in Europe where fish consumption is very high between
14000 and 10000 years.

In plant food also the variety seems to have increased. Tools for extracting roots were varied and the storage of plant food is also evident. Generally the consumption of plant food was dictated by the immediate environment and available flora. However, the subsistence needs were fulfilled through collection of food and exploiting the resources available in natural form without altering the nature. The available evidence also suggests the domestication of dog which was probably an asset in hunting operations.

Habitation sites of Neanderthals indicate that caves and sites were occupied repeatedly by different groups inhabiting these regions. The important cave sites are caves of Kilna (Moravia), Bockstein caves (Germany), Hortus Caves (Southern France), Shanidar Caves (Iraq) and Teshik-Tash Cave (Uzbekistan). Caves are more important for the finds of artefacts, bones etc. During upper Palaeolithic period human made habitations and settlements are numerous as

compared to earlier period. Caves and rock shelters available in habitation zones were continued to be occupied. Habitation sites seem to have been chosen near water bodies, rivers and fords as also near places where prey animals were available. The construction of huts is refined with clear demarcations. Wooden frames with covering made of skins were the main material used. Bones, stones and mud also appear to have been used. The shapes of huts are varied, irregular, oval, round and even kidney shaped. Some of these were temporary tent like while others of some permanent nature especially during the late Palaeolithic. Apart from securing the dwellings the people protected their bodies with the use of animal hide.

Presence of hearths inside or outside is strongly indicated. These are open as well as covered and a tendency to preserve fire is suggested. Wood and even bones were used as fuel. The large deposits of ash and bones near the habitation sites indicate the sise and frequency of using a site for long periods.

The sise of group does not change much and is estimated around 30 – 50 persons. As a way of life they seem highly mobile though the area of movement was limited. It is believed that this movement was within a small region. According to Leaky their movements were mainly restricted to specific territories usually 25 – 30 kilometres in all directions from a central water source or home base. It is also indicated that smaller groups came together for short periods where exchange of materials or mates might have taken place. Social relationships were strong. Some evidence suggests that wounded persons were looked after and the healing process is also evident which indicates social bonding and taking care of the infirm persons in the group. During the middle Palaeolithic strong evidence is available to suggest that the dead were disposed off or buried by the surviving members of groups. In Shanidar Cave in the Zagros mountains of Iraq a burial, which is around 60,000 years old, probably of some leader or important person has been laid on bed of branches and even flowers are placed. Around 50 burials were studied belonging to around 20 sites in Europe, Africa and Asia. Here around one third are children and a few women which indicates love and care for children as a few of them are new born. The burials are mostly in shallow trenches. The cemetery of La Ferrassie (France)contains the burial of a man, a woman and children. They probably belong to the same family. In many cases some tools, horn, animal bones and even flowers have been placed on the bodies and buried. In some cases red powder is sprinkled. These sorts of burials indicate some ritual practices associated with it.


Various expressions of arts have come down to us from hunting gathering societies. These are in the form of engravings, markings, colouring of bones, some polishing, or holes in bones etc. from the middle Palaeolithic period. It is only with upper Palaeolithic period that we get a lot of evidence in the form of objects, artefacts, statues and cave or rock paintings. Most of representations of arts belong to the later phase of the upper Palaeolithic period.

The most elaborate surviving art is in the form of rock or cave art. This is available in the form of drawings made on walls, ceiling or floor of caves. The engravings and colours have been used to draw them. The drawings mainly pertain to animal figures representing mammoths, deer, fishes, birds etc. Human
Hunting and Gathering


Early Human Societies

figures are less frequently drawn. Many figures are drawn where different parts of different animals have been shown in one imaginary animal. Hunting scenes with weapons in the hands of hunters are also drawn. The most remarkable find of cave paintings is in Spain in the Altamira caves. Altamira meaning ‘high look out’ has an elaborate cave system. The paintings done on the ceiling had bison, horses, deer, wolves and boars. These are life sise and brown, yellow, red and black colours were used. These have been dated between 34000 and 12000 years. In Las Caux cave in France similar paintings were found, estimated to be around 15 – 14000 years old. The figures here are not merely portraits of animals but appear full of action, movement and life. Bulls, horses, stags, wild goats, bison, cows even lion are represented. Arrows or spears stuck in animals, even a dead man and a few geometrical designs are shown. In Africa and Asia a number of such caves have been found. In all more than 200 decorated caves of varying sises with some unique characters are known.

Fig. 8: Rock engraving from Grothe des Trois Freres, Ariege (France) (After History of
Humanity, Vol. I, p. 187)

A lot of similarity in subjects and style can be noticed. In most of the cases figures are jumbled up one on the other, no specific direction of figures (in Atlamira and Las Caux they are much more orderly). In most of the paintings the representations of fishes and birds are nominal as compared to other animals. Human figures wherever drawn are sketchy, stick like and only lines have been drawn to represent them. The colours seem to have been obtained by natural mineral pigments of manganese oxide, ochre, even charcoal. Some sort of binding material is also used. The colours have been applied through some sticks, brush like objects, or fingers.

There is a lot of debate among scholars to ascertain the meaning and purpose of this cave art. Some see it as representing some sort of magic or ritual for hunting. Others see it as representation of social group with the help of animal form representing males, females and children. It is also seen by a few as representation of some festivities on the occasion of coming together of smaller groups.

Other art forms are decorated tools of bones, horns or stones. A few decorated objects have been found which seem like ornaments. These were used to adorn arms, wrists, neck or feet. The decoration is done by colouring, drawing lines, engraving, polishing, drilling holes and giving specific shapes to art objects.

Hunting and Gathering

Fig. 9: Stylised figures carved on bone (After History of Humanity, I, p. 239)

Another example of art is in the form of statues or figurines. One of the earliest finds of statues come from a cave site Vogelherd in Southern Germany. Here a
6 cm. big horse, a mammoth with zigzag marks and other objects with engraving made of ivory, bones and horn, are discovered. These are around 32000 years old. In the cave system of Pyrenees 2 clay figures of bison which are around one metre long each have been found. These are estimated to be around 15000 years old.

As far as communication is concerned there is complete unanimity that Homo habilis and Homo erectus were not capable of having a verbal communication as is evident from the structure of thorax. As far as Neanderthals are concerned study of the anatomy of their thorax indicates that they were capable of making limited words but whether they were able to speak sentences or communicate verbally is doubtful. They might have communicated with the use of symbols, markings or limited sounds. It is believed that Homo sapiens sapiens during upper Palaeolithic were capable of speech as they are akin to modern humans. One can with a degree of certainty say that means of communication developed during this period. Now speech as also drawings, symbols and markings were used for communication within the group and with other groups and the use of symbols can be considered as precursors of script which developed during subsequent periods.


In this Unit we have tried to present an account of the evolution of hominids as a biological specie and hunting gathering cultures. Hunting gathering as a way of life spans almost 98 per cent of the period of existence of humans on earth. Hominids have lived on earth for more than 2.5 million years. Starting from the earliest point we have covered the period up to 12000 years ago when the Palaeolithic period comes to an end. Archaeology and Anthropology help us in understanding developments during this period. A brief discussion has been provided on the methods employed by archaeologists and historians to study the excavated sites and artefacts. Humans have attained their present physical features and biological form through a process of evolution in millions of years. Humans have passed through various stages like Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens Neanderthalensis, to reach the stage of Homo sapiens sapiens, the ancestors of modern humans. The process of evolution has been slow.

In their hunting gathering mode of life humans underwent through a process of change and development. This period has been divided into three phases. Lower Palaeolithic, middle Palaeolithic and upper Palaeolithic with distinctive features.

During the whole Palaeolithic period the tools used by humans passed through various stages of development. Oldovian, Acheulian Mousterian and upper

Early Human Societies

Palaeolithic are main tool types. Stone tools represented the dominant tool type through out the period. However, bones, ivory, horns and wood also came to be used in later phases.

The pattern of habitation and settlement of hunting gathering cultures also changed during this period. Apart from caves and rock shelters they made dwellings of various types in almost all parts inhabited by them. Discovery and use of fire had a lot of impact on food consumption and way of life during the Palaeolithic period.

In the Palaeolithic cultures we come across arts in various forms. Some important ones were cave paintings, decorative arts and statues which have come down to us from various Palaeolithic settlements.

During the long Palaeolithic period the changes were slow but significant and exhibit a steady growth of hunting gathering cultures. In next three units of this Block we will study the developments in the following period.


1) How does archaeology helps us in knowing about early cultures?

2) Give a brief account of the periodisation of Palaeolithic cultures.

3) Discuss in brief the evolution of hominids to Homo sapiens sapiens stage.

4) How are upper Palaeolithic tools an improvement over earlier tools?

5) What were the means of subsistence of Palaeolithic people?

6) Write a short note on the habitats of upper Palaeolithic people.

7) What sort of art forms are found in the Palaeolithic culture?

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