Episode 1: Foraging in the Old Stone Age
The Big History of Civilizations
Craig G Benjamin (2016)
This is the best presentation I have ever seen about the Paleolithic era (the early Stone age). According to fossil evidence, the species Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa in 200,000 BC. They began migrating out of Africa around 100,000 BC. They reached southwest Asia and Europe by 90,000 BC, Australia by 50,000 BC, and Siberia and the New World by 15,000 BC.*
The most significant advances Homo sapiens made during the Paleolithic era stemmed from their unique ability to employ collective learning. This allowed the species to adapt, though a variety of ingenious technologies to two long ice ages that occurred prior to 10,000 BC.
According to Benjamin, Paleolithic humans lived through two major ice ages, one dating from 190,000 – 123,000 BP and one dating from 110,000 to 11,000 BP. During each of these periods, ice covered 30% of planet Earth. Areas not covered by ice were dry deserts in which food was extremely scarce.
Paleolithic humans relied on collective foraging for food, using tools they invented and collective earning (garnered over generations) for digging, hunting, carrying and cooking food and collective learning garnered over generations. Like modern foragers, they lived in family groups of 10-50 people and assumed collective responsibility for governance and addressing wrongdoing. Elaborate gift giving rituals evolved to help solidify communities, with different family groups meeting together to exchange gifts, find mates, dance, play games.
Their skeletal remains suggest they were well nourished and were free from major epidemics. Their artwork suggests they had plenty of leisure time and viewed themselves as part of the natural world around them.
Their main impact on the environment was to drive all native mega fauna to extinction wherever they migrated. In Eurasia, large animals hunted to extinction included the mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros and the giant elk. In the Americas animals hunted to extinction included the prehistoric horse, the elephant, the giant armadillo and the giant sloth. In Australia, the arrival of human beings killed off giant kangaroos and other giant marsupial species.
Benjamin believes human migrants were also responsible for the demise of Homo neanderthalis.
*Some Native American scholars believe human beings reached North and South America by 30,000 BC.
This film can be viewed free on Kanopy: https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/foraging-old-stone-age