Get your bone flute and gather around the fire. Today on What If, we’re taking you back to the time of woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. That’s right. You’re living in the Stone Age. If you were living day-to-day in this primitive world, what would you use as tools? How would you communicate with anyone? And would you have to eat your family?
2.6 million years ago started a period that we call the Stone Age. And in this period that spanned almost 2.5 million years, our ancestors faced three ice ages, limited resources and hungry predators. Every day tested the limits of early human endurance and challenged their bodies and minds. The Earth was plunged into ice ages for hundreds of millions of years.
The entire world was cold and dry, never warm enough to rain or snow. This was hell frozen over. When temperatures rose, humans had to adapt, and fast. These early nomads wandered from one area to the next, never finding permanent homes until much later in human history. So if you were in this group of hunter-gatherers, what would you eat?
You wake up in a dark cave next to a dying fire. Next to you, your sleeping family is huddled for warmth. Put on your best fur. It’s time to provide for this tribe. Outside your cave, you would find other members of your group, in tents, ready to move at a moment’s notice. You and your fellow hunter-gatherers migrate like birds, moving to wherever the resources can feed you best.
So now grab your spear made of bone and wood. You learned how to craft it from watching another tribe put one together. Or maybe you were a genius ahead of your time and created tools like this on your own. Scientists still aren’t clear on how much influence Stone Age humans had on one another. Why is this still shrouded in mystery?
That’s because early humans weren’t communicating with each other on a high level at this time. You would have to reverse engineer what you’ve seen others use before. Or wisen up and learn to invent it yourself. So what are you hunting with this weapon? You would be in search of woolly mammoths. These massive beasts were the size of African elephants and weighed around six tons.
You could follow their large footprints to track them down. And you’d use fire to herd them to fall off a cliffside. Or you could spear one to death. Yeah, good luck with that. Just one woolly mammoth could feed up to 30 people for two weeks. But what if you weren’t lucky enough to catch this early mammal? No worries, just gather nuts and berries. Or eggs from bird nests.
There’s even evidence to suggest early humans used clay pots to cook their food once you have everything you need. Lucky for you, Stone Age humans were true culinarians. Tools found from the Paleolithic Age show evidence they might have created flour from oats. How does oat flatbread sound? A little bland? Hey, no problem, just grab some garlic mustard seeds, turmeric or even some wild onions you’ve cultivated. But if you’re not careful, these spices could be used to season you.
Markings discovered on the bones of our ancestors indicate that occasionally, we ate each other. They even sucked out the marrow from the bones. Better sleep with that axe next to you. But these people didn’t need food as an excuse to kill each other. Many skeletons from the late Stone Age have nasty head injuries. Whether it was raids, in-fighting or all-out battles, early humans led violent lives that were often cut short by each other.
So when you’re not fighting for your life or searching for food, what would you do for fun? Humans in this period were the first to leave behind art. Using a combination of minerals, charcoal and burnt bone meal, they created images of one another, animals and symbols. They even made flutes from bones. That’s right. You could have a jam session around the fire.
And you better make the most of every day because the average lifetime in the Stone Age maxes out at 40 years. Just enough time to mate and have kids. But your dating pool would definitely be limited. So what if you mated with a family member?
- “Stone Age”. 2018. history.com.
- “A Brief History Of Climate Change”. 2022. gethistory.co.uk.
- “What Was Life Like In The Mesolithic Stone Age?”. 2022. bbc.co.uk.
- “Stone Age Food People Ate During The Ice Age And Prehistory”. Jessica Booth. 2019. soyummy.com.
- “Stone Age Chefs Spiced Up Food Even 6,000 Years Ago”. Michaeleen Doucleff. 2013. npr.org.