How did people actually live 50,000 - 100,000 years ago? Were there clans & tribes & language?

I’m having trouble picturing life 50,000 - 100,000 years ago. Was it wandering tribes with complex interpersonal relationships as seen in the African Bushmen or Australian aborigines … or more “2001 - A Space Odyssey” style semi-apeman type groups or what?

It’s generally agreed that human language is at least that old. The societies of the time didn’t have cities and there wasn’t agriculture yet. They were hunter-gatherers. Their societies were perhaps on the level of the Australian aboringines just before European colonization. Please note that, although their culture might be called “primitive,” they were as intelligent as modern human beings.

it was pretty much nomadic until overpopulation (shortages of grazing lands) led to settled agriculture and animal husbandry. Tigris - Euphrates etc…

Short write up here:

While hunter gatherers of the present day and recent past do live a life style that fits with what we know of ancient hunter gatherers they generally differ in one important respect: they live in marginal lands that agriculturalists and urbanites don’t want. With the choice of real estate fifty thousand years ago their lives would have been rather easier.

No one knows for sure other than we hunted and gathered. We do know that we probably lived in small groups that travelled around, searching for foods sources. We had complex interpersonal relationships, just like capuchin monkeys, chimps, and bonobos. We don’t know about the sexual division of labor, although we do know that we were a species that tended towards monogamy with some polygamy. We know that Homo sapiens sapiens (modern human anatomy) arose 200,000 years ago. The migration out of Africa (or India, as some people believe) occurred sometime around 60,000 BP so we were spreading across all types of environments. In the Late Pleistocene (~70,000) we seem to have undergone a huge population bottleneck that some people believe was due to the eruption of a supervolcano at Lake Toba in Indonesia.

Unlike the Neanderthals, we were less picky about our food types. Rather than mostly focusing on big games, we ate a lot of small, wide spread stuff such as seafood, rabbit, etc. We could’ve lived in fission-fusion type groups, with individuals coming and going based on resource density and distribution. We could’ve also lived in stable groups centered around a male or female lineage, although we currently don’t know which sex that was favored to (if any). Most modern societies are male philopatric (the male stays while the female leaves), but there’s some evidence that our ancestors were female philopatric at one point (such as menopause, which most benefits and would have the greatest selective pressure on the female’s female offspring). Either way, our group sizes were most likely small, and most research suggests that they were smaller than expected based upon body size (15-100 individuals), which suggests that we ate relatively high quality food that was widely dispersed across the landscape.

Compared to our Neanderthal cousins, we travelled more and wandered farther. We probably also had greater contact with distant groups which enabled us to trade objects and ideas far and wide. We had boats, clothing, elaborate stone tools, snares and hunting traps, pet dogs, art, jewelry, grave goods, leather goods, music and a complex language (arguably, some other primate species have language).

You can’t really look to modern HGs for too much of a comparison because many of them were not HG originally and they tend to live on extremely marginal land.

This is a very good point, I think. The life-style of a hunter-gatherer-(fisher) may have been much more pleasant than that of a farmer. (Even today, what do people want to do when they retire? Go hunting, gathering, and fishing!) People didn’t switch to farming because it was “better”; the switch just followed from the higher population densities allowed: clans that didn’t switch were later outnumbered. (This is my amateurish opinion; any expert response?)

Farming led to a sedentary life, new social and political structures, and it was all downhill from there. :rolleyes:

We don’t really know that. There is evidence that agriculture may have predated permanent settlements. In any event, it’s more likely that agriculture lead to “overpopulation” rather than the other way around.

There are a number of competing hypotheses about why agriculture started where and when it did, but we don’t really know for sure which is correct (or if there is only one correct reason).

There’s a lot of space between those two examples, but the evidence we have indicates it was very similar to the former. We’re not 100% certain when the bow and arrow were invented, though, but I think most anthropologists would doubt it existed 50k years ago. That would be one significant difference.

There are also different schools of thought about when “fully articulate language” developed. Some scientists will say it wasn’t present 100k years ago-- that it evolved some time around the time when H. sapiens migrated out of Africa (50 - 60k years ago). Others would push that back at least the origin of our species (at least 200k years ago).

So, depending on who you ask, you might get a different answer for 50k vs 100k years ago.

It’s my understanding that archeology hasn’t found any trace of humans beyond 5000 BC.
Stonehenge is only 4000 years old. That’s 2000 BC.,9171,857253,00.html

The oldest Pharaohs in Egypt date to about 3000 BC (5000 years ago).

We may have been swinging in the trees 50,000 years ago. But, there’s no record of how these people lived.

Absolutely incorrect.

No. We were not “swinging in the trees” 50k years ago.

I’m an archaeologist in California and I just finished writing a report about a site in Santa Barbara County we excavated several years ago. We have four radiocarbon dates (two ash, one shell, one bone) from the earliest component at the site, all of which significantly pre-date your “5000 BC” date.

That’s one report, from one site, from one small section, of one county, in one state. Rest assured, there is plenty of evidence of humans before 5000 BC. :slight_smile:

My impression is that agriculture started with the natural human tendency to ‘improve’ the gathering process by weeding out competing, inedible species of plants. This is easy to do - just rip out encroaching bushes from shading ‘good’ patches of plants you like.

Naturally, once you start doing that, you get a feedback mechanism happening: you have patches you have ‘improved’ in this manner, you have more reason to hang around in one area (to scare off herbavores for one); they produce more food; greater hanging-around plus more food eventually = less need for birth-spacing (a wandering mom typically can only handle on infant at a time) meaning higher population; higher population = more muscle around to scare competing bands outta your territory …

What is really remarkable is that there is, as far as I know, no evidence of agriculture prior to around 10K BP or so, yet modern humans were around a lot longer than that.

Possibly. I was just trying to give a factual answer in response to some factually incorrect information that had been posted. There are a number of hypotheses, but no one knows which one is correct, or if there is only one correct answer.

The Aurignacian culture of Europe and Asia was producing fertility figurines and musical instrumentsbetween 36,000 and 40,000 years ago. They also painted some of the earliest cave paintings.

With the exception of there being more and bigger and nastier natural predators. I suspect their dreams weren’t entirely of feasting and nookie :smiley:

Astro, you mean to tell me you haven’t read the novels of Jean Auel yet? Try “the Mammoth Hunters” for starters.

They’d live in an area until their population became too big for it to support, and then they’d starve until their numbers dropped. Just like every other species.

According to my Prehistoric tech class, the oldest examples of spears are from 400k years ago and found in Germany. However, spears are far more efficient as hunting weapons than most people believe! According to my professor, the Inka soldiers could throw a spear all the way through a Spaniard wearing steel chain metal, while a bow can’t do that. Atlatls came next with the oldest 25k years old from Northwest Africa. Bows and arrows don’t show up until about 12k years ago, as far as we know. They replaced spears because they were easy to carry, use, aim, and faster to fire. They also enabled a hunter to take game entirely by themselves, while spears and atlatls were often used by groups.

My husband has been on a dig at Lake Mungo, NSW, Australia, looking at artifacts which date to more than 40,000 years ago. There are at least 80 skeletons from the site, the most famous being the one nicknamed “Mungo Man”. It’s a dry desert now, but was a flourishing lake system back then.