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Describe the characteristics of the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleolithic Age (their use of tools and fire, basic hunting weapons, beads and other jewelry).

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Teaching Resources……..

Paleolithic Age……..


Tools and Fire……..


Focus Question: What were the characteristics of the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleolithic Age?

Excavation of a Stone Age Cave, Island of Gotland, 1891
Excavation of a Stone Age Cave, Island of Gotland, 1891

Hunter-gatherer societies were marked by the use of tools and fire, basic hunting weapons, beads and other jewelry. These societies also had a basic form of social organization, a concept that applies to all human societies throughout time. Students need to understand how different groups organized themselves to sustain their lives economically, socially, politically, and philosophically.

Multimedia.pngInventing the Stone Age, an interactive timeline from John H. Lienhard at the University of Houston.

Rotating_globe-small.gifAfrican Rock Artfrom the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paleolithic Age (Up to - 10,000 BCE)

For a modern day perspective, see How Matera Went from Ancient Civilization to Slum to a Hidden Gem from Smithsonian Magazine (February 2014).

This age can be defined beginning with the earliest human-like behaviors of raw stone tool manufacture and ending with the beginning of cultivation. The people of the Paleolithic Age, or the Old Stone Age, lived in hunter-gatherer communities. This meant that food was found on a day to day basis, as opposed to the modern day agricultural methods of food production and preservation.

Paleolithic Age Wordle

Timeline of Tool Makers through the Paleolithic Age (*Modern man’s scientific name is Homo sapien)
  • Homo habilis - 2.2 to 1.6 million years BCE
  • Homo erectus - 2 to 0.4 million years BCE
  • Homo sapiens - 400,000 to 200,000 years BCE
  • Homo sapiens neandertalensis - 200,000 to 30,000 years BCE
  • Homo sapiens sapiens - 130,000 years BCE to present
external image moz-screenshot.pngexternal image 80e71e7c7d64fa63848c9247b7b40155.png

multicultural.pngClick here to see the reconstruction of a 7,000 year old man.

Multimedia.pngClick here to watch facts about a hunter and gatherer.
womens history.jpg Click here for an article from the New York Times on women in the Paleolithic Age.


Modern man’s earliest predecessors sought safety from the environment and predators in natural shelters such as caves and rock overhangs. Eventually, early forms of men learned to better their caves with stone floors, walls at the entrances to block out competitors and invaders, and fire pits. Ultimately, they began fashioning entirely new habitats in areas that did not have naturally occurring shelter. Usually, these crude buildings were made out of wood and stone and in the shape of tents. The manufacture of such habitats may have been influenced by the cold weather of the ice ages which went hand in hand with the Paleolithic age.
Location map of Homo Sapiens Aurignacian culture, between 37,000 and 28,000 BP. French version. Author: # Carte_Neandertaliens_classiques.svg: User:120
Location map of Homo Sapiens Aurignacian culture, between 37,000 and 28,000 BP. French version. Author: # Carte_Neandertaliens_classiques.svg: User:120

Huntingexternal image aurignaciangroupsolvlarge.jpg

The people of the Paleolithic Age were nomadic. They would have traveled on foot, possibly over large tracts of land, to gather and hunt for food, migrating between different encampments at different times of the year. Animals including fish and birds were the main source of food for these people. It would have been difficult to rely on plant food during the Ice Age, so most people had to rely on a consistent supply of meat. Bones from archaeological sites prove every part of the animal was used, as all parts were considered essential to the survival of the society. After the meat was cut from the bones, they were shattered in order to obtain sustenance from the marrow. Eating fat is a great way of storing energy, and due to the cold climate, the parts of the animal that were high in fat would be most valued. Storing food would have also been essential to the community due to its inconsistent source. Meat could have been covered up and frozen, cut up into strips and dried in the wind, or smoked above a fire.

The possible effect of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle on our brains today.

multicultural.png Modern hunter-gatherer societies

Multimedia.pngCould You Survive as a Hunter-Gatherer?

Tools and Fire

Footwear was created to withstand the cold temperatures of the Ice Age. Bast shoes were made out of birch bark or linden tree. Harpoons were constructed in order to hunt larger mammals, such as Wooly Mammoths. The blade would be made from sharpened, unpoloished stone while the shaft would be made from wood. Crude flutes have been found that are made from either mammoth tusk or animal bone. Dishware would have been made from stone or wood as well.

People of the Old Stone Age would have needed fire for many things: cooking, defense, comfort, etc. At this early stage of man’s history, embers were taken from a previously known source of fire (Volcanic rock, lightning) and then was carefully safeguarded, for it was not yet possible for humans to create fire. The use of fire for cooking greatly magnified the diversity of food available to man, just as its heat in winter extended their habitat. Eventually, Stone Age peoples learned how to make fire from flint.

fire.jpg Fun website with cartoons on the discovery of fire

More info about what happened to man when he discovered fire

Multimedia.pngMatch the Tools to their Uses

Hunters and gathers during the Paleolithic age took pride in their beads as they were displays of success in hunting.
This is an example of a burin.

Beads were often made of by-products from the hunt, largely bones, teeth, tusks and shells.The beads of the Paleolithic Age was often fastened from the same materials in the making of their tools.The wearer of these beads felt they had some control over the animal spirit and by extension some control of the tumultuous and often dangerous environment they lived in. These beads were crafted using a tool called a burin. The burin was unlike other tools of the Paleolithic Age because it was not used to cut meat or kill animals, but instead used to craft other tools and products like beads.

Beads made from shells

multicultural.pngClick here to see artifacts from the Paleolithic Age.
primary_sources.PNGClick here for a New York Times article on finding artwork in a cave.

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Lesson from World History For Us All "Getting the Grip On the Food Supply: Domestication and Its Results, 10000-4000 BCE" Includes comparison between hunter and gatherers to farmers.

Jared Diamond considers the transition from hunting and gathering to farming "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race"
RationalSkepticism.org has a discussion of Diamond's article and a link to a Ted Talk about violence among hunter-gatherers.

book.pngBook Recommendations:
The Best Book of Early People by Margaret Hynes, Kingfisher Publications. 2003. ISBN: 0-7534-5577-3

Walking the Earth: The History of Human Migration by Tricia Andryszewski, Twenty-First Century Books. Minneapolis, MN. 2007.
ISNB: 0-7613-3458-0




[1] (1995). Hominid Species Timeline . Retrieved February 7, 2007, from Hominid Species Timeline Web site: http://www.wsu.edu:8001/vwsu/gened/learn-modules/top_longfor/timeline/timeline.html
[2] Kowalski, J (1998). Stone Age Habitats. Retrieved February 7, 2007, from Jan Kowalski's Home Page Web site: http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/w/x/wxk116/habitat/ [3] (2001). Stone Age People. Retrieved February 7, 2007, from Food and Hunting Web site: http://www.creswell-crags.org.uk/virtuallytheiceage/Stone%20Age%20People/Food.htm [4] Hitchcock, D (2006). Don's Maps. Retrieved February 7, 2007, from Tools and decorative objects of the Stone Age Index Web site: http://donsmaps.com/indextools.html
[5]Museum of Modern and Ancient Art, "Treasures from the Ancient World." Last modified 2010. Accessed January 29, 2012. http://www.mama.org/exhibits/ancient/. [6] Turizm.net, "Prehistoric Times." Accessed January 30, 2012. http://www.turizm.net/turkey/history/paleolithic.html