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Organizing paleolithic societies

How did people live, survive, and thrive in the Old Stone Age?

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Sheik108
    Maybe the hunter/gatherers that built the Gobekli Tepe would come back to that place once every year or something like that? It seems like it would be a waste to build a monument like that and never come back to it.
    (36 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Jari Matos
    So Gobelik Tepe is like Stonehenge?
    (18 votes)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user Steve Schroeder
      Hi Jari, good question! Both are what are called "megalithic (large stone) structures." The form of each site is similar to the other and construction techniques used were probably similar, as well. Beyond that, it is hard to say since we do not really know what they were used for. Gobekli Tepe is much older (built about 11,500 years ago - Stonehenge is probably more like 4,500 to 5000 years old).

      Hope that helps!
      (33 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Shadow mist
    Is a sickle like a scythe?
    (18 votes)
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  • leafers seed style avatar for user Noah Gault
    does anyone use khan academy anymore its so lonely here.
    (17 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Rushil S.
    Did the ancient people have a leader to lead them? If they didn't, did they survive
    (8 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Shamim
    So, is Gobekli Tepe the only hunter/gatherer city we know from that era?
    (6 votes)
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  • mr pants purple style avatar for user Abhishta M
    how did the early humans know what the plants needed "to grow"?
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      The same way we figure things out today: a combination of observation and intuition. Early humans probably noticed that there were more plants in areas with sunlight, rainfall, etc. They then attempted to replicate these good-for-growing conditions in their farms. With a bit of trial and error, agriculture was born.
      (10 votes)
  • marcimus purple style avatar for user tahara wilson
    How did people live, survive, and thrive in the Old Stone Age?
    (5 votes)
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  • cacteye green style avatar for user Nathan Cote
    Sorry if that sounded rude. I did not mean to be offensive. I'm just curious about why we make these claims.
    (5 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Jayden Wu
      It's fine. I question this myself. Charles Darwin was never a full believer in the Christian church. The Christian church believed in a creator though Darwin didn't. All Darwin was doing was trying to think of a reason to not believe in a creator. Darwin himself even contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. The second law states that the total entropy of a closed system must never decrease. However, the Earth is not a closed system and is constantly absorbing sunlight, resulting in an enormous increase in entropy, which can counteract the decrease presumed to be required for evolution. I can get very angry when being questioned about this and I tried not to be too offensive, but I could only say one thing. This means evolution is a joke. Charles Darwin could be a joke as well.

      Here's another piece of evidence. If evolution was there, evolution should still be here. Your skull shape should be different from Caeser or the native Americans when Columbus arrived. But, it isn't. Well, you could say it's just a coincidence. Well, If I asked you why evolution is not a joke, you would say we have the same DNA, bones, and joints. But, if you say evolution suddenly stopping is a coincidence, I guess the DNA, bones, and joints are also a coincidence.

      There you have it. Evolution is false. I know this coincides with what Khan Academy says, but, I have to keep in mind evolution could be false. We have good evidence! How do we know that paleontologists are scared of a complete mess if they figured there weren't fossils and faked all those cathedral skulls? I don't know since I'm not a paleontologist. It's a theory just like evolution. And I also would like to point out. Darwin didn't promote evolution, he suggested it. Think about that. I don't want to hurt any evolution lovers again, but this is why I disagree with evolution. I also ask Khan Academy to think about this. But, moving back to the question, these claims still do have questionable roots and that's important. No offense was meant to be done in my writing. Hope this helps.
      (3 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Shagnick Bhattacharya
    With reference to the early homo or human's fossils, how can we determine the brain capacity just by looking at the skull ?
    (4 votes)
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Video transcript

[David] Hey, Steve. [Steve] Hey, David. [David] So, I wanna interrogate this question with you, which is, if we're talking about the old Stone Age, right, the Paleolithos, right? Pale means old, in Greek lithos is Greek for stones, this is the old Stone Age. We're talking about a timeframe of about 250,000 to what, 12,000 years ago? -[Steve] 12 to 10,000 years ago. - [David] What — how were those societies organized? Like if you and I were early human beings, and the reason we choose the number 250,000 is because this is when we know for certain that modern Homo sapiens is walking around and doing its thing. - [Steve] Right, in Africa at least, at that time. - [David] Right. And 12,000 years ago is the beginning of the agricultural Neolithic Revolution, we'll get to that in other videos, but for now, we're talking about the old Stone Age. We don't have, like crops that are being cultivated, we don't have domesticated animals, but we have human beings surviving, thriving, and spreading. - [Steve] Right, and I think one thing we wanna keep in mind as we're talking about the Paleolithic era and human societies, is that we're talking about a very wide ranging population of humans around the globe, engaging in different behaviors at different times in different contexts, so we're gonna speak in generalities here for the sake of making sense in the video, but you wanna keep in mind that not everything we say is directly applicable to everybody everywhere at this time. - [David] Correct. What we do know is that human beings all over the world were using tools, and that is what this is. This chunk of rock would've probably been around, I think this one's about five inches long, five or so. This is called a hand ax, and it may just look like a chunk of rock to you, and that is indeed what it is, but you can look at these depressions in the side of the rock, and thereby surmise how this thing was made. This is a piece of volcanic rock, this is a piece of basalt, and the way it was made was, an early human being took a larger, more dense and harder piece of rock, and flaked off little pieces. So you can see this was repeatedly hit and chipped away in order to form this sharp point. This is the sort of tool that if, Steve, or I, or you were living in the Paleolithic era, would use to do everything. This would be your Swiss Army knife. - [Steve] Right, and so when you look at that, it's not easy to discern a particular use for this piece of rock, and people who study these things for a living can't always tell exactly what they were used for, but they basically assume that they have performed a wide range of functions, so you might use that as kind of a bludgeon if you were hunting animals. - [David] What's a bludgeon? - [Steve] To deliver a stunning blow to an animal, to hit them with it, essentially. - [David] There's you, Paleolithic Steve, stunning an ibex with your rock tool. - [Steve] Already? (chuckles) Handsome fellow. - Yeah. - [Steve] And so you might use that as a hunting tool. You also might use it once you've subdued the animal, you killed it, you could use it as a knife to butcher the animal, you could use it as a scraping tool to get the hide prepared for some other use, you could use it as a digging tool if you were trying to get at some sort of starchy tuber under the ground that you might want to eat, for example. - [David] So that brings me to the question of, what did early human beings eat? What's the Paleolithic diet? What is that Paleo diet, Steve? - [Steve] (chuckles) So, for most of this time period, what they're finding is, people would be harvesting naturally growing fruits, vegetable matters, animals that they could catch and kill, and you don't really see grain being deliberately harvested, and this would be wild grain at this point, until roughly 16,000 years ago. Prior to that point, mostly naturally occurring fruit and vegetable matter, and animals that they could catch and kill. The first evidence for grain harvesting shows up in North Africa about 16,000 years ago. And again, we're always talking very approximate dates when were looking at this time period. - [David] So we've got these multiuse stone tools and hand axes that are used to harvest both animal proteins and tubers from the earth, or berries from trees, or any other variety of wild fruits and vegetables, but not grains until a bit later. - [Steve] Correct. - [David] For the bulk of human history, what did societies look like? - [Steve] So when we we're talking about a society, we're talking about something that occurs on a really small scale here, so most estimates are looking at groups between maybe 20 to 50 individuals working together, living together. - [David] So that's my the neighborhood, that's my block, that's like my entire social group then. - [Steve] Right, and you have to think about it in terms of the resources that are available if you're living a hunter-forager lifestyle, too, though. When you're harvesting fruit, and vegetable, and animal matter as your diet, you are limited to what the environment is producing for you. Remember, they're not engaging actively in agriculture or domestication of animals at this time. So whatever is there is what you have, and the natural environment doesn't produce foodstuffs intensively the way that we can with modern agriculture, or even primitive agriculture. - [David] Sure, so you were really reliant on the bounty of the seasons, or how fertile breeding pairs were the previous year. - [Steve] Exactly, and the other element of this society in this small groups, is movement. There's constant movement. Because resources are limited and because they occur in specific places, you're going to see these societies moving frequently to take advantage of the resources that are available at particular places at particular times. - [David] So, preagricultural people didn't really have cities, is that what you're saying? - [Steve] Correct, there were no cities in the sense that we would think of a city of a permanent place of residence at this point in time. - [David] But people did live in structures. - [Steve] Right, so you would see, the common (chuckles) view of that is probably the idea of cave people, right, and there is evidence that people would take shelter, take refuge in caves, but they also would build primitive versions of huts, tents. - [David] Yeah, we were reading about a structure in Siberia that was made out of mammoth bones, which is just so metal. So this would hold up the, like the tusks and the ribs would hold up the ceiling, and then presumably, we're not sure because all of this has rotted away, you would have like skin covering it to keep out the rain. The problem is, we don't have a lot of artifacts of animal or vegetable material to substantiate these guesses about the past. You know, the bones remain and the rocks remain, but the wood, and the skin, and the plant material has all rotted away. - [Steve] We're left with whatever is fossilized, whatever is maintained over time. - [David] So, Steve, we're covering this like immense period of time, we're going from 250,000 years ago to about 12 to 10,000 years ago. This is like the longest stretch of human history that humans have experienced. Surely things were not the same throughout the entirety of this period. - [Steve] So remembering that this covers basically the entire world, and there are many, many people in many different places in context acting in somewhat similar ways, but certainly not the same, but one of the things that we can look at to help track changes over time and see how these societies are changing, is to look at those records that do remain. So when we talk about rocks, for example, we're not just talking about plain old rocks that we dig out of the ground, we're talking about artifacts. So we can look at how artifacts change over time as far as what we find at various sites and archaeological digs, and kind of guess at how those societies might've been changing by the tools that they were creating and using. - [David] Sure. So here we've got our kinda pear-shaped, teardrop hand ax, and this is very old, right, and then we start to see this this tendency towards miniaturization. - [Steve] Right, and so the tools, what that means is that the tools get smaller and more specific. So we talked earlier, the hand ax was very much a general-purpose tool that you could use for all sorts of different activities. When we start getting smaller and more specialized stone tools-- - [David] So let's say this is like a little spear point, and maybe now, I'm gonna, you know, mount it in a piece of, like bone or horn, like from an antler, or a piece of wood, I can just do that, and maybe like, you know, strap it in with a little bit of animal or plant fiber to tie it down, make it stick. - [Steve] Right, and that would be called a composite tool where you're using more than one material to put together a tool for a specific purpose, and so the pieces of stone, the artifacts that we have here are referred to as microliths. - [David] Ooh, I like that. Let's break that down, so micro means very small, and lith, again, means stone. - [Steve] Right, so we have these very small stones, these microliths, and we see them being attached to other items, such as sticks and bones to form these composite tools that can be used for more specific purposes. And one of the things that this allows people to do, and I should probably stop and say, so we start to see these microliths, again the time, the dating is not super precise, but probably somewhere 35 to 25,000 years ago, we start to see that. And so now, you have a small stone point attached to a stick, for example, you can make a spear that you can throw at an animal. You don't have to be right next to an animal in order to kill it. You can make arrows using bows and arrows that you can reach from a farther distance. - [David] So you don't have to go up to that ibex and bop it on the head. - [Steve] Right, it's considerably safer to attack your prey from a distance. - [David] So this miniaturization of tools, making hunting less dangerous, enables you to bring in more game, and it enables you to feed more people, but not as many people as agriculture would, but there are other technological changes you were telling me about earlier. - [Steve] Correct, so earlier we mentioned, about 16,000 years ago, we start to see collection of wild grains, so this is still different than actively growing grains, they're growing wildly, people go collect them, but you see tools like sickles, primitive sickles, so stone sickles. - [David] So what is this implement used for? - [Steve] So, when you use a sickle, you've knocked down the stalks of grain, so you can think of it as kind of a very primitive version of a lawnmower. - [David] Sure. - [Steve] Because the grains that you want are on the top of the grass stock, so you cut those down so you can get the grains off. And then you have to get the grain out of its husk, so in order to get the grains separated from the husks that go around them, they would use what was called a mortar and pestle. - [David] Oh, sure, we still have those now. I mean, we still have sickles now, but they're very different looking. - [Steve] Yes, and made of metal, and much sharper. So mortar and pestle is essentially a block or a bowl, and a small, kind of a stout stick that you use to break or mash the item you're trying to get at. - [David] So this is for removing the husk from like the, the wheat berry, or the grain, or whatever it is, right? - [Steve] Exactly. - [David] What do we call those, the endosperm? Inside the seed, this is where the starchy goodness is. - [Steve] Right, the husks are not inedible, but not something you really want to eat, either. - [David] Sure, so people would grind these grains to liberate the interior of the seeds, or the wheat berries, or whatever, from the husks to make them easier to consume. - [Steve] Exactly. - [David] So at some point, groups of people all over the planet, and we know this because we can attest it in the archaeological record, said to one another, what would happen if, instead of us going out to hunt for these, you know, to go collect these, like this wild barley or this wild wheat, what if we just planted it closer to where we slept? Wouldn't that be more convenient so we don't have to go so far afield? And that's kind of the birth of agriculture right there, and I'm sure it didn't play out in a conversation like that, you know, this took thousands of years to develop, but this led to the birth of agriculture, and from there, the birth of cities. - [Steve] Right, because agriculture necessitates you staying near the spot where you're planting your crops or where you're raising your animals - [David] But, preagricultural people also built stuff. - [Steve] Right, and it's happening in different ways and at different rates in different places around the world. - [David] So there's this place in modern-day Turkey called Gobekli Tepe, and it's this monument that was built by nonagricultural people. - [Steve] Right, and to give some context on that, up until fairly recently, pre-historians, people who study this era of prehistory, assumed that building of monuments or of large structures in general was limited to agricultural societies, and so this site was found in the mid-1990s, is when they discovered it. And it was evident that this was something built not by a sedentary agricultural society, but by a group that's still engaged in hunting and foraging practices. And as best they can tell, this was probably built about 12,000 years ago. - [David] So Steve, what was Gobekli Tepe? - [Steve] Well, the people who have found it aren't entirely certain what purpose it served there. Imagining that it served some sort of ritual purpose in some way, but it's really hard to say because there are no written records to tell us. So what they've found is, several hundred limestone pillars arranged in circles, and then there are images of animals carved into a lot of these pillars as well, but the reason that they can assume that this was created by a nonagricultural society-- - [David] Yeah, how do we know? - [Steve] Is that they haven't found any evidence nearby of agricultural production, of permanent settlements, so semipermanent settlements, but that was typical where people would move from place to place to follow resources, and they've also found animal bones, indicating that animals were slaughtered and eaten in the area, but all of these are from wild animals. So again, the take away from this discovery is that hunting and foraging societies could still engage in monumental architecture, it was not something that only happened in agricultural societies, it just was more likely with agriculture. - [David] And we'll cover the birth and the spread of agriculture, but that's a story for another time.