An Introduction to the Art of the Neolithic Period, c.7000–1700 B.C.E.

Neolithic people did not write. However, because they lived in settled communities, they left many traces. By Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art Introduction The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is characterized by the beginning of a settled human lifestyle. People learned to cultivate plants and domesticate animals for food, rather than rely solely on hunting[…]

Neanderthals Could Speak and Process Spoken Communication

Neanderthals had the capacity to perceive and produce human speech. When the ancestors of anatomically-modern non-Africans came out of Africa and met their Neanderthal sister species, they would probably have been able to communicate with them with speech. The fact that two related species of hominin could very probably use speech in exactly the same[…]

Ancient Trees Show When the Earth’s Magnetic Field Last Flipped Out

The Earth is a giant magnet because its core is solid iron, and swirling around it is an ocean of molten metal. An ancient, well-preserved tree that was alive the last time the Earth’s magnetic poles flipped has helped scientists pin down more precise timing of that event, which occurred about 42,000 years ago. This[…]

Analyzing Bones: What Skeletons Can Tell Us about Ancient People

Analyzing the bones and teeth of individuals can give us insights into the details of their lives. Introduction Imagine you are an archaeologist excavating at a new building site in East London, the location of an ancient cemetery. Deep down you uncover bones that look old. You recover a full skull with teeth, and most[…]

Step-by-Step Path Taken by First People to Settle the Caribbean Islands

Did people settle these islands by traveling north from South America, or in the other direction? Artifacts provide a definitive answer. Introduction For the millions of people around the world who live on islands today, a plane or boat can easily enough carry them to the mainland or other islands. But how did people in[…]

Ancient DNA Reveals the Genetic Landscape of People Who First Settled East Asia

Scientists are starting to untangle how the region was populated. Introduction The very first human beings originally emerged in Africa before spreading across Eurasia about 60,000 years ago. After that, the story of humankind heads down many different paths, some more well-studied than others. Eastern regions of Eurasia are home to approximately 2.3 billion people[…]

The Walls of Ceide Fields: Stone Age Agriculture in Ireland

The fields cover the remains of hundreds of stone age farms. By Jenny SnookHistorian Overview The Ceide Fields, near Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, on the western coast of Ireland, are recognised as one of the oldest and largest Stone Age farming sites in the world, dating back to c. 3700 BCE. The walls that have been discovered so[…]

How Ancient Microbial Life Used Arsenic to Thrive in a World without Oxygen

Scientists discovered a living microbial mat that uses arsenic instead of oxygen for photosynthesis and respiration. Introduction Billions of years ago, life on Earth was mostly just large slimy mats of microbes living in shallow water. Sometimes, these microbial communities made carbonate minerals that over many years cemented together to become layered limestone rocks called[…]

Prehistoric Domestic Architecture in the Ohio Valley

Present knowledge indicates that the first permanent houses were constructed by the Adena people between 1000 BCE and 400 CE. By Raymond S. BabyLate Curator Emeritus of Archaeology, Ohio History ConnectionLate Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University Introduction “Man’s home is his castle.” Whether this old axiom applies to prehistoric man is a matter[…]

Who Were the Neanderthals?

Examining the lifestyle of these early humans, their distinctive characteristics, and what they were like. By Lisa Hendry Introduction We know more facts about Neanderthals than any other extinct humans. Many thousands of their artefacts and fossils have been found, including several nearly complete skeletons. We also know about their genetic make-up, as several Neanderthal[…]

Early Concepts of Disease

For many centuries explanations for disease were based not on science, but on religion, superstition, and myth. Hunter-Gatherers Ten thousand years ago humans were hunter-gatherers. They had a short life span, but not because of epidemics; their primary problem was just finding enough food to eat. They lived and traveled in small groups and hunted[…]

Ancient Diseases: Traces of Suffering in the Bones

Diseases have often influenced historical events, but they are neglected in the documentation of these events. Human remains used to be considered a nuisance in archaeological excavations. Today they are considered a valuable source of information to understand the ways of life of prehistoric populations and their conditions. A short distance from what is now[…]

Prehistoric and Ancient Native American Tools and Technology in Iowa

Exploring archery technology, the production of bone tools and ground stone tools, flintknapping, and prehistoric pottery. By Tim WeitzelHistoric Preservation Specialist Overview Paleoindian At the end of the last Ice Age, Iowa had a cool, wet climate and widespread coniferous forests. Paleoindian peoples (11,000_8500 BC) lived in small, highly mobile bands and hunted large game animals. Their tools[…]

Prehistoric Oldowan Tools

2.6-million-year-old tools from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Introduction The appearance of simple stone tools, widely known as Oldowan tools or the Oldowan industry, marked the beginning of our technological revolution. To our knowledge, these artifacts appeared around 2.6 million years ago in the savannahs of Eastern Africa. Today, the Oldowan is still the earliest, universally acknowledged stone tool[…]

Evolution and an Ancient ‘Arms Race’ for Resources

Larger brains lead to a broader social network. Human society rewards individuals who can handle complex social interactions and control large groups of people. Extreme examples of this power are comedians who can fill stadiums entertaining 70,000 people, or politicians who, through their rhetoric and charm, convince millions of us to vote for them so[…]

Immense Neolithic Ring Discovered Near Stonehenge

The mystery near and around Stonehenge keeps growing. The latest revelation is the discovery of a ring of at least 20 prehistoric shafts about 2 miles from the famous Neolithic site of immense upright stones, according to an announcement from the University of Bradford. Archaeologists say the “astonishing” shafts in Durrington Walls date back to[…]

The Archaeological Record and Epidemics Since the Prehistoric World

People have lived with infectious disease throughout the millennia, with culture and biology influencing each other. Introduction The previous pandemics to which people often compare COVID-19 – the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Black Death bubonic plague (1342-1353), the Justinian plague (541-542) – don’t seem that long ago to archaeologists. We’re used to thinking about[…]

Kurgans: Ancient Burial Mounds of Scythian Elites in the Eurasian Steppe

These elite burial monuments are not only important for rich funerary goods but also for the complex structure of the kurgans themselves. Introduction This article is dedicated to the phenomena called ‘kurgans’, the monumental burial mounds of riding nomads of the Scythian period. Kurgans were first investigated in southern Ukraine and southern Russia, the core[…]

Prehistoric Italian Rock Drawings of Valcamonica

The first appearance of these drawings can be dated back to the age of Epipaleolithic (20000-1000 BP). Introduction The rock drawings of Valcamonica are prehistoric petroglyphs carved in the glacier-polished, grey-purple Permian sandstone of the Camonica valley that extends for 90 km in the Italian provinces of Brescia and Bergamo in Lombardy. The name of[…]

Prehistoric Human Footprints: A Snapshot of Ancient Human Behavior

The footprints of over 20 different prehistoric people show possible evidence for sexual division of labor in this ancient community. Introduction When it comes to reconstructing how ancient creatures lived, palaeontologists like us are as much detectives as we are scientists. We’re used to partial evidence, dead ends and red herrings. It’s especially hard to[…]

Neanderthals, String, and Sophisticated Tools

There is growing evidence that our closest extinct human relative wasn’t as dumb as scientists had long assumed. Tiny bits of twisted plant fibers found on an ancient stone tool suggest that Neanderthals were able to make and use sophisticated cords like string and rope. Cords made from twisted fibers are so ubiquitous today that[…]

An Overview of the Origins of Stonehenge

It was built in five constructional stages spanning a period from around 3000 to 1500 BCE. Stonehenge represents one of Britain’s most important and enigmatic archaeological sites. Beginning in Neolithic times and modified during the Bronze Age it currently comprises a number of incomplete stone circles and stone horseshoes, built in five constructional stages spanning[…]

An Overview of Prehistoric Ancestor Cults

Some of the burials in the Palaeolithic period raise the possibility of very early forms of ancestor cults. Introduction Ancestor cults stem from the belief that human beings are made up of two parts: the body and the spirit. Dead ancestors are considered divine and rituals are organised to respect their memory and invoke the[…]

A Hole in the Head: Trephination in Prehistoric and Ancient Times

Evidence for trephination occurs from the Neolithic period onwards. Introduction Trephination (also known as trepanning or burr holing) is a surgical intervention where a hole is drilled, incised or scraped into the skull using simple surgical tools. In drilling into the skull and removing a piece of the bone, the dura mater is exposed without[…]

Human Diseases May Have Contributed to the Fate of Neanderthals

Stomach ulcers, herpes, ringworm and other tropical diseases may have all contributed to the Neanderthal demise. By Jason Daley In the last decade, researchers have realized that the interactions between ancient humans and Neanderthals were much more complicated than previously believed. Not only did Homo sapiens compete with Neanderthals for resources, we extensively interbred with[…]

Prehistoric Bird Skull Found in Amber Was Tiny Predator in Time of Giant Dinosaurs

The skull of Oculudentavis provides new clues into the transition from dinosaurs to birds and may be smallest of either ever found. Introduction In 2016, our colleague Xing Lida held up a small piece of polished, deeply yellow amber. As sunlight shone through the ancient resin, Lida saw the outline of a pristinely preserved, amazingly[…]

Phantasmagoria Dinosauria: An Overview of Earth’s Mesozoic Rulers

The taxon Dinosauria was formally named by the English palaeontologist Richard Owen in 1842. Introduction Dinosaurs are an extinct, diverse, largely terrestrial group of vertebrate animals of the Sauropsid orders Saurischia (lizard-hipped) and Ornithischia (bird-hipped) and were the dominant land reptiles for over 160 million years, during the Mesozoic era. Dinosaurs first appeared approximately 230[…]

The Geological History of Earth

The geological history of the Earth can be broadly classified into two periods: the Precambrian supereon and the Phanerozoic eon. Introduction The geological history of Earth began 4.567 billion years ago, when the planets of the Solar System were formed out of the solar nebula, a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation[…]

The Age of the Earth

The Earth has been through many changes during its existence. Introduction Modern geologists and geophysicists consider the age of Earth to be around 4.54 billion years (4.54×109 years).[1] This age has been determined by radiometric age dating of meteorite material[2] and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples. Following the[…]