The Prehistory of the World to 8000 BCE

A “handprint” created by “placing the hand up against the wall and then blowing a mixture of red ochre and water around them, leaving a negative image on the rock” (Wikimedia Commons) / Pettakere Cave, South Sulawesi, Indonesia

By Dr. Jack E. Maxfield / 11.30.2009

Beginning to 8000 BCE

Our earth is estimated to have originated, by whatever means, about 4,600,000,000 years ago and the eons since have been variously described and classified by geologists, paleontologists and archaeologists into eras and periods and epochs. Unfortunately each discipline has tended to use its own classification and at times this motley of terms has been quite confusing. On the next pages, tables have been constructed in an attempt at some clarification. In the story of man we are concerned only with the geological epochs labeled “Pleistocene” and “Holocene” of the Cenozoic, or recent era. The archaeological ages of man can be only roughly fit into the geological schema and we have attempted to present this relationship on the second of the charts.

Gondwanaland illustration / Wikimedia Commons

The positions and relationships of land masses and seas have changed markedly throughout the time of the earth’s existence. Some two hundred million years ago the Eurasian continent was separated from a combined land mass called “Gondwanaland” which consisted of the present South America, Antarctica, Australia and India, by a great ocean joining the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and running through the area which is now the Mediterranean Basin. This great sea is called “Tethys” and it had a northern arm (Paratethys) which ran through the present Black, Caspian and Aral seas areas. The story of India’s later collision with the Asian continent is in the section on Central and Northern Asia. Recent study of cores from the floors of the Mediterranean and Black seas has given clues as to the course of events there. When Africa collided with Eurasia, the Tethys was closed at Gibralter and the Near East area so that at first a large inland sea was produced, covering the Mediterranean Basin and much of Eastern Europe. Then, with severe climatic changes of six million years ago the Mediterranean area became dry, actually desert, for a million years, while the Black – Caspian – Aral regions became a stagnant, shallow but gigantic type of swamp. Then when the northern streams became re-activated the Paratethys drained into the Mediterranean Basin and both areas were converted to a network of fresh-water lakes at something like five and one-half million years ago. About 600,000 years ago, a great lake in the Carpathian Mountains silted up and the Danube spilled over into the Black Sea. As the last glaciers receded about 89000 B.C. the Mediterranean, which had apparently been slowly refilling as the Atlantic poured over Gibralter Straits, now broke over the Bosporus again to add salt water to the Black Sea. This gave rise to an anoxic stratum of stagnant, brackish water below the surface which remains to this day and precludes marine life in the lower levels.

With reference to the charts following, we should point out that they are in part inaccurate for the world as a whole. While bronze working was present all over the continent of Europe proper by 1,600 B.C. the northern half of Britain and all of Scandinavia as well as western Iberia and North Africa remained neolithic or chalcolithic. More remote parts of the globe undoubtedly still had an early Stone Age culture. The Hittites in Asia Minor had iron as early as 1,300 B.C. but it was worth forty times its weight in silver and its use spread very slowly from this center. The Assyrians brought the Iron Age to Egypt only in the 7th century B.C. and it was not used in central and southern Africa until one to three centuries after the birth of Christ. China had the Shang Bronze Age Culture about 1,600 B.C. but did not have iron works until the 6th century B.C.

Geological Ages **65 million years ago at the boundary between the geologic mesozoic and cenozoic periods, life in the oceans changed dramatically, with massive extinction of earlier life forms and explosive evolution of new ones.
Pre-Cambrian Archeozoic 5,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 Earth’s crust. Unicellular organisms
Pre-Cambrian Proterozoic 1,000,000,000 to 600,000,000 Bacteria, algae, fungi and simple multicellular organisms
Phanerozoic** Paleozoic 600,000,000 to 220,000,000 From Cambrian thru Caroniferous & Permian Development of animals from marine invertebrates up through insects and reptiles.
Phanerozoic Mesozoic (Warm & rather uniform global climate) 220,000,000 to 65,000,000 Triassic Volcanic activity, marine reptiles, dinosaurs. As period started all continents were more or less locked together in a supercontinent (Pangaea_. A great bight Tethys extended between Asia and Africa and perhaps between Old and new Worlds. Number of marine species dropped by nearly 60% , but 40% of present land area became flooded. In No. Amer. sea over entire mid-continent region from Gulf deep into Canada & from Rockies to Appalachians. Africa split into large islands.
Phanerozoic Mesozoic (Warm & rather uniform global climate) 220,000,000 to 65,000,000 Jurassic Dinosaurs, conifers.
Phanerozoic Mesozoic (Warm & rather uniform global climate) 220,000,000 to 65,000,000 Cretaceous Extinction of giant reptiles. Insects and flowers.
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 65,000,000 to 38,000,000 Tertiary Paleocene Eocene Birds & Mammals.
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 38,000,000 Tertiary Oligocene Saber-tooth cats. Continents assumed approx. present position & a cold current circled Antarctica with relatively little water diverted northward, so temperature gradient from equator to So. Pole increased.
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 26 to 7,000,000 Tertiary Miocene Grazing mammals. First major Antarctic glaciations.
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 7 to 2,000,000 Tertiary Pliocene Mountains; climate cooling; increase in size and numbers of mammals. Man?
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 2,000,000 to 10,000 Quaternary PLEISTOCENE – ICE AGES. DEFINITE APPEARANCE OF MAN
Phanerozoic Cenozoic 10,000 to present Quaternary HOLOCENE DEVELOPMENT OF MAN, THE SOCIAL ANIMAL.
Archeological Ages in Relation to Geological Ages (See especially PLEISTOCENE and HOLOCENE EPOCHS in previous table)
PLEISTOCENE 2,000,000 TO 1,000,000 Earliest Ice Ages Ape-like Hominids. Astralopithecus (Others would put still earlier).
PLEISTOCENE 1,000,000 to 500,000 Early Ice Age Simple stone tools. Major glacial phases.
PLEISTOCENE 500,000 to 8,000 Paleolithic Lower Old Stone Age Java man. Peking man – ate tiger, buffalo. Standard tool forms. Use of fire.
PLEISTOCENE 500,000 to 8,000 Paleolithic Middle Neanderthal man about 75,000 B.C. Blade tools, fire, burials.
PLEISTOCENE 500,000 to 8,000 Paleolithic Upper (Paleo-Indian in America) Modern man 35,000 to 40,000 B.C. Ate rhinoceros, wild sheep and boar, but 70% venison. Probably did not cook, but had fire. Split bones for marrow. Possibly cannibalistic. Use of bone and antler.
HOLOCENE 8,000 TO 5,000 Mesolithic (Meso-Indian) Middle Stone Age. Domestication of plants and animals. Earliest towns, wooden saws with rows of chipped flint for teeth. More advanced tools.
HOLOCENE 5,000 to 2,500 Neolithic (Archaic-Indian) New or Late Stone Age Polished stone tools, fired pottery, cultivated wheat and barley. Post-glacial rise in sea levels.
HOLOCENE 5,000 to 2,500 Chalcolithic Copper-stone Age In some areas only, particularly in Near East. Copper in use with stone.
HOLOCENE 2,500 to 1,000 Bronze Age Alloy of tin with copper. Stronger, more adaptable metal. (Bronze was used in Thailand as early as 3,500 B.C.)
HOLOCENE 1,000 to Present Iron Age The Hittites had iron as early as 1,300 B.C. but Egypt did not until 7th century B.C. and China in 6th century B.C.


[LEFT]: Occipital / foramen magnum of Swanscombe-fossil (Homo heidelbergensis), ca. 400,000 years old, replica / Museum Tautavel (Perpignan-region), France
[RIGHT]: Original skull and holotype of Homo steinheimensis / State Museum of Natural History, Stuttgart.

We must discuss now the mystery of where and when modern man appeared on the world scene. Although an upright, walking man called Homo erectus was wide spread in Asia, Africa and Europe some one-half million years ago, using fire and simple hand-axes and tools, the first fossils which appear to be those of a race more closely related to our modern races (Homo sapiens) have been found at Swanscombe in England and Steinheim in Germany. An apparent close “cousin” of these men and a variant of Homo sapiens, the Neandertahaler, lived during the last Ice Ages throughout Europe, North Africa, the Mid-east and apparently a few even in Asia, but this particular race for some reason did not survive. Nevertheless, the Neanderthal man was a skilled hunter, used fire, cooked food and buried his dead. Only 50% survived to age twenty and nine out of ten of those remaining died before their fortieth birthday. They were subject to rickets, something that may have resembled congenital syphilis and were probably cannibalistic. There is some evidence in the fossils of the Near East that some authorities interpret as indicating that modern man, in the sense of our own sub-species, Homo sapiens sapiens, evolved from or out of Neanderthal man around 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, but this is not the consensus. Most anthropologists assume that over several eons a new breed of man, which might be called the “Ur-race”, spread out to populate the Eurasian land mass, replacing or extinguishing any pre-existing hominoids. A further development of this theory necessitates the assumption of the isolation of various groups behind geological barriers, each adopting and adapting to their separate environments and gradually differentiating into present day races. Thus, the stay-at-homes became the Caucasoids, those moving into Central Asia and northern China became the Mongoloids through adaptation to severe cold, while the groups moving into hot Africa became Negroids. But these are only theories and a few authorities would disagree. Chief among these, perhaps, is Dr. Carleton Coon of Harvard who believes in the multiple origins of the various races.

Modern man in Europe was initially represented by the Cro-Magnons – with large bones, high brows and powerful physiques, standing as high as six feet four inches, similar to some Europeans of today. Other representatives of modern Homo sapiens sapiens were also present at about this time, including one smaller and almost frail in comparison. This was Combe Capelle man, apparently related to the Mediterranean peoples of today.

Although these new men, identified in Europe by about 37,000 years ago, carried a number of new types of tools, more importantly, according to recent extensive studies of these tools and remaining implements, this man had the brain which man has today, a brain capable of art, imagery and notation and of seeing the world in a time-factored and time-factoring way. We shall hear more about these features later.

After 10,000 B.C. with the retreat of the ice, vegetation patterns began to alter. Reindeer followed mosses and ferns at the ice edge and people dependent on them followed. With warm winds, great fields of wild grain appeared in various areas of the Near East. Eventually the people began deliberate cultivation and domestication of livestock, but the original practices soon turned fertile land into desert and a controlled irrigation system had to be discovered. Raw grain and the human digestive system are not compatible so one might ask how grain could be cooked in the days before pottery. On occasions large shells, stomachs of animals, pit stones, etc. were in limited use, but probably the chief method was to heat the threshing floor to a high enough temperature to roast the grain at the same time that the chaff was splintered. The result would be a coarse groat, needing no further cooking but too dry to swallow. Add water and knead to a stiff paste and one has something comparable to the Greek maza), Roman puls, the Mexican tortilla, Scots oat cake, East Indian chapate, Chinese pao-ping, Ethiopian injera and the American Indian Johnnycake’ all of these were probably descendants of Neolithic bread, just with differing basic grains.

The origins and differentiation factors in the races of man continue to raise unsolved questions and continual new concepts. Certain features, such as skin color, which we superficially tend to use to categorize racial groups may be simply environmentally adaptive traits correlated with climatic conditions. Skin color varies, even within each race, with the latitude of the habitat. The Mongoloid peoples of Southeast Asia are much darker than those of northern China; Caucasoids of southern India and southern Arabia are quite black; central American Indians are darker than those farther north. Similarly, fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair are climatic adaptations by natural selection to a cloudy, dimly lit northern environment, where every bit of Vitamin D from sunlight is needed and must not be filtered out by melanin in the skin, if the individual is to survive.

There are traits, however, which are non-adaptive and are known as “race markers”.Among these are [1] distinctive teeth (shovel-shaped incisors occur with 80% frequency among Mongoloids and American Indians) and [2] hair form, with coarse, straight hair of large diameter in Mongoloids and American Indians, small diameter hair in Causasoids and flat cross-section hair producing the “woolly” appearance in Africans and Melanesians.

In addition only the Caucasoid and the Australian aborigine has much body hair and premature balding. Of course the final differentiation is to be found in blood group traits and factors which we shall examine a little later in more detail. The greatest differences in these blood-groups and traits lie not between races as such, but between the people living east and west of the great Asian mountain-desert barrier. Thus it has been suggested that the earliest division of Homo sapiens was a differentiation into Eastern and Western races. Certainly as the precursor of modern man spread across Africa and then Eurasia, not only his body changed, but his method of doing things, his tool kit and his food supply.

We come now to the question of the origins and divisions of the present-day races of man and as might be anticipated, there is no complete uniformity of thought on this subject. There is probably no point in discussing any concepts at this time that are not based on blood gene studies. A classification developed by William C. Boyd is as follows:

Overall this group has the highest incidence of the Rh negative gene and a relatively high R’, with no Fy, V or “Diego”. It can be further subdivided. Today this is represented by the Basques and possibly the Berbers. This group has the highest percentage of Rh negative in the world along with high R’ and A2 and no B, These people are not Mongoloids but are Europeans, having developed their distinctive race in situ. This class has the highest frequency of N, is very high in A2, moderately high in Fya and a very low B. (We assume that Boyd means Scandinavians, northern Germans, French, English, etc.). These are next to the Lapps in highest A2 frequency, a high Rh negative gene distribution (next to the Basques), a fairly high A, normal MN frequencies and low B1. (We assume this would include southern Germans and most of the Slavs). In these there is higher M than in (c) above and a lower Rh negative. B is higher. (Includes southern Europe, the Middle East, and much of north Africa.) This group has a higher B and a lower Rh negative than the northwest Europeans but they have a greater Ro [cDe], suggesting some relationship with Africans. (North Africans and Egyptians are predominant in this group.) Africans have a very high Ro, a high V and frequencies of Fy above 0.8. R1 is low, but the frequency of P factor is the highest known. Some have high sickle-cell gene levels. Asians have high Al and B, with little A2. There is a low percentage of Rh negative and the predominant Rh gene is R . S is relative rare. M is high in southern Asia while it is normal in northern Asia. This is a somewhat varied group lying somewhere between the Europeans and the Asiatics and may eventually have to be subdivided. They have the highest B of anyplace in the world and M is higher than in Europe. The Rh negative factor is less than in Europe and although A2 is present it accounts for less of the A than in the European group. Incidentally these studies show definitely that Gypsies are of Indian origin. Due to genetic drift, B blood is almost completely absent in American Indians, although very common today in East Asia. Eskimos are placed in this group although some definitely possess B, which does not come from any European mixture. In the Indian the Rh negative gene is completely absent, R is low but R2 is the highest in the world. In some American Indians there is a substantial “Diego” factor (Dia) which is nearly or completely absent in Europeans. The factors in this group will be seen to be very close to that of the Polynesians, as shown below.

Boyd cautions that the Pacific Group about to be described under (6), (7) and (8) need more investigation. In general all of these have a high M and a low N factor. In general A and B are both fairly high, although not in Sumatra, and A2 is absent. S is present and they have only four Rh genes [1, 2, 6 and z] with R predominating. A2 is absent as in (6) but A and B are higher. The frequency of JKa is high while K and Lua are absent and M is low. Al is high but B is almost negligible. M is high while S is present and mostly attached to N. They have only three Rh genes – Rl, R2 and Ro with the latter low. K and Lua are missing. Heyerdahl points out that with the essentially absent B and the high M, these Polynesians can have no relationship to the Melanesians or Micronesians).
These primitive people have a high Al, a low M and no B. They also have no S, thus varying from the Indonesians above. While Rh negative is absent, RZ has its highest known frequency here.

Another classification of race occurs in the very recent publication of Hugh Thomas although it is based on Coon’s differentiation of 1968. Coon felt that each of the racial groups to be listed developed from entirely separate stems on the primate tree.

, including Europeans, White Americans, Middle-Eastern whites, Arabs,Jews, Persians, east Indians and the Ainus.
, including Chinese, most East Asiatics, Polynesians, Eskimos, American Indians and Indonesians.
, including blacks of both Africa and America and pygmies.
, the Australian aborigines and some tribes of India and the negritos of southern Asia.
, the San (Bushmen) and Hottentots.

Robin Hallett of the University of Michigan, an authority of African history, would classify number 3 and 5 above somewhat differently, distinguishing three separate non-Caucasoid, non-Mongoloid races in Africa. There are (a) Negroid, (b) Bushmanoid (the Capoids of Thomas and Coon), described as short with yellowish brown color, thin lips, flat noses and high cheek-bones, and (c) Pygmoid, people who are very short, with yellow-brown skin color and downy body hair, living in the equatorial rain forests. Hallet says that at the time of Christ the Bushmanoids were the dominant type in central, east and South Africa. Today they are represented only by the people of the Kalahari desert. The Hottentots, which were a subgroup, have disappeared. The true Negroids, of course, are characterized by dark brown skin, broad noses, thick lips and kinky hair, originally living in the savannah to the north and west of the equatorial forests.

We shall examine some of the prehistoric features mentioned in the early paragraphs more in detail and from the standpoint of the various geographical areas.

In the geographical areas inhabited chiefly by the Caucasians it will clarify matters some to further differentiate this race according to some of the older classifications. H.G. Wells described three main subdivisions of the white race – the northern “blonds” (Nordic), the Mediterranean and north African “dark whites” and a somewhat disputed intermediate Alpine, brachycephalic race. McEvedy says the important subdivisions are Semites (Arabian peninsula), Hamites (Africa north and east of the Sahara), Indo-Europeans and Finns[1] of the far north.


Mid-Pliocene reconstructed annual sea surface temperature anomaly / United States Geological Survey

Before the Ice Age, in the Pliocene Era, there were ape-like hominoids using weapons to kill prey in Africa. It is in the anthropological digs in Tanganyika’s Olduvai Gorge that one finds the possible origin of man a million or more years ago. Some cutting tools there are dated at 3,000,000 B.C. Human habitation in Egypt goes back at least 200,000 years and there are stone tools in Zambia dating to 700,000 to 500,000 B.C. About 110,000 years ago there was a major change in world climate (probably from eccentricity in the earth’s orbit) which gave rise to the Ice Age in northern latitudes and to marked precipitation changes, both of distribution and amount, on the African continent. Homo erectus disappeared and Homo sapiens, with middle Stone Age tool technology, appeared. Those men in Africa were similar or identical to Neanderthal man in Europe and Asia.

About 20,000 B.C. during the Magdalenian period, there was a hunting culture in North Africa similar to that of Spain and France, and the people left remarkable rock engravings of wild, large animals in some areas. Later post-ice age (Mesolithic) paintings had lost the naturalism of earlier ones and may have been chiefly remembered symbolism within the tribes, after the large animals had disappeared. Ateriaan bow and arrow makers in Maighreb and Stillbay in Magosian settlements in south and east Africa are dated to 185000 B.C. At that time there was a land bridge from near the horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The large game animals – mastodons and mammoths began to disappear from Africa some 50,000 to 40,000 years ago and the number of human hunters probably decreased secondarily. Rock art has been found dating back to 25,000 B.C. in Nambia; to 11,000 B.C. in southern Morocco; and to 7,000 B.C. in Cape Province, South Africa. The first known Negro skeleton comes from Iwo Ileru in Nigeria and dates to about 9,000 B.C.

Stone artifacts show the same radio-carbon dating. Flint blades, adapted from ancient weapons, were used near the Nile for reaping wild wheat by 12,000 B.C.

Wild camels were present in northwestern Africa from the middle Pleistocene down to the early Post-glacial period. Emmanuel Anati dates the Namibia rock art to about the same period as given in the text (26,000 to 28,000 years Before Present) and describes polychrome painted slabs with animal figurines.

The Near East


[LEFT]: Remains of a wall of a Natufian house / Wikimedia Commons
[RIGHT]: A map of the Levant with Natufian regions across present-day Israel, Palestine, and a long arm extending into Lebanon and Syria. / Wikimedia Commons

Before 13,000 B.C. the area now covered by the Mediterranean Sea was in part a land mass with only connected fresh water lakes, fed by the Nile and Adriatic rivers and drainage from the Black Sea area. As the glaciers continued to melt the Atlantic Ocean level rose and spilled over the Gibralter barrier into the Mediterranean basin. It is possible that a great accumulation of men of the dark-white Iberian race had occupied this lush basin and now had to spread north, south and east. In the Near East, as we know it today, there were people at 20,000 B.C. eating snails, river crabs, fresh water mussels, turtles and various nuts. Cooking by boiling could not be well developed before the use of pottery, as one must have fire proof containers for the water. Some other previous methods may have been used in localized areas and on a small scale, such as the use of a large mollusc or reptile shell, animal stomachs, etc.

The eastern Mediterranean shore has been warm and wet enough for human habitation for at least 20,000 years and remains of the classical Neanderthal man have been found there predating that period, particularly in Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, where typical Mousterian Culture tools have been found in both caves and open sites. At about 10,000 B.C. the Natufians (archaeologist term for a particular group studied in digs) were taking their first steps toward building permanent settlements, storing food and similar basic activities. This Mesolithic culture of about 10,000 to 8,500 B.C. was centered in Palestine, but extended north into Syria and Lebanon and west into Egypt and surrounding Africa. Querns for grinding and sickles were used and the people apparently hunted gazelles. Agricultural communities appeared where rainfall permitted.

Upper Paleolithic cultures flourished in caves in Anatolia from 13,000 B.C. onwards and there are cave sites at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea from 10,500 B.C. on. Seasonal settlements with mudbrick cubicles and plastered floors in the central Zagros Mountains date to the 9th millennium B.C. Tannahill says that even back at 40,000 B.C. there was one person for every thirty-one square miles in Iran, and the bones found there are chiefly of wild goats and red deer, although those of hare, fox, leopard and wild cattle have also been found. As the Ice Age ended and the glaciers receded, the seas rose rapidly, particularly where there were wide continental shelves.

The flooding in the Persian Gulf area between seven and ten thousand years ago must have been spectacular, and before the Tigris and Euphrates rivers filled the valley with silt, the sea reached inland over hundreds of miles, undoubtedly giving rise to the flood stories so common in all heritages of the old civilizations of the Near East. Some feel that a sinking of the bed rock under the Mesopotamian plains may have outstripped the opposite effect of silting, and thus contributed to the flooding.

At Eridu, south of Ur, the Iraq government has unearthed ruins of fourteen temples, one above the other, all belonging to the “first Al’Ubaid period”, which was before a tremendous flooding of this entire valley occurred, filling the land between the Syrian desert plateau on the west and the Persian mountains on the east, representing some tremendous catastrophe of nature and remembered thereafter in the peoples’ legends as “The Flood”- a recurring story throughout Mesopotamian and Near Eastern history. In the excavations of the strata below the flood silt there was pottery, evidence already of far flung trade, and at Ur, Woolly even found two beads made of amazonite, a stone of which the nearest known source is the Nighiri hills of central India’ Whether the pre-flood people should properly be called Sumerians is disputed. The famous Sumerian King lists, found later on various tablets, show legendary kings before the flood and the length of each reign was described from 18,000 years back. Then, say the tablets, the flood came. The lists of kings after the flood again are all legendary down to “The First Dynasty of Ur” which we shall discuss later. The flood plain had eleven feet of silt which has been estimated to mean a flood not less than twenty-five feet deep over the flat, low-lying land of Mesopotamia. Ur, today, is 200 miles from the sea, but only fourteen feet above sea level.

Sheep were domesticated in northern Iraq about 9,000 B.C., certainly by 8,900 B.C., but it is possible that they were brought from the east around the Caspian Sea by nomads who had domesticated them even earlier.

Stone Age hunter-gatherers left stone tools, hand axes, borers, scrapers, knives and arrowheads from one end of the peninsula to the other. The now dry wadis must have gushed with water at that time, although they apparently dried up about 15,000 years ago.



Mousterian stone tools / Wikimedia Commons

We have mentioned earlier that one of the oldest skeletons of homo erectus is one from Swanscombe, England, found with simple tools made of flint pebbles and associated with elephants’ vertebrae. Continental examples of a somewhat similar man have been found at Heidelberg and recently not far from Budapest. At the early state of the final glaciation (Wurm glacier), perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, there were wedge-shaped stones, axes and spears made in central Europe. This was the time of Neanderthal man, who apparently has no direct descendants today and who represented an evolutionary development of primitive man which for some unknown reason came to a dead end and disappeared. He used pointed scrapers, triangular knife blades, ceremonial burials and heated shelters as well as bone needles. Europe seemed to be the home of these men, although some have been identified in other areas. The archaeologists call their culture the “Mousterian” after Mousteir, France, the location of the original finds. Theirs was a reindeer-dependent culture, in which men used “kits” of some sixty-three different tools. They were basically cave dwellers, particularly in Spain and France. At this time there was a land bridge from England to France and the glacier covered the northern half of the British Isles and all Scandinavia, northern continental Europe and parts of Russia. The Black Sea, as mentioned earlier, was small and a fresh water lake that at some time was connected to the great sea extending through the Caspian to the Aral. H.G. Wells thought that this great sea might have been connected to the Arctic, but modern thought makes it a northern arm of Tethys.

In the Lower Paleolithic Age back as far as 100,000 years ago there were flake tools of the Clactonian Culture and later the Acheulian Culture in Britain. There was some occupation in the Upper Paleolithic in perhaps about 12,000 B.C. and this homo sapiens culture which followed the Neanderthal Mousterian, showed an increased tool “kit” with ninety-three types of chipped stone tools, besides a large group of bone tools. Between 30,000 and 10,000 B.C. most of central and western Europe was probably uninhabitable because of cold and ice, except in the summer, but the waters of the Atlantic and its more southern latitude gave southwestern France respite from the cold and thus was a favorite place for the Paleolithic hunter. Early man here was a killer of game and part-time cannibal. In the “fish gorge” of the Dordogne region of France there appeared, about 25,000 B.C., short, baited toggles with tines attached,- the first fish hooks.

About 15,000 years ago huge herds of ruminant animals roamed the plains of central and Western Europe and they were most useful to early man as sources of meat, clothes, tent fabrics and frames and even as fuel (animal fat). The mammoth was hunted particularly in southern Russia and Czechoslovakia. Early man was already divided into subcultures in the Upper Paleolithic level with a Perigordian (Chatelperronian) level appearing as the earliest in western Europe about 35,000 B.C.; a Gravettian in Czechoslovakia about 27,000 B.C. (extending into southern Russia); and the Aurignacian culture of the Cro-Magnon man at 32,000 B.C. in Europe proper. The latter may, however, have originated in the Near East. Strangely marked bones and stones found all over in these periods and extending up to the Mesolithic period of the post-ice age have recently been interpreted as notational, probably related to tabulation of the lunar periodicity, and indicating skill and intelligence and sophistication, as we have previously mentioned.

It was after Neanderthal man, which is after 35,000 years ago, that clothing and ornamentation can be identified. The best example of the use of beads sewn on clothing comes from Russia, where a skeleton was accompanied by shells about the head, chest and on the legs, suggesting trousers. On the steppes, where wood was in short supply, many huts were made from the tusks and bones of mammoth, which also formed the major meat supply in Eastern Europe 25,000 years ago.

Two categories of European art are recognized, a mobile or home art (decorated tools, small carvings, etc.) and then the fixed works of caves and rock paintings, engravings and sculptures. The earliest art dates to the upper Paleolithic, between ten and thirty thousand years ago. The most developed art was in the so-called Magdalenian era, with the famous cave paintings of Spain and France, of which more than a hundred have been found, perhaps representing a period of over 20,000 years. The pigments used appear to be red and yellow ochre, manganese or carbon for black and china clay for white. Some of the color may have been mixed with fat and the paint was applied by finger, chewed sticks or fur for brushes. The high quality of this art, of essentially the same degree of excellence as that of today[2] is further evidence that man of that day had the same brain and intellectual potential as today.

A short glacial period between 9,000 and 8,000 B.C. reached its peak in less than a century and disappeared rapidly, but for several hundred years the forests of England, West Germany and the Low Countries had a climate with tundras, howling winds and drifting snow. By about 8,000 B.C. fishing nets from twisted fibers or thongs had been invented. Turnips, onions and large radishes date back to prehistoric times. Ireland was probably uninhabited until about 8,000 B.C. The earliest inhabitants of southern Scandinavia entered between 12,000 and 8,000 B.C. following after the retreating ice, and forming primitive hunting communities.

Central and Northern Asia


Neanderthal skull and the Siberian cave where it was found / Cave photo by Andrey Shrivokapkin,  Wikimedia Commons

It is of interest that some geologists have written that during much of the Triassic and Jurassic periods some 200 million years ago, southern Tibet was largely submerged below the tropical sea of Tethys – water separating the continents of Eurasia and Gondwanaland. During the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, the Indian subcontinent separated, moved across the Tethys and collided with Eurasia with a terrific impact which formed the Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau. The collision zone folded the earth’s crusts to almost a right angle. Then only a few million years ago further uplift of the Himalayans occurred, incident to glaciation and other factors, and these mountains are still rising at the rate of 1/2 centimeter a year.

Skeletal remains have been found of the cave dwelling Neanderthal hunters all about the area from the Caspian to the Aral seas. As the last Ice Age retreated, Siberian reindeer hunters progressively worked northward. Men of truly modern type were pressing into this far north land some 35,000 years ago, where they hunted mammoths within a hundred miles of the Arctic Circle, along the Pechora River. An early wave of men spread from the Ural Mountains across central Asia to southern Siberia and Mongolia and their relics have come to be known as the Mal’ta – Afontova Culture. A second wave penetrated eastern Siberia along the Aldan River and Soviet excavations there have shown these people of the Diuktai Culture to have hunted mammoths, muskoxen, bison and giant woolly rhinoceroses about 35,000 years ago. These people may have been some of the first adventurers across the land bridge into Alaska. Certain Siberian tribes existing today (Nganasans, Eutsis, Dogan Chukchi, etc.) have a complex time-factored mythology and ceremonials, including lunar calendar notations, bear and reindeer ceremonies, etc. that are related to Upper Paleolithic cultures of 15,000 to 35,000 years ago.

Around Lake Baikal and the upper Yenissei River well preserved artifacts dating to 20,000 years ago have been excavated. These include huts and small art objects, such as carved geese figurines and tiny female statuettes. From the latter it is apparent that these Mongoloid people wore skin suits, parka hoods and moccasins sewed on trousers. The bow and arrow may have been invented in central Asia by 13,000 B.C. About 11,000 B.C. the Asiatic wolf probably was under human control, but only by getting animals under six weeks of age. This was not true dog domestication.

Dr. Ales Hrdlicka has found on the southern slopes of the Himalayas among the Tibetan tribes a yellow-brown stock which “in physique, in behavior, in dress, and even in intonations of language” appear identical with American Indians. Could this be their original homeland?

The Indian Subcontinent

S. indicus skull, Ramapithecus from the Siwalik beds / Natural History Museum, London

The Indian subcontinent has produced almost no fossil men with the exception of Ramapithecus from the Siwalik beds and a similar jaw from Gandakas in Pakistan. These have just recently been put into the human “line”. But men have lived in India since the second interglacial period, from 400,000 to 200,000 B.C. The hand-axes, chopping tools and flakes of the early Stone Age are found in the Punjab foothills, the Soan and Beas valleys, Rajasthan, Malwa and as far south as Madras. Some of these are reminiscent of the Clactonian of Europe and the Olduvan of Africa. At the close of the Paleolithic, tiny bladelet tools likethose of the European Mesolithic Age were being used. From then until about 10,000 B.C. there was a mixture of archaic and gradually more modern societies, of ten side by side.

After 10,000 B.C., except for the high mountains, India was covered by woodland and the modern barren landscape is man-made, due to millennia of woodland clearance for various reasons.

The Far East

First cranium of Homo erectus pekinensis (Sinanthropus pekinensis) discovered in 1929 in Zhoukoudian / Wikimedia Commons

The famous “Peking Man”, unearthed in northern China, lived some 500,000 years ago and his use of fire allowed him to live north of the frost line. He appeared to have a brain capable of speech, an erect posture and was a hunter and nut-gatherer. He was an intermediary stage of early man, evolved beyond Homo habilis who had spread across Eurasia and Africa, and was definitely related to the Java man (Pithecanthropus robustus). Both have shovel-shaped incisors, a characteristic of the modern Mongoloid race. After this early interglacial period, north China had a series of evolutionary changes with Neanderthal-like types and the fully matured Mongoloid Homo sapiens appearing perhaps 20,000 years ago. In the latter part of this period, parts of south China were occupied by pro-humans with some Negroid racial characteristics. All East Asian stone age people used a distinctive chop- ping tool that differed from the technology of prehistoric Europe and Africa. Does this mean a multiple origin of present day mankind?

About 12,000 years ago China progressed to ceramics and the beginnings of agriculture. This Yang-shao Culture is represented in more than 1,000 excavated sites in Honan and Kansu provinces, with hand-molded red, black and gray pottery painted with pigments. A hunting culture existed in central China at that time.

At 20,000 B.C. there were land bridges from China to Korea and from Korea to the southern tip of Japan and people could go freely across these areas. The first people to arrive in Japan, however, did so some 100,000 years ago and were pre-Mongolian Asiatics, similar to the aborigines of Australia today. They were wandering hunters with pale complexions and heavy beards of varying colors and degrees of curliness. For the next 90,000 years, during the last of the Ice Ages, Japan was usually linked to the Asiatic mainland by the land bridges and island chains, so that Hokkaido was accessible to Siberia and Kyushu was accessible to Taiwan and Southeast Asia. With the melting of the glaciers some 10,000 years ago, Japan was cut off from the mainland and there were two surviving cultures, each with its own language – a Siberian one in the north, surviving today as Ainu, a distant relative of some tongue of the Siberian tundra, and the southern language, which has developed into modern Japanese. In the latter, some of the more ancient and basic words such as those for “mother”, “father”, etc., bear some slight resemblance to some Polynesian dialects and to some words of certain hill tribes of Malaya.

Pottery found in Fukin Cave, Kyushu, Japan has a radio-carbon dating of about 129700 B.C. and is considered to be the earliest in the world. The Jomon Period of Japan, with a hunting, fishing and gathering economy and the use of pottery but not metal, started about 12,000 B.C. and continued for the next 8,000 years. In this era Japan seems to have been isolated from China and had more in common with the Pacific Islands.

Java man, whose remains were found in the Brantas Valley of Java by Eugene Dubois, a Dutch doctor, in 1891, has been dated to 400, 000 B.C., and appears to be related to Peking man in China and has the same Mongoloid, shovel-shaped incisor teeth. Some 20,000 years ago there were land bridges all about the Malayan peninsula, through Sumatra, Java and Borneo and connecting all to the regions of present Cambodia and Vietnam, making the huge subcontinent called the Sunda Shelf. The people may have been the ancestors of present-day Negritos still occupying some remote regions of this area. Most were hunters, some lived in caves, and there were cultivated foods in Thailand as early as 10,000 B.C. There have been carbon datings of 9,750 B.C. of seeds of peas, beans, cucumbers and water chestnuts of the size and shape suggesting actual cultivation. If true, this was some 2,000 years before true agriculture can be proved in the Near East or Central America. About 250,000 years ago people may have walked across the then existing land bridge from the Malaysian peninsula and the Asian mainland to the Philippine Islands. The men there may have been akin to the Java and Peking men. Cave finds west of Mindanao show crude tools of 50,000 B.C. and in some areas there are better tools dating to 20,000 B.C.

The Pacific

Quinkan rock art in South Australia / Wikimedia Commons

It is possible that between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago man ventured onto the continent of Australia and settled chiefly along the coastal areas which are now submerged and not accessible to excavation. At that time there were land bridges from New Guinea to Australia and on to Tasmania. Others believe that Australia was colonized only some 30,000 years ago with the men coming by boat or raft. Trager says that these first sea-going people of the world populated Australia at 42,000 B.C. In any event, edge-ground axes dating to 22,000 years ago have been found in Arnheim Land on the north coast, and it is thought that the entire continent, along with Tasmania and New Guinea were probably widely settled by 18,000 B.C. The people were early hunters contemporary with giant marsupials which they may have helped to exterminate. The land bridges probably continued out into Melanesia and the same people soon occupied those continental extensions into the south Pacific. We have no information about humans in the other far-spaced islands of the Pacific at that very early time.

Rock art appeared in South Australia before 20,000 B.C. and human bones have been found in caves in Tasmania of 20,000 years ago, thus two times older than any others found this far south.

The Americas

North America

Beringia Land Bridge illustration / Wikimedia Commons

At sometime between 40,000 and 10,000 B.C. human hunting groups occupied all the main land masses of earth except Antarctica. Men reached America about 20,000 B.C. (perhaps earlier) from Asia over a land bridge between Asia and Alaska, varying from three hundred to one thousand miles wide and apparently including the Aleutian Islands where blades and burins, perhaps dating back to 10,000 B.C. have been found. Otherwise the earliest known cultures of the American far north have not been well date[3]. The so-called British Mountain Culture near the Yukon Arctic coast is probably the oldest, with artifacts of eastern Siberia, including crude instruments and shaping tools. There, in the Old Crow Basin, the first known occupation site in the New World has been tentatively carbon-dated to 25,000 B.C. The inhabitants were skilled users of bone, using mammoth and horse bone, the latter animals ranging in size from ponies to Percherons. Jaws of domesticated dogs appear to be 30,000 years old. At any rate, the people who came over the land bridge apparently simply followed their prey animals and were of a basic, general Mongoloid stock with skulls not much different from Caucasians and their descendants became the American Indians. The tools and skills spread from Asia to America with them and included the stone adze, spoons, combs of bone or horn, the toggle harpoon and eventually the bow and arrow. Marshack says the American Indians came in waves from Asia over a period of perhaps 20,000 years with some as late as 2,000 B.C. The latter figure is not further explained. We know that the land bridge was present off and on over several millennia, but never as late as 2,000 B.C. It is interesting that as late as 1962 this theory of the Asiatic origin of the American aborigines was not universally accepted. Greeman was committed to diffusion across the north Atlantic in skin-covered boats in the Upper Paleolithic times. He felt that Sandia Culture material in America was the same as the Solutrean of the Montaut site in southwest France. Blood typing studies beginning with Boyd in 1963 probably laid this theory to rest.

The great bulk of the people coming over the Bering land bridge may not have been able to migrate down into the region of the United States and farther south until about 12,000 years ago when the ice that had previously almost covered Canada finally melted enough to open a corridor east of the Rockies, at which time the Mongoloid hunters poured through to the gamelands of the American plains. Dr. Knut Fladmark (as quoted by Canby of British Columbia argues that some men could have come south when the corridor was closed by leapfrogging down the coast where there were many ice-free pockets, by boat. Furthermore, recent work shows positively that much of the coast line and island archipelago off the coast of southern Alaska was never covered by glaciers at any time.

A slightly different view is given by Swanson et al who states that the first crossing of the Bering Strait occurred from 26,000 to 28,000 years ago and that these people became the American Indians with blood types chiefly O, with some A and no B. Then a second migration took place between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago which perhaps included the Eskimos who have AB and 0 blood types. They may have come by kayak from one shore to another as Eskimos today still live on both sides of the Bering Strait. By 10,000 B.C. prehistoric hunters were in all parts of the New World, even at Tierra del Fuego. Some fishing and gathering populations were very large. The highest average population density north of Mexico was in California where there were the acorn gatherers, a group which was so successful that they were not apt to experiment with new techniques. The most recent glaciation period in North America reached its maximum between 18,000 and 22,000 years ago and extended down to New York State and central Ohio, covering Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and parts of Kansas and Missouri. After 12,000 B.C. this retreated rapidly, sometimes several miles in a single year.

At 9,000 B.C. the American plains still teemed with giant bison, camels, stagmoose, musk-oxen, large cats, mastodons and three kinds of mammoths. Most of these were gone within 1,000 years of man’s arrival. The dating of the flint spearheads of the Sandia Culture which have been found in Oregon, Ontario and New Mexico have been variously dated from 23,000 to 6,000 B.C. At any rate it was along the retreating ice edge, where the spruce forest and pines migrated north and west from the Appalachians and the oak moved north from the Gulf, that the increased parkland and grass allowed the human population, now with a radical new stone technology, to greatly increase. This was the time of the Great Hunting Culture, associated with the Clovis points of the Sandia Culture mentioned above. These Clovis points (so named because first identified near Clovis, New Mexico) were large, heavy flint points designed for hunting large animals, and butchered elephants have been excavated dating to the period 9,500 to 9,000 B.C. In some areas this culture, also sometimes called Llano, has been dated from 11,000 to 15,000 years ago. The Folsom spear points which developed from the Clovis were smaller and more delicately made, for effective use by the bison hunters.


Meadowcroft Rockshelter / Wikimedia Commons

As temperatures rose and the cloud cover diminished, there was an increased evaporation rate, the plant cover thinned and the great herds declined rapidly. Some feel that prior to the temperature rise the north-south corridor opened up in the glaciers allowing arctic winds to descend on the plains, and the sudden drop in temperature was a factor in the dying off of the giant bison and mastodons. The Desert Tradition of western North America, dating from about 9,000 B.C. was centered in the Great Basin of Nevada between the two great mountain chains and occupying portions of six present states – Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and California. Baskets and milling stones were made and the subsistence base included small seeds, berries, bulrush rhizomes and nuts.

In eastern United States, some forty miles south of Pittsburg is the Meadowcroft rock shelter where remains of Ice Age man includes a bifacial projectile point which may be ancestral to the Clovis point. The carbon-14 dating of the hearth is 14,000 B.C. but some doubt if this date is correct.

Concerning blood types, most North American Indians are exclusively type O but a few, such as the Sioux, Chippewa and Pueblo have 10 to 15% Group A while the rest are O. These may represent separate and later migration groups over the Bering land bridge, or, as shall be discussed later, possibly mixtures with Europeans or later Asiatics.

Paleo-Indian skeletons have been found near Waco. Texas radio-carbon dated to 10,000 years ago. Artifacts buried with them indicate trade, with sea shell pendants, red flints from the Texas Panhandle, projectile points from the plains and some tools. Some burial objects indicate a death ritual, perhaps related to a religion. Bones of cooked rabbits, turtles, raccoons and snakes were present.

Mexico, Central American, and the Caribbean

The National Geographic Society says that artefacts suggest man’s presence at Puebla, Mexico by 20,000 B.C. although such early dates are not universally accepted. The rock shelters near Tehuacan have been continuously occupied since 10,000 B.C. In Central America gourd and squash date to prehistory along with various wild forms of beans, lentils and chickpeas.

South America

9,000-year-old decapitated skull with the victim’s severed hand / Lagoa Santa caves, Brazil

The tools of Pleistocene men who hunted camelids, sloths and perhaps horses have been unearthed at the bottom of a rock shelter on the western slope of the Andes cordillera. The presence of humans has been attested 13,000 years ago in Venezuela, Argentina and Peru. During the last phase of the Ice Age (the Wisconsin in North America) the Andean glaciers were as low as 11,000 feet and their melting later may account for the rarity of human sites during that chaotic period of terrific gorge flooding. After that, however, the Andes were certainly inhabited by numerous bands corresponding to the archaic societies of North America. In central Peru, at Chilca, where at 12,000 to 13,000 feet altitude only eight inches of rain fall in a year, caves with as many as fourteen archeological strata have been excavated. Perfectly preserved corpses of several people have been found indicating a stout but tall physique, varying from 65.2 to 69.2 inches in height according to sex, with long heads, protuberant jaws and strong bones. They had clothes made of cactus plant fibers or of reeds. Some had cloaks of vicuna skin, painted and sewn with the help of cactus spines. Weapons were slings and spear throwers with javelin points made from obsidian, basalt or quartz. Hand axes and scrapers were very similar to the European Mousterians’, although separated in time by some 20,000 years. At about 13,000 B.C. the waters of the Pacific were some three hundred feet below present level, and at times since then they have been sixteen feet above the present level and have oscillated through the ages. This may have greatly disturbed the lives of the early dwellers by virtue of changes in the fresh water levels of the beaches of arid, western Peru.

Human living sites along with bones of sloths, horses, camelids and mastodons have also been found in the sierra region (the Atlantic Andes) of Columbia and Venezuela. Men may have reached the extreme tip of South America at Falls’ Cave by 9,000 B.C. or shortly thereafter, but there may be some disagreement as to their origin. In this area Patagonian caves were inhabited during the high Holocene and immigrants from Australia or Southeast Asia may have entered the continent via Antarctica and the island of Tierra del Fuego. Still later other settlers came from the eastern Andes. On Tierra del Fuego the chief people were Onas – big, handsome men dressed in vicuna skins. They had domesticated dogs and poison arrows and removed their body hair with shells used as pincers.

The Lagoa Santa caves in Brazil show charcoal dating to between 18,000 and 20,000 B.C. and tools along with mastodon bones dating to 9,400 B.C. have been found in central Chile. El Ingo is a pre-ceramic site at an altitude of 9,100 feet in Ecuador, dating back to about 10,000 B.C. showing an obsidian workshop and hunting camp site. The tools show similarity to Folsom and Clovis points of North America.

It has been the belief of authorities in the past that all Central and South American Indians had the blood type 0 exclusively. Very recent ABO blood-group antigen and HL-A white cell studies indicate that this was not true of Peruvian and Chilean coastal peoples even at 3,000 B.C. Both A and B were found in mummies of Paracas, Huari and Ica while AB was found in these areas plus those of the Huacho and Nazca. Only the Inca mummies were 100% 0 and only five of these were studied. Of only four Chile Atacamenas mummies typed, all were type A. We do not know what this means, but it is possible that these studies are compatible with ideas of pre-Columbian diffusion from Europe or Asia, a feature we shall discuss later. Professor Frederic Andre Engel who has spent most of his adult life as an archeologist in South America re-emphasizes that although one must accept an Asiatic foundation, evidences of strong foreign influences appear almost everywhere in the Americas, even in pre-Columbian times.

Rock art has been found in Brazil dated to 17,000 B.C. and at the tip of South America dating to 10,000 B.C.


  1. McEvedy’s text would suggest that the people he describes as “Finns” are what most call “Lapps” and present-day Finns originated far to the east.
  2. This is Arnold Toynbee’s opinion.
  3. Trager even states that racemization tests on bone suggest that Neanderthal man may have been on the west coast of the western hemisphere at 50,000 B.C., but we have not seen confirmation from any other author and Trager does not reveal his source material.

From A Comprehensive Outline of World History