Summary of World Unit 1: The story of early man in less than 2

Summary of World Unit 1:
The story of early man in less than 2 pages
The story of man—where we come from, what we have done, why we have done it,
and how we have changed-- is told by three basic records: the paleoanthropologicial
record, the archaeological record, and lastly, the historical, or written record.
Paleoanthropology is the study of the fossil record of hominids (including modern
humans, AKA Homo sapiens). Archaeology is the study of artifacts (man-made
objects) and ruins (the remains of human settlements and cities). The written
record includes writing on papyrus, clay tablets, rock walls, pottery and other
objects, and paper. By studying these 3 sets of records, paleoanthropologists,
archaeologists, and historians are able to try to piece together the story of
“mankind” from our earliest days as a species, approximately 200,000 years ago,
until today.
Prehistory is the period of time on Earth for which there are no written records to
tell us about human events, culture, and behavior. Without written records, the
scientists who study human behavior are left to making hypothesis based on the
fossil and archaeological record.
The paleoanthropological record looks at the fossils of hominids to determine when
and where different hominid species lived and to compare the anatomy of the
different hominid species. By comparing fossilized skeletal remains of the different
hominid species, paleoanthropologists are able to track change in brain size, body
size, and body structures in order to make hypothesis about hominid behavior and
The archaeological record looks at artifacts that are unearthed or found in caves and
the ruins of ancient settlements and cities. By studying these objects and structures,
archaeologists are able to make hypothesis about human behavior, culture,
technology, interactions, and change over time.
Both paleoanthropologists and archaeologists use various scientific dating methods
to determine the age or approximate time in Earth’s history that an object was made
or person died in order to help create a timeline of human evolution and culture.
The Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages
The prehistoric period can be broken into 2 basic categories: the Paleolithic Age and
the Neolithic Age. Ages are created by scientists to denote a major change in human
culture or behavior that separates one era of mankind from another. (There are
many different periods in the timeline of Earth, such as the Jurassic, during which
dinosaurs lived; however, the Paleolithic is the first in which behaviors associated
with humans are indicated by the archaeological record).
The Paleolithic Age, which ranges from approximately 2.5 million years ago to
approximately 10,000 BCE, is also known as the “Old Stone Age” due to the
relatively primitive stone tools that were developed by Homo sapiens and other
hominids during that time. The Neolithic Age begins as the Paleolithic ends (approx.
10,000 BCE) and runs until approximately 3,500 BCE (though its exact ending time
varies depending on when a specific population transitioned away from the reliance
on stones for tools and into the Bronze Age.)
Though the Neolithic Age is also marked by man’s use of stones as tools, and thus
known as “the New Stone Age”, the level of sophistication of the tools becomes
greater during the Neolithic than the archaeological record indicates for the
Paleolithic. Additionally, shelter, art, clothes, and settlements becomes more
sophisticated and technologically advanced during the Neolithic.
There is one thing, however, that sets Neolithic man apart from Paleolithic man
more than the increasing sophistication in all of the objects just listed: the advent of
agriculture. The archaeological record indicates that it is during the Neolithic Age
that man first started growing his own crops and herding his own animals for food
and fibers for clothes; up until that point, all records indicate early man relied on
hunting and gathering to find food. This was an enormous step in human culture
because knowing how to grow and raise one’s own food increases the chances of
survival of a society and leads to human settlements that are more permanent than
those of the nomadic Paleolithic people. With permanent settlement comes a higher
level of architecture and settlement design that paves the way for the world’s first
While Paleolithic man was not as sophisticated as Neolithic man in terms of cultural
achievements, it would be a mistake to think of him as radically different than
Neolithic man. In terms of physical appearance and DNA, Paleolithic Homo sapiens
were no different than Neolithic Homo sapiens. Toward the later part of the
Paleolithic (approximately 50,000 years ago), man (including both Homo sapiens
and Homo neanderthalensis until Neanderthals disappear from the fossil record,
around 20,000 BCE) had developed fire, tools for hunting, scraping, and digging,
tools for sewing, clothes, stone hearths for cooking, and art (which is still displayed
today on the cave and rock walls on which the paintings were made tens of
thousands of years ago!)