Monday, December 29, 2008

The Warming Age, 20,000 - 10,000 BC

Immense volumes have been written to expound our knowledge, and conceal our ignorance, of primitive man.
- Will Durant

The attempt to wrap one's mind around pre-historic periods requires one to confront a bewildering array of jargon. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic describe the development of humans in terms of Stone Ages. Pleistocene and Holocene describe geological periods. As I say in my article on The Age of Agriculture, I don't think that the attributes that these terms highlight are the most important.

The warming planet and the retreat of the great ice sheets may have been indiscernable to the humans of the time. Authorities seem to agree that the process was gradual, rather than the global warming trends of today. In any case, the habitats of such Ice Age animals as the Great Wooly Mammath and the Sabertooth Tiger shrunk and led to their extinction.

The Earth's typography was still substantially different than today. There was no Black Sea; it was dry. The flood waters from the Mediterranean came later. The North Sea filled up. The Sahara in northern Africa with its lush savanas was a center of human activity.

One wonders how the equator regions - the Amazon River - differed from today. Why didn't an equivalent to Egypt in the next area arise along the Amazon? Maybe it did. An ancient civilization lays under the jungle bed just waiting to be found.

Humans did use stone and fire. They domesticated animals, though the horse wasn't domesticated until late in the next age (around 4500 BC). And they painted. A lot of these artifacts were found in caves, thus giving rise to the image of early man living in caves. The supply of available caves would have severely limited the population and restricted them to hilly/mountainous areas. Caves may have just preserved things more than the shelters constructed out in the open. Were the 20,000 BC paintings in the Alamira Cave the work of an amateur while the really good stuff got lost by the wear of time?

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