Strategies for Survival

Early people depended heavily on their environment for survival. They found ways to adapt to their surroundings and meet their basic needs for food and shelter. People made simple tools and weapons, such as digging sticks, spears, and axes, out of the materials at hand—stone, bone, or wood. At some point, Stone Age people developed spoken language, which let them cooperate during the hunt and perhaps discuss plans for the future.

During the Old Stone Age, people developed many different technologies. By about 40,000 years ago, some people had learned to make rafts or canoes, allowing them to cross large bodies of water. Scientists have found evidence that people used water craft to travel from Southeast Asia to Australia. Although these migrating people may have island-hopped slowly over centuries, they had to cross up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) of open ocean.

Early Religious Beliefs

Toward the end of the Old Stone Age, people began to leave evidence of their belief in a spiritual world and developed religious rituals. Early humans—like some of their descendants—most likely believed the world was full of spirits, such as the spirits of the animals they hunted. Other forces might reside in natural objects, or dreams. The belief that spirits inhabit plants, animals, or other natural objects, is known as animism.

Drawing of prehistoric thatched dwellings.
Image Long Description

Draw Conclusions

Based on this illustration, what evidence would archaeologists use to learn about the interior of Neolithic houses?

In Europe, Australia, and Africa, cave or rock paintings vividly portray deer, horses, and buffalo. Some cave paintings show stick figures of people, too. The paintings often lie deep in caves, far from a hunting band's living quarters. Such cave paintings may have been part of religious rituals in which hunters sought help from the spirit world for an upcoming hunt.

About 100,000 years ago, some people began burying their dead with great care. This practice suggests a belief in life after death. Old Stone Age people may have believed the afterlife would be similar to life in this world so they provided the dead with tools, weapons, and other needed goods. Burial customs like these survived in many places into modern times.

Farming Begins a New Stone Age

About 12,000 years ago, bands of nomadic people made a breakthrough that had far-reaching effects. They learned to farm. By producing their own food crops, people could remain in one place instead of hunting and gathering. Slowly, these early farmers settled into permanent villages and developed a whole new range of skills and tools. This change, from nomadic life to settled farming, ushered in the New Stone Age.

The Neolithic Revolution

No one knows exactly how or when people began to plant seeds for food or raise certain animals for their own use. Some of the earliest evidence of farming has been found in the Middle East. Farming, however, probably developed independently throughout the world.

No matter which way it occurred, the change had such dramatic effects that historians call it the Neolithic Revolution. The Neolithic Revolution refers to the change in human societies from hunting and gathering to a more settled way of life based on agriculture and the domestication of animals.

The Domestication of Plants and Animals

Early food gatherers may have been the first humans to domesticate plants and animals—that is, to raise them in a controlled way that makes them best suited to human use. The domestication of plants may have begun with food gatherers who noticed that if seeds were scattered on the ground they produced new plants the next year. Perhaps a band of hunter gatherers camped at a place where plants grew and began cultivating them season after season.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments