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READ: Gallery — How Did the First Humans Live?

Follow human migration out of the Great Rift Valley, examine archaeological records from early humans, and contemplate how some of our ancestors lived as hunters and gatherers.

Out of Africa

The Big History Project
The first humans originated in Africa's Great Rift Valley, a large lowland area caused by tectonic plate movement that includes parts of present-day Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Human ancestors traveled in all directions, constantly in search of abundant food resources and new places to inhabit. Scientists believe there were numerous migratory routes out of Africa by human ancestors but the latest migration by Homo sapiens is thought to have occurred in the last 60,000-100,000 years.

Shelter from the Elements

John Reader / Photo Researchers, Inc.
Human beings have proven themselves very capable of adapting to their environments. The ability to make and use tools, our control of fire and our knack for finding shelter from the elements all contribute to our collective knowledge. Sites like Blombos Cave, shown here, have given scientists evidence about how early humans lived and what they were capable of.

Blombos Cave

The Big History Project
Blombos Cave, on the South African coast east of the Cape of Good Hope (the Southern tip of Africa), is an important archaeological site with evidence of human habitation from about 95,000 to about 55,000 years ago. Materials found at the site can tell us a lot about early human life.

Shore Dinner

John Reader / Photo Researchers, Inc.
Shell fragments found outside of Blombos Cave indicate that the site's inhabitants used shellfish as a significant source of food energy. There is some evidence that human inhabitants of this site also went deep sea fishing for larger prey. Some shells were made into beads that have been dated at 75,000 years old, an indication that these early humans were also interested in adornment, a form of symbolic expression.

Old Stone Age Writing?

John Reader / Photo Researchers, Inc.
These pieces of ochre (a mineralized form of iron oxide) were found at the Blombos Cave site. Some archaeologists have gone so far as to claim that the geometric markings on the stones are a form of writing, or recording of information, but there is little doubt that these 75,000 year old pieces at least demonstrate an early form of symbolic thought.


© Bettmann/CORBIS
Hafting, the construction of tools that combined stone heads or points with wooden handles or shafts, is considered to be an important innovation by early humans. Resin (such as the sticky sap or "pitch" you might find on a pine tree) and/or sinew (cured bands of animal tissue) was used to secure the sharpened stones to their wooden counterparts. Humans are thought to have begun making hafted tools between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Big Game

© Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
Innovations in tool technology proved extremely important for hunting large game, such as the wooly mammoths shown here. Early humans used stone and hafted tools to bring down the game and then to cut the meat and skins for food and clothing.

The Bushmen

© Anthony Bannister/Gallo Images/Corbis
The Bushmen, a foraging people of Southern Africa, continued with the hunting and gathering lifestyle well into the 20th century. Today, diminishing open lands and increasingly limited public access to stocks of wild food sources have caused most Bushmen like the two hunters shown here to take up a sedentary life. Foraging cultures still exist in the most remote parts of the world but they are few, and far between.

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