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2.1 Early Human Evolution and Migration

For about the last thirty thousand years, modern humans, or Homo sapiens, have been the only human species walking the Earth. But not only did several different human species once share the planet; they also evolved from much older and very different ancestors who began forging the path of global migration that modern humans later followed. Many tens of thousands of years or more later, Homo sapiens began creating sophisticated stone hand-axes from rock cores and mastered the use of fire for cooking, staying warm, guarding against predators, and creating places for social interaction. They used their keen ability to produce a variety of sounds to construct languages that allowed them to communicate complex ideas and pass important information to later generations. They created art that still speaks to us today. With all these tools, modern humans were able to migrate around the globe and create a diversity of cultures, traditions, and lifestyles.

2.2 People in the Paleolithic Age

Beginning perhaps as early as 100,000 years ago, modern humans began leaving Africa and migrating far and wide. That this movement occurred during the start of the most recent glaciation period suggests that climatic changes may have been a motivating factor. Over time, these migrating humans found themselves in a great variety of environments that required them to develop appropriate tools and strategies. In very frigid parts of the world, for example, they fashioned tools like sewing needles to create sophisticated clothing for keeping out the cold.

For many tens of thousands of years, these groups lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, relying on edible plants as well as meat that could be either scavenged or hunted. Their diets varied from place to place but often included foods like wild grains, berries, honey, small and large mammals, fish, and shellfish. What we know or guess about these populations comes from both archaeological work and observations of the few modern hunter-gatherer societies that remain.

2.3 The Neolithic Revolution

The changes that came with the Neolithic Revolution beginning about twelve thousand years ago dramatically transformed human life. The adoption of agriculture and the domestication of animals allowed for larger populations, surpluses of food, and labor specialization, even as they reduced leisure time and restructured formerly egalitarian societies into hierarchical tiers. From the remains of Neolithic settlements we can get a sense of life at this important moment in our species’ history. The remains of Çatalhöyük feature rooms decorated with art and a settlement designed for protection. The art and architecture from there and from other places like Göbekli Tepe demonstrate both skill and high degrees of cooperation. They also show modern humans in a transitional period between the hunter-gatherer world and the fully agricultural one. Over time, hunter-gatherer lifestyles were abandoned in most places as agricultural settlements grew.

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