History Files


Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.




Earliest Humans (Part 1: Current hunter-gatherers & Palaeolithic and Mesolithic finds)

by J L Putman & M Soenen

Today's hunter-gatherers

In order to get some idea of the life of hunter-gatherers from the prehistoric past, it's a good idea to look at some of the last surviving groups of hunter-gatherers in the modern world.

The Hadza live in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, in what is now Tanzania. Their presence in the region dates back to nearly forty thousand years ago.

Hadza hunters, Tanzania
Photo © Nick Hall

Hadza hunters, Tanzania.

They live an egalitarian lifestyle and have no tribal governance, rules, or ceremonies. Their lives consist - day in and day out - mainly of breakfast, hunting, and gathering, having a meal together and ending with a dance.

Research by King's College London (KCL) found that the Hadza eat more than six hundred plant and animal species, all of which provides them with a robust and differentiated gut biome.

It is also striking that the Hadza spend little time on food preparation: only a few hours a day. There is neither food wasted nor unnecessarily killed.

Research by University College London (UCL) focused on some Agta hunter-gatherer encampments in the Philippines.

They found that the hunter-gatherer social structure, which was built around small family units, which themselves were linked by strong friendships and great mobility between camps, was key to the development of new cultural ideas.

This is made clear in the figure below. Each coloured dot represents an individual. Individuals of the same colour are grouped into camps.

The width of the connecting lines between two camps of individuals is proportional to the intensity of their relationship to each other. Grey lines indicate no relationship and red lines indicate a close relationship. The locations and dimensions of the camps are approximate.

Multi-camp structures, Philippines
Photo © A B Migliano - CC BY-NC 4.0

Multi-camp structures at Agta hunter-gatherers in the Philippines
a) forest camps; b) coastal camps.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic finds

The Kemmelberg often also served as a beacon and lookout post during the journeys of small groups of hunter-gatherers through the hill region of the Kemmelberg.

In this long phase of prehistoric life, human activity had no impact on the natural landscape and was limited to hunting and fishing, as well as supplemental food collection from the world of flora and fauna, such as the collection of fruit, seeds, and eggs.

The finds assemblage of the hunter-gatherers from a distant past on the Kemmelberg is one-sided. Very drastic soil disturbances, excavations in the Iron Age and the bombing of the hill during the First World War all brought material from deeper soil layers to the surface.

In stratigraphic assemblage, archaeological traces of temporary hunting encampments from that prehistoric period remain as yet unknown. This is in stark contrast to other sites such as in Verrebroek in Belgium, where artefacts can be found in the top of a clearly undisturbed layer, the upper dark layer shown below.

Final Palaeolithic site of 'Dok 2' in Verrebroek, Belgium
Photo © P Crombé, UGent

Final Palaeolithic site of 'Dok 2' in Verrebroek in Belgium.

Compared to the archaeology of the local Neolithic, finds from the preceding periods are modest, being regularly spread over the top zone but also on the flanks of the hill.

From the typology of the recovered flint artefacts - the only surviving material - some further precisions emerge in the broad spectrum of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.

Continued in Part 2.



Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.