Stone Ages

      Man's earliest ancestors sought protection from the elements and predators in natural shelters such as caves and rock overhangs. Gradually, they learned to improve their caves with inlaid stone floors, walls at the entrances and fireplaces. Ultimately they began creating entirely new habitats in locations that had no natural shelter. The construction of such habitats may have been influenced by the cold weather of the ice ages cycles shown in the white areas of the diagram below.

      The earliest evidence of a man-made habitat dates to about 2,000,000 BCE and comes from Olduvai Gorge in Central Africa. A small circle of stones were found stacked, apparently to hold branches in position. This was clearly the work of Homo Habilis, our tool-making ancestor. This precursor to Homo Erectus was a tool user (more than a tool-maker), had campsites, and was using fire as early as 3,000,000 BCE.

      Evidence of a wooden hut found at Terra Amata, near Nice in France, was dated to the Mindel Glaciation, or between 450,000 and 380,000 BCE. The hut included a hearth, or fireplace and was made by bracing branches with a circle of large and small stones. Similar stone circles are found throughout the upper and lower paleolithic. The basic design of such habitats may have remained unchanged for a million years.
      An Acheulean hut found in the Grotte du Lazaret near Nice, in France. This tent-like structure was built inside a cave and was made of animal hides draped over a wooden framework and held down by stones. It dates to perhaps 500,000 to 400,000 BCE. The interior measures 11 meters by 3.5 meters, and it was subdivided into two rooms, the larger of which had a fireplace. Animal furs, grasses, and seaweed were used as carpeting and bedding. The inhabitants, apparently Neanderthals, selectively used pine for heating in preference to more available types of wood.
      Another reconstruction of the hut at Terra Amata. The hut was 8 meters long by 4 meters wide. Hand-axes and other stone tools and flakes were found in the vicinity.
      These people, apparently Neanderthals, were hunters and the site contains remains of the bones of a variety of animals, including elephant, rhinoceros, red deer, ibex, and giant ox.
      Plan and layout of an Upper Paleolithic hut from Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia. This structure was first dug out from a slope and the roof was supported with timber set into post-holes. It dates to about 23,000 BCE. The low walls were made of packed clay and stones. The evidence of clay firing at this site are the earliest ever found. The famous Venus figurine was found at this sitte.
      A Paleolithic hut divided in three sections and made of animal skins was found at Pushkari, Ukraine. The inside was dug out and the structure was built-up from mammoth bones.
      No other animal remains were found here -- these were specialised mammoth hunters. Many of the bones found here had evidence of red paint, a common find at Paleolithic sites.
      Circular base of mammoth bones found at Mezin, near Tchernogov, that provided a supporting structure for a Paleolithic hut of a typical mammoth hunting society. The tent was made of mammoth hides and was probably carpeted with mammoth hides, although fur hides, like fox, wolf, and bearskins, were often used for bedding.
      Mousterian hut found at Moldova, Ukraine, made of mammoth bones and mammoth hides. The mammoth jaws used at the base were interlocked -- a clever technique found at most of the mammoth hunter sites. The mammoth hunting culture appears to have thrived for tens of thousands of years.
      Circular base of mammoth bones found at Mezin with some support bones still standing. The mammoth hunters often built entire huts out of mammoth bones and covered them with mammoth hides stitiched together and anchored at the corners. They also made tools and objects from the tusks. Remains suggest that some of them ate nothing but mammoth meat. They must have been delicious, since they ate every last one.
      Here is a mammoth hunter hut from Siberia reconstructed at a stone age site in Perigord, France. Notice how the original jawbones interlock to form sturdy walls. This structure would then be covered with mammoth hides and carpeted with fur.
      Magdalenian tent from the Upper Paleolithic found at Plateau Parain in France. Dated to about 15,000 to 10,000 BCE, this animal hide tent was suspended over a wooden framework and held down by stones. It included a central hearth. Stone tools were fond in the area around this site.
      Magdalenian double tent from Poggenwisch. This structure was made by connecting two tents, each with its own hearth. The structure was anchored with stones.
      A Magdalenian tent from Pincevis, France. This animal skin over wood frame structure included two entrances and two hearths.
      Reconstructed round hut from Moravia, Czechoslovakia. This structure was part of a large campsite which was rich in stone tools and bones.
      Cross-section of a hut found at Dolne Vestonice, Moravia, Czechoslovakia. Post-holes were used to support the wooden roof posts. This structure included a fireplace.
      Mousterian hut from Moldova, in the Ukraine. This animal hide covered framework was partially supported and braced with woolly mammoth bones. The use of mammoth bones, jaws, and skulls to build structures was common among the mammoth-hunting cultures of the Upper paleolithic.
      Two long huts found at the Kostienki site near Alexandrova, in the Ukraine. One hut measured 33.5 meters by 5.5 meters and had ten small hearths in a row inside. The structure was designed to channel melting snow around and away from the huts.
      Upper paleolithic Huts from Mezin, Ukraine. These huts date to about 10,000 BCE.
      Circular dwelling made with a stone wall base, from Malta, Siberia.
      Circular tents from Malta, Siberia. These animal hide covered structures were bolstered with stones at the base.
      Upper Paleolithic huts from Buret, Siberia. These structures date from about 10,000 BCE.
      Shown here is a layout of an upper paleolithic hut, a form often repeated in its general characteristics.
      Upper Paleolithic hut from Pushkari, Russia. This hut was built over a shallow depression that was covered with a timber framework. Mammoth hides were drawn over the timber and anchored with bones and stones. It had three internal hearths.
      Reconstruction of hide covered Perigordian tents from Le Thot, near Perigord, France. About 33,000 to 20,000 BCE.
      Shown here is a dolmen, a huge stone slab set upon other huge stones. These type of structures began showing up near the end of the stone age all across Europe in what is called the megalithic age when people were energetically building structures such as Stonehenge. This one is from Sarlat, France and is about 7000 years old.
      This dolmen is known as the covered alley of Le Blance, and is near Beaumont, in Perigord, France. At about this time in what is now Yugoslavia, hardened copper tools were being developed, and the Stone Age came to an end.

      Created 1997 by W.J.Kowalski,