Paleolithic Humans: 200,000 ya - 12,000 ya

AP Concept: 1.1 Big Geography and the Peopling of the Earth
Key Concepts
  • Paleolithic peoples adapted their technology and cultures to their environments.
  • Paleolithic peoples formed communities with religious beliefs, burial customs, and artistic forms of expression.
Early Humans and Migration
  • Anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens, emerged in East Africa around 200,000 years ago
  • Between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago they began migrating out of Africa
  • Moved to Asia and Europe via the Middle East
  • Moved to Australia and New Guinea, thanks to Ice Age glaciers lowering sea levels
  • Moved to the Americas
  • Historians argue about the method: either via small boats, or over a land bridge linking Siberia to North America
  • Humans then dispersed to South America and eastward towards the Atlantic Ocean
  • Most of these migrations occurred because early humans relied on hunting and gathering and needed to look for untapped food sources
  • They followed animals and sought out undisturbed land
  • By about 20,000 BCE, humans lived in most habitable areas of the world except Antarctica
  • This time period is known as the Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age)
  • Early humans in the Paleolithic era were hunter-gatherers
  • They were nomadic, as they periodically relocated for better food sources
  • They lived primarily in small kinship-based groups
  • Population remained low throughout the Paleolithic period due to humans' nomadic lifestyle and lack of surplus food

  • Humans adapted to their environments in the following ways:
  • Reliance on hunting required cooperation and group communication
  • Paleolithic humans probably developed spoken language to express ideas and plans
  • They used tools made of stone, bone, and wood from their local environments, such as arrows, spears, axes, and knives
  • Around 90,000 years ago they also developed harpoons and other fishing tools, which added fish to their diets
  • Humans used animal fur and hides to make clothing in order to keep warm
  • Humans developed the use of fire, which was helpful in the following ways:
  • Could be used to keep warm
  • Could ward off dangerous predators
  • May have allowed groups living in colder climates to defrost and cook meat, thus contributing to survival
  • Archaeological excavations of Paleolithic burial sites suggest that early humans developed basic religious beliefs, such as animism
  • This is the belief that spirits live in the natural world and influence humans' lives
  • Burial sites also indicate a respect for the dead, an important development in human culture
  • Archaeologists have discovered evidence of early art, including:
  • Cave paintings in France and Spain
  • Aboriginal rock art in northern Australia
  • African rock art depicting geometric and animal representations

Related Links:
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AP World History Notes
The Neolithic Revolution: c. 10,000 BCE - 4000 BCE