Q. 1. How would early humans have obtained food?
Ans. Early humans would have obtained food through a number of ways. These ways included gathering, hunting, scavenging and fishing.
(i) Gathering. The process of gathering includes the collection of plant foods like berries, seeds, nuts, tubers and fruits. We can generally assume about the process of gathering because very few evidences are available about it. Enough amount of fossil bones are available but fossilised plants are rarely found.
The only way to gather information about plant intake would be if plant remains were accidentally burnt. Carbonisation takes place with this burning.
In this way, organic matter is preserved for a long time. But so far archaeologists have not found enough evidence of carbonised seeds for this very early period.
(ii) Hunting. Probably hunting began later around 500,000 years ago. From two sites of Boxgrove in southern England (500,000 years ago) and Schoningen in Germany (400,000 years ago), the earliest clear evidence for planned, deliberate hunting and butchery of large mammals have been found.
(iii) Scavenging. The early hominids scavenged for meat and marrow from the carcasses of those animals which had died naturally or had been killed by other larger animals (predators). It is quite possible that small mammals like birds, rodents, reptiles and even insects were also eaten by early hominids.
(iv) Fishing. Fishing was also an important way of obtaining food by early humans. It is evident from the discovery of fish bones at different sites.
Q. 2. Discuss about residence of early humans in caves and open air sites.
Ans. Caves and open air sites began to be used between 400,000 and 125,000 years ago. Evidence of these have been found from the sites in Europe.
(i) A 12 × 4 metre shelter was built against the cave wall in the Lazaret cave in southern France.
Two hearths and evidences of many food sources like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, bird eggs and fresh water fish, etc., have been found from these caves.
Another site is Terra Amata which is situated on the coast of southern France. Here flimsy shelters with roofs of grasses and wood were built. These shelters were built for short-term seasonal visits.
(ii) Pieces of burnt bone and baked clay along with stone tools have been found at Chesowanja in Kenya and Swartkrans in South Africa. These are dated between 1.4 and 1 million years ago. It is not known whether these were the result of a natural bushfire or the result of any volcanic eruption. It is also not known that whether they were produced through the deliberate and controlled use of fire or not.
On the other hand, hearths are the indicators of the controlled use of fire. This had many advantages
(i) They could have used to provide warmth and light inside the caves.
(ii) They could have been used for cooking.
(iii) Except this, fire was used to harden wood like the tip of the spear.
(iv) Heat was also used to facilitate the flaking of tools.
(v) More importantly, fire could be used to scare away dangerous animals.
Q. 3. Could the information about present hunter and gathering societies be used to understand past societies?
Ans. There are two opposing views on the issue whether the information about present hunter and gathering societies could be used to understand past societies. These views are given below:
(i) First View. One group of scholars have directly used specific data of present day hunter-gatherer societies to interpret the archaeological remains of the past societies. For example, few scholars are of the view that hominid sites, which are 2 million years old, along the margins of Lake Turkana probably were the dry season camps of early humans. It is so because such a practice has been observed among the Kung San and the Hadza people.
(ii) Second View. On the other hand, some scholars are of the view that ethnographic data cannot be used to understand the past societies. According to them, they both are very much different from each other. For example, present day hunter-gatherer societies are engaged in many other economic activities along with hunting and gathering. These activities include the exchange and trade in minor forest produce. Few societies are working as paid labourers in the fields of neighbouring farmers.
Except this, the conditions in which they live are very much different from the conditions of early humans.
Living style of modern hunter-gatherer societies is also different. There are conflicting data on many issues. For example, present hunter societies give different importance to hunting and gathering. Their sizes are also different i.e., larger or smaller. Their activities are also different.
There is no consesus about division of labour in procurement of food. It is also true that mostly women gather and men hunt. But few examples of those societies are also there where both women and men hunt, gather and make tools. May be this ensures a relatively equal role for both women and men in present day hunter-gatherer societies. So it is quite difficult to draw conclusion about past in present condition.