What was it like being a child during the last Ice Age

Originally published at: What was it like being a child during the last Ice Age | Boing Boing




Dammit, you stole my snarky comment.


You got caught knapping.


Are you calling him a flake?


My guess is that there we no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Just a guess.

Goodness, judging by the replies, I better /s this with a reference to Hobbes’ Leviathan.


Artist’s impression:

But according to recent studies of hunter-gatherer societies, possibly the opposite, apart from the “short” bit.


Apparently not short enough to give us a significant record of children’s remains.

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I remember when I was doing archaeology in Southern Ontario, about 40 years ago; we were digging a site that dated to about 500 AD (I later dug a Saxon site in the U.K. from the same period; interesting comparisons). Among other things we found tiny, badly made fired pots, which our chief archaeologist interpreted as practice pots made by children from left over clay, and fired by the real potter, with the real pots.

We also found a pot with the imprint of the thumbprint of the potter, who had been dead for 1500 years. That was spooky.


I think you’d be wrong. Not about the “no letters” part; while recent findings suggest that writing systems may go back further than we think, literacy of any kind was probably rare. And certainly death might have been ever-present, although I’d guess that disease or accident probably killed more than interpersonal violence (just as they do today).

But I would bet that life was not solitary for most people – humans are intensely social animals, and early people probably had a rich community life, even if the communities were fairly small. And as to the arts, they had nothing but time on their hands. Hunter-gatherer societies are estimated to spend 3-5 hours a day collecting food. That leaves them an awful lot of time over for communal music (even if only vocal), storytelling, dance etc. Certainly modern hunter-gatherer groups seem to make use of their substantial leisure time for creative activities.

So while “short” seems certain, “solitary” was probably unusual. “Poor”, “nasty” and “brutish” are, I guess, a matter of perspective.


Here’s a video about the earliest known wind instrument; a Neanderthal flute. Obviously we don’t know if it was used for music, or for some other kind of signalling.


“…the researchers found that up 25 percent of the hand marks were not large enough to belong to adults or teenagers. They guessed that they came from children between two and 12 years of age, with the majority of those likely made by three to 10-year-olds.”


I like the idea of an older stone smith going back and looking at his chippings from his adolescence and smiling about what an angsty little knapper he was in his youth.


While claiming that children were involved in the making of stone tools is little more than creative and imaginative storytelling, finding ‘cruder’ drawings and paintings on a cave wall at a child’s height, made by tiny fingers, is a wonderful discovery.


My sister has a degree in anthropology, and she would quote the famous line that “adolescence is a 20th century invention”. This idea that there’s a period between being a “useless” child who can’t work and being a full working adult is a very new thing. At least post industrial-revolution, maybe even post-war. Having that little window for personal growth before society asks you to contribute to the limit of your ability is quite a luxury!


A Saxon site from 1500AD?


I’m willing to accept that children were involved with making tools. Everyone had to learn this skill eventually and kids love to imitate what adults are doing.

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I can accept it as well, and it is likely, I only meant to indicate there is currently no archeological evidence that demonstrates it. :blush:


Shoot! I meant 500 A.D. Thanks;I’ll change the date!


What would you want to see that would be good evidence and is also likely to be found in the archeological record?

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