Ice Age archaeology

Aurochs (wild cattle) painted on a cave wall in France, about 30,000 BC

I’ve just finished another couple of sets of pages of my world history book for kids – ONE DAY EVERYWHERE – and whew, eight panels on what the Earth was like at the height of the last Ice Age, about 26,500 BC, and then another eight panels showing what was going on in the Neolithic, after the Ice Age was over, about 10,000 BC.

Archaeologically, the main thing you notice is how much more we know about the parts of the world where there was a lot of ice during the Ice Age, because the ice preserved everything really well. So for France and Iran and China, across the north, and for Peru because of the Andes Mountains, we know what people were wearing, and something about what foods they were eating, and we have things like leather cords and string bags and bone tools preserved. Also, people conveniently lived in caves (which they could heat) so things like big wall paintings got preserved in the back of the cave.

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Indonesian cave painting of an aurochs, about 40,000 BC

Further south, in Chad, and India, and Indonesia, where it was warm even during the Ice Age, we mostly have bone tools and rock art to go on. We don’t know so much about food or clothing. That’s partly because of the ice, and also I gotta say partly because Chad and India and Indonesia haven’t been able to afford to run a lot of archaeological digs, and Chad in particular has had constant civil wars since independence in the 1960s and it has been too dangerous to do much digging there. Which is to say, it’s colonialism that made these places poor, and also that means we know a lot less about their past.

Colonialists, or racists, use this ignorance to suggest that we know very little about their past because there’s not much to know. They want you to think there’s no progress in the Global South. People never changed there, they never learned or invented anything, just same-same-same. One of the points of writing this book is to show how much that isn’t true. So for example, we’re able to show now that they’re painting bison on cave walls in Indonesia actually *earlier* than they are in France. People in Chad were making clay pottery earlier than people in Iran or France.

A stone fish carved by Californian Native Americans about 4000 BC

Also, in one of those cool intersection things that happens, one of the books I’m currently reviewing gave me some good ideas for these panels about the development of clothing, from the fur coats and leather pants people sewed during the Ice Age, to the linen and cotton tunics they started to wear once it warmed up. It’s like a fun little bonus!

And on Study Guides, we’re up to the C’s – today I posted about Cain and Abel and Native Californians.

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