The History of Human-Animal Interaction - Prehistoric Times
animals humans cave horses
Evolutionary science holds that humans are animals that have changed and adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to take on their current form. Biologists classify the human animal as a member of the order Primate, along with chimpanzees and gorillas. Some scientists believe that humans and other primates shared a common ancestor millions of years ago, and that at some point human animals split off to form their own evolutionary path. Skeletons found throughout parts of Africa show both human and nonhuman characteristics.
Those who believe in the evolution theory think that human primates left the treetops and began walking upright, using their hands to make tools and increase their survivability. Most nonhuman primates ate a mostly vegetarian diet, but human primates began capturing small animals and scavenging for meat from carcasses left behind by predators like lions. About two million years ago, human primates began using stone tools and weapons. This was the beginning of the Stone Age. The use of stone-tipped spears allowed humans to hunt large game, such as wooly mammoths.
In 1995 archaeologists found three wooden spears in a cave near Helmstedt, Germany. The spears are estimated to be about 400,000 years old. The excavation uncovered the remains of at least ten horses that appeared to have been butchered, suggesting that humans of that time were accomplished hunters. Thousands of bones from elephants, rhinoceros, deer, and horses have also been found in the cave complex. Humans at that time survived by hunting and fishing and by foraging for edible vegetation, nuts, and seeds; hence, they are called hunter-gatherers. Most lived as nomads, traveling in small groups from place to place. Once they had exhausted all the animals and plants in an area, they would move to a new location.
Humans sometimes used their wits along with their weapons to capture prey. Scientists have found the bones of roughly 10,000 horses at the bottom of a cliff in Salutre, France, that date to prehistoric times. Humans may have been unable to catch the very fast horses and somehow tricked them into running off the cliff to their deaths.
Cave Paintings Depict Animals
The earliest known cave drawings date back 30,000 years and are located in France. In October 2001 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that hundreds of prehistoric drawings in the Chauvet Caves of southern France had been analyzed by scientists and found to be between 29,700 and 32,400 years old, making them the oldest known art in the world. Numerous cave drawings depict rhinoceroses, lions, buffalo, mammoths, and horses. Figure 1.1 shows a cave painting of a horse.
Other cave drawings indicate that prehistoric peoples interacted with many different kinds of animals, including wooly mammoths, bison, deer, horses, and sea creatures. In fact, scientists believe that most paintings were made using brushes made of animal hair and paints made from animal fat.
The vast majority of prehistoric cave drawings depict animals, not people. Some scientists believe that humans were in awe of the wild and fierce animals that they hunted. The hunters may have believed that they could exert some kind of magical power over animals by drawing pictures of them. Although little is known for certain about the religious beliefs of the time, it is thought that prehistoric humans believed in a hidden world inhabited by the spirits of their dead ancestors, animals, and birds. Some spirits were considered good and others bad. People may have offered sacrifices of animals or other food to keep the spirits happy.
A belief system called animism has been traced back to the Paleolithic Age (the earliest period of the Stone Age). Animism is the belief that every object, living or not, contains a soul. Thus, animals, trees, and even rocks had spiritual meaning to prehistoric peoples. Anthropologists theorize that humans may have believed that they could capture the spirits (and thus the fierceness, strength, and speed) of wild animals by eating their flesh. Likewise, some wild animals may have been worshipped as gods by early humans.
Around 15,000–13,000 B.C., the massive glaciers that had covered much of the land during the Great Ice Age began to subside. The habitats and food supplies for both humans and animals began to change. The hunter-gatherers had increasing difficulty finding the big game they had hunted before. Scientists believe that mammoths and many other large animals were driven to extinction around 10,000 B.C. because of climate changes, overhunting by humans, or both. Humans turned to hunting smaller animals and began gathering and cultivating plants in centralized locations. This major shift from nomadic life to settled existence had a tremendous effect on the human-animal relationship.