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Epoch adventures in the Pleistocene

If Neanderthals had kept a daily journal, it would make archaeologists' jobs a lot easier.


Life in the Pleistocene Epoch wasn’t easy. However, to the hairy inhabitants, (both human and non-human) they didn’t know any better; life just was what it was.

The outdoors of today is a lot different than the outdoors of the past. Perhaps “prehistoric outdoors” could be considered an oxymoron since everything back then was outdoors. I’d even consider being in a cave outdoors, unless of course the cave, or other habitation had a door.

Hunting was a huge part of life back then and evolved from two things – eating and self-defense, not necessarily in that order. Neanderthals got tired of getting trampled by mammoths and getting mauled by cave bears and saber-toothed cats, plus they were hungry. One noted difference between the predator and prey back then was that one had a brain the size of a small pea and the other had sharp teeth and claws. When it came to hunting, Neanderthals made great strides, especially when trying to get away from a wounded predator.

Hunting success was very high at first since all the hunter had to do was walk outside the cave and toss a few spears into the nearest mammoth or mastodon. But when the big game began getting smarter and scarcer, this is when real “hunting” took place.

This was also about the same time that some hunting and gathering clans were simply known as gatherers, or even skunkers and gatherers. When the men returned from unsuccessful hunting ventures, they’d find that the women had gathered tons of nuts, berries and other edible vegetation that abounded in nature back then, thus keeping the family in food.

Of course there were the slower animals such as the occasional ground sloth, which couldn’t run any faster than the approaching ice sheet. Around the dinner rock-slab at night there could be heard the whining complaints from the kids of “Ground sloth again?” As evolution progressed at a snail’s pace, many cave dwellers became vegetarians due to the low success rates of pea-brained hunters.

If only Neanderthals kept a daily journal it would make archaeologists’ jobs a lot easier. It’s hard, however, to express all of your thoughts and feelings with a mammoth drawing and stick figures on a cave wall. Yeah, we get it when we see a drawing of a mammoth on its side with dozens of spears sticking out of it and even the one of a stick figure holding a spear with a giant mammoth footprint superimposed over it. One was a successful hunt and the other wasn’t.

But what about the clans’ thoughts and feelings of these events and all the daily affairs that made up their lives? I suppose if they could communicate all of this then every flat rock in the countryside would be covered with petroglyphs and pictographs.

If they did have a daily journal, part of it might read like this:

7 a.m. – Get up, leave cave, hunt for food.

9 p.m. – Return to cave hungry. Wife returns with abundance of various roots, nuts and berries. Pick lice from body. Pick lice from buddy’s body. Hit the mammoth robes early.

7 a.m. next morning – Try to make fire.

Noon – give up on fire and throw furs around body. See saber-toothed cat approaching in front of cave. Change fur garments. See glaciers approaching. Wrap more furs around body.

If they had a newspaper or newsrock, a local obit might read: Thag died Tuesday morning of natural causes – he was run over by a mammoth while attempting to throw a spear into it. He died doing what he loved – trying to survive. He died at the ripe old age of 17. He is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

There were predators everywhere you turned back in the Pleistocene. To survive an attack from a saber-toothed cat or a cave bear you not only had to be able to run faster than the slowest of your clan, but also faster than the fastest of your clan.

Daily life made it so that inventions were occurring at the speed of light. Everything most people did was new. One guy could invent a dozen things in one afternoon. He wakes up, walks out of the cave, looks up and says, “Look like rain.” He just invented the first weather forecast.

He throws a stick and invents a spear. He burns himself and invents cusswords. He tells his wife he needs to go hunting and fishing, and excuses are invented. He picks lice off of himself and others and invents the first grooming service.

When one group of hunters brings in four mammoths and leaves two go to waste, hunting restrictions are invented. When one group tries to control another group for their benefit, government comes into existence.

The first body piercing was invented when one hunter was running with his spear and tripped and fell. It was unclear whether the piercing was to the lip, nose, ear or buttock. Not long after that, the first anesthetic was invented, which consisted of a large club.

Some clan members’ brains evolved at a slower pace than others and they would inevitably ask a stupid question and receive the usual answer - “Does a cave bear s**t in the cave?

Scott Staats is a freelance outdoor writer. His column can be read every Tuesday in the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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