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1.3: Prehistoric Asia (30,000 BCE – 5000 BCE)

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    Exploring the prehistoric era of Asia prior to the emergence of recorded writing systems provides a glimpse into the nomadic lifestyle of early human civilizations. Approximately 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens embarked on a migration journey from Africa through the Middle East, eventually reaching Asia. It is believed that they were among the first to discover the use of fire, which they utilized to cook hunted food. With their larger brains, they could create intricate tools such as blades and awls, fashioning them out of bones, antlers, and ivory. This was a significant milestone in the development of civilization. As language evolved, human civilizations in Asia began developing clothing, creating shelters, and storing food for preservation. Rituals were established, and art was created, indicating the emergence of human culture. Understanding the geography of Asia is crucial in appreciating the formation of this civilization.

    "Without the unique combination of tectonics, global and local environmental changes, and celestial mechanics, human evolution would never have occurred." ~ Mark Maslin[1]

    The Stone Age is an immensely significant era in the history of humankind that lasted for an extensive period, from approximately 2.6 million years ago until the end of the most recent Ice Age, estimated to be around 12000 BCE. This epoch can be categorized into two parts, namely the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The Paleolithic era was the longest period that saw humans as hunter-gatherers who formed small communities and utilized stone tools for various purposes, such as hunting, clothing production, and constructing basic structures. As human evolution progressed, so did the advancement of tools, which evolved from rudimentary hammer stones to more sophisticated tools used during the Bronze Age.

    During the Pleistocene Ice Age, which occurred between 75,000 and 100,000 years ago, our early ancestors undertook remarkable global migrations that played a significant role in their evolution and development. This was made possible by the lower sea levels of that era, which allowed human communities to travel great distances via land bridges and waterways. The migrations of this period were a pivotal moment in human history, as they enabled the spread of our species across the globe. As our ancestors moved from one region to another, they encountered diverse environments and adapted to new climates, food sources, and predators. Moreover, these migrations played a crucial role in the development of human skills and abilities, including communication, critical thinking, and organization.

    The ability to communicate effectively was essential for survival during these migrations, as it allowed our ancestors to coordinate and share knowledge about new environments and resources. Critical thinking was also crucial, as it enabled our ancestors to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and adapt to new situations. Finally, organization was essential for establishing collaborative settlements and communities, which were crucial for the survival and development of our species. The Pleistocene migrations were a transformative period in human history, shaping our evolution and development in profound ways. The skills and abilities that humans honed during this time continue to shape our world today and are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of our species.

    My Ancestors Walk With Me

    During the early stages of human civilization, our forebears heavily relied on hunting and gathering to sustain themselves. Acquiring essential food staples like wheat, barley, berries, fruits, and wild vegetables, which were only available seasonally, required much effort and dedication. Additionally, they had to supplement their diet with locally sourced animal meats. The success and survival of these early human societies hinged entirely on their ability to adapt to the unpredictable and harsh natural conditions around them and to make the most of the resources available. 

    The expression "My ancestors walk with me" conveys a profound connection between individuals and their lineage. It highlights the enduring impact that our ancestral heritage has on our existence. This phrase holds great meaning in numerous aspects of life, such as spirituality, culture, and personal development. Across different cultures and belief systems, there is a strong emphasis on the spiritual bond with ancestors. Some traditions hold that the spirits of ancestors watch over and steer the living. This spiritual connection can provide security, insight, and comfort during difficult times. Ancestors are regarded as guardians who bestow guidance and well-being on their descendants.

    The influence of ancestry on the development of cultural identity is essential. This statement emphasizes the importance of valuing and preserving cultural heritage. Ancestors have played a crucial role in safeguarding traditions, customs, and values that have been passed down through generations. Recognizing and embracing one's cultural roots is a meaningful way to pay homage to those who came before us. Acknowledging the presence of ancestors can provide personal fortitude and perseverance. The struggles and triumphs of our ancestors become intertwined with our own story. The resilience of our ancestors in the face of adversity can be a source of inspiration for tackling challenges in our own lives. Their achievements serve as a testament to the potential for progress and success.

    The sentiment of "My ancestors walk with me" is rooted in a deep understanding of past generations' historical context and lasting influence. It reflects an awareness of how history shapes the present and informs the future and carries with it a responsibility to make choices that pay tribute to the legacy of one's forebears. By recognizing the significance of the past, individuals can make meaningful contributions to their lineage's ongoing story. Whether through spiritual guidance, cultural identity, personal fortitude, or historical recognition, this phrase "My ancestors walk with me", serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring presence of our ancestors in our lives, guiding us as we journey through existence.

    map of homo sapiens migration

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Map of Homo Sapien Migration  (Public Domain)

    The First Artists

    The study of art has always been a topic of great interest for scholars and experts in the field throughout history. In particular, early art forms, such as cave paintings, continue to captivate art historians and anthropologists, leaving behind more questions than answers about their creators. One of the primary inquiries that arise is the motivation behind early humans' decision to create art and what inspired them to use charcoal to draw lines on cave walls. The combination of various colors and lines in these cave paintings allows us to interpret shapes and differentiate them from one another. Comprehending images and pictures has undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping the world we live in today, and it all began with these early forms of art that continue to intrigue and inspire us.

    There is an ongoing discussion among scientists about the origins and representation of language in early cave and rock art. While written language examples only date back to later times, such as the Mesopotamians and Egyptians' cuneiform writing around 3400-3200 BCE, there is evidence that early humans communicated using sounds and conveyed messages through images on cave and rock walls. The Shang dynasty, which emerged in 1300 BCE, developed the earliest known complete writing system. Historians strongly believe that there was a close relationship between the sounds early humans produced and the images they depicted. The junction of sound and drawing “allowed early humans to enhance their ability to convey symbolic thinking.”[2]Shigeru Miyagawa from MIT stated, “Cave art was part of the package deal in terms of how homo sapiens came to have this very high-level cognitive processing. You have this very concrete cognitive process that converts an acoustic signal into some mental representation and externalizes it as a visual.”[3] Cave artists not only depicted images but also communicated and exchanged ideas through their drawings on cave walls, according to recent scientific findings.

    Over the course of three million years, the gradual evolution of hominids left behind evidence of their existence in the form of basic bone and stone tools likely used for excavation and cutting. It wasn't until approximately 300,000 years ago that evidence of tool-making surfaced in the archeological record, yet there was little to no indication of artistic expression during this time. However, around 75,000 years ago, the dawn of art emerged in Africa, coinciding with the migration of humans to Eurasia. As the earliest artists began crafting pottery, sculpture, musical instruments, jewelry, and paintings, the expansion of language was disseminated through symbolic representation, signifying a pivotal cultural transformation in human evolution. With the evolution of art came a shift towards more realistic depictions, and the initial caves that functioned as museums allowed us to scrutinize and theorize how and why these remarkable works of art were created. Even today, the magnificence and significance of this ancient art continue to inspire a sense of wonder and awe.

    Throughout the migration period, humans endeavored to create robust stone abodes that offered shelter from the elements. They toiled tirelessly in the fields, cultivating the soil and planting seeds to yield bountiful crops. The domestication of animals was paramount to their existence, as they depended on them for sustenance, transportation, and labor. As their society advanced, they crafted a system of governance to uphold order and safeguard the welfare of their populace.

    During the prehistoric era, the survival of humans relied heavily on hunting and gathering. However, there were exceptional individuals who possessed an innate talent for producing remarkable works of art. Over time, these individuals were able to harness their creativity and develop their own unique culture. Through various cultural transformations, these early humans had the opportunity to reflect on their surroundings and experiment with different techniques, ultimately leading them to become skilled painters. Although their artistic abilities are not fully comprehensible, we are fortunate enough to have access to their recorded art, which is a testament to their evolutionary journey and cultural development.


    [1] Maslin, M. (2017). The cradle of humanity. Oxford University Press. (p. 2)

    [2] The writing on the wall  

    [3] Ibid.

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