P....is for

Following on again with Toni's A-Z, "a...is for" meme, today's letter is P.

P....is for 


The study of the prehistoric human past is called "paleoanthropology".
Anthropology itself refers to the study of human beings. 
Paleoanthropology is the study of human ancestors in the distant past. 
Since we cannot travel back in time to observe these ancestors, scientists must use other kinds of evidence to understand what happened.

The people who study the human past do not call themselves archaeologists. There are historians and paleontologists, anthropologists and paleoanthropologists, forensic archaeologists and forensic anthropologists.

Archaeology is the study of the relics of past humans and their behaviours.

Paleoanthropology is the study of our near-human ancestors.

I'd always been interested in this, but had a renewed interest in this subject when I first read the book "Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean M. Auel.

I've since collected the rest of the series and all the books have been read far more than once.

I think this is a fascinating subject, particularly the stone age and the ice age, when much of Europe was covered by glaciers.

There isn't much information available that I can find with a quick look, even in the local libraries (which I joined just for this purpose) have only small sections of archaeology books and most of those center around Egypt and the tombs of the Pharaohs.
I've heard plenty about the Pyramids over the years, but what I really want to know more about is Paleolithic eras.
How did they cook? 

 this iron pot looks a little too modern to me, but they cooked with fire so that's good enough

 Cooking was also done by heating foods in water, thus creating soups and stews, and large animals were often buried in a fire pit which was then covered over and left all day, the slow cooking method of the time. 

What did they eat? 

 Mammoth and other things.

How did they acquire their foods? 

Meat was hunted by the men,
women and children did the gathering of plants.
Vegetable matter, fruits, berries etc.

I've read this in many books, not all of them fictional.

How did they learn which plants were medicinal?

In the books pictured above, the "medicine woman"  or "healer" would take tiny tastes of new plant materials in various ways,raw, cooked, as a tea,  and take careful note of how they affected her. 
If a food had no ill effects and was tasty or otherwise beneficial, it was added to the things already eaten. Foods that made one drowsy were kept apart from the daily diet and used as a medicinal, same with things that brought about pain relief. In this way herbs were discovered as a rejuvenating or calming tea etc, or as flavourful additions to the cooking pots. 

Pictures are hard to find. But I found a few. I can't be certain which era they are from, but here they are.

Many families lived together in large caves, often in hillsides or rocky cliffs.
The clan or tribe would allocate sections of caves according to who had the most "status", for instance the leader and his family and a shaman or healer and his family would get a more favourable spot away from the windy opening, but with an easier access to the communal fire perhaps. 
(They didn't have the stairs of course, those were put there by archaeologists working on the site).

Mammoth hunting.

In the books I've read one mammoth would feed the entire clan or tribe. The hunter credited with the kill would be awarded the hide to portion out as he saw fit.
Nothing was wasted, with large bones such as shoulder blades and pelvic bones used as platters and dishes, horns or tusks would be used for cups and even tiny bones and teeth would be hollowed out and used as beads or flutes.All the inner parts had a use too.

Bone flute. 

These "mother" figures are probably clay but some were carved from bone.

Another example of a cave.

Paleoanthropology. one of my favourite subjects.


  1. I too have read The clan of the Cave Bear, it was many years ago, I don't remember how many books there were in the series but I remember most of the story.
    I also have seen those little clay figures before we learnt about them in art class in school.
    It is a very interesting subject.

  2. Even if I could say the word, I can't imagine slipping it into a conversation. Interesting post though.

  3. we still live in caves...they're called apartment buildings lol.

  4. Merlesworld; there are six books in the series. The Clan of the Cave Bear is still my favourite.

    Andrew; it is easy enough to say with a little practice. Slipping it into conversation would depend on who you are talking to and what you are talking about. A new person you meet might ask what some of your interests are and then you could say paleoanthropology. Well, I would, you probably wouldn't.

    Delores; yes, but they are caves with stoves, doonas, televisions and air conditioning, doors and windows.

  5. That is one of the most interesting subjects I can think of and we have watched some wonderful documentaries on that very subject.
    I had not heard of the author or those book. What is the author's profession as I was wondering from which viewpoint the books were written. I am going to take a note of the name and see if they are available at our library perhaps.
    Thanks for so much interesting information.
    We watch Time Team on ABC1 and always find that very fascinating and informative.

  6. It is fascinating isn't it? You would have to like mammoth meat though - there would be a LOT of left-overs.

  7. See how there are Goddess figurines not God ones. Females ruled, men might have speared a mammoth or two but we got the fires going and kept them going, we tested the food that kept the tribe going when the mammoth boys bombed and we had the kids. Men of a delicate nature, look away now, the worshipping of the mother goddess was because women menstruated each month and lived. If a man lost that much blood he died and so began the envy of women and the determination to grind us into the ground. And if the men had croaked, we women would have made short work of a mammoth. Here endeth the lecture.

  8. LC's been reading the Clan of the Cave Bear series on his iPad this year... must borrow it after he's finished.

    I always wondered, in our knowledge now of what is medicinal vs what is poisonous, how many poor sods died from eating the wrong things before we worked it out?

  9. Have you read this?


  10. mm; very interesting. fascinating even. I could read on this for hours.

    Mimsie; the author is a writer and the books are fiction based on factual research. Each book took several years to complete. There are six and they follow the life of the main character Ayla from the age of five until adulthood.

    Elephant's Child; back then there wasn't much choice so everyone ate mammoth. It wasn't always available, so the season was looked forward too (in the books)and excess meat was dried and stored in strips like jerky or dried and ground finely to be mixed with rendered fat and dried berries, to be eaten as protein when on hunting and gathering trips or when travelling long distances to meet up with other clans. again, this information is from those books by Jean M Auel.

    JahTeh; men and women ruled but in separate areas in those books of mine. Even men revered the "mother" because the mother gave birth, therefore she brought life. The male role in this wasn't known until later and it was then that the men began to "take over" thinking that without their input the women would not be giving birth so they were the true leaders or some such. I've got myself a little muddled.

    Kath Lockett; you really must read it and Sapphire can too. It isn't R rated and much can be learned about how our ancestors lived.

    mm; no I haven't read that, but I will.

  11. The Wicked Writer; thank you.


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