Ever since the 19th century when archaeologists first began uncovering evidence of our most ancient ancestors – which archaeologists dubbed ‘cavemen’ – and since they appeared to have been extremely primitive archaeologists reasoned that they must have been slovenly and dimwitted. This opinion held by academia has never changed and the picture given us in every classroom. Conversely, this article will demonstrate cavemen weren’t so ignorant after all.
It is doubtful they were even slovenly (as commonly portrayed).
Considering the caveman overcame his primitive circumstances – a situation which was cast upon him – is actually proof he was intelligent… perhaps highly intelligent. After all, the first humans had no guidance, no books… yet from scratch they evaluated and conquered. With that said, let’s start an analysis thusly:
Since it is commonly believed cavemen could neither read nor write, it would be interesting to know how intellectually-limiting this might have been… if at all. We might even wonder to what degree his limited mathematical skills might have affected his ability to function effectively. His lack of knowledge in chemistry, biology and the other sciences comes to mind as well. But to begin an analysis, one can only safely conclude the caveman’s knowledge was limited… albeit only compared to modern times and the scientific point-of-view. For example, one need not know at what temperature water boils to boil water. One thing commonly believed seems certain however… that man’s language skills quickly developed and thus languages have been around since the very beginning.
Although cavemen lived before recorded history, there’s still much one can conclude about the caveman’s range of abilities and accomplishments including his knowledge of the sciences. The truth be known, he even had a working knowledge of physics.
But before delving into the caveman’s mental capacity and the sciences he knew and developed, a couple points. Even though the caveman didn’t use modern scientific methods, although as a result they would have erred occasionally, if not frequently, we should keep in mind trial and error produces knowledge as well.
In fact, trial and error along with a little reasoning was the progenitor of practically all scientific knowledge. For that reason the sciences of today owe very their existence and a great debt to cavemen.
Stone Age hieroglyphs
To dispel one notion, to some extent cavemen could read and write. A caveman would have developed a few marks or signs which others in his clan could recognize the meaning of… beginning with what a pile of rocks meant, “x” marks on a tree and arrows scratched in the dirt soon followed by signs (hieroglyphics). But no matter how crude these ‘signs’ were, it was something which could be ‘written’ and ‘read’.
Towards the beginning, dozens of recognizable signs and marks would have been utilized, and as time passed it grew to hundreds. Long distance messaging using smoke fires, drums and horns could have been used far earlier than thought. Easily, this could have been possible in the very beginning… and developed as quickly as languages did. It seems apparent symbolic messaging occurred almost everywhere initially and naturally evolved over time. The Egyptian hieroglyphs – which were surely based on archetypes of Stone Age origins – demonstrate just how complex and sophisticated these message systems became. While hieroglyphs weren’t as useful as the pronounceable alphabet which the Sumerians later developed in 3000 B.C., they could still convey messages.
In order to determine the caveman’s rudimentary mathematical skills prior to the Egyptian pyramids – which demonstrates man’s mathematical knowledge at that point in time – we should first establish whether the caveman could count. He surely could because counting up to ten could easily be accomplished by ‘finger-counting’. Then later, by naming each finger – as eventually any innovative caveman surely did – would enable them to state verbally any number up to ten. Beyond ten, for those unwilling to settle for answers such as “many” or “much”, double-digit accounting was the next logical step. And, undoubtedly, it occurred during the Stone Age.
But before the ability to count – albeit a short-lived period – the use of beans or pebbles to represent the units in question likely occurred. For example, the number of beans in a bag could represent the number of days in a year, or how many cavemen there were in a clan. One need only look at the contents to get a visual idea… and visual estimations, that is, without a precise number attached, is something we still do today.
After all, we don’t bother counting the number of animals in a herd for example. We would commonly use the terms “herd”, “several”, “many” and so forth. By not expressing the exact number of animals in a herd does not diminish the message we are trying to convey. It often doesn’t matter whether there are 54 animals or 72… only that it was a herd. The necessity to know the precise number of something isn’t always critical, not even today. Our usage of the terms such as “many”, “much”, “a lot” and “several” is proof of this and actually identical to prehistoric thinking… ancient forms of expression modern man still utilizes. Yes, it is lingo from the Stone Age… and often quite sufficient.
The ability to express a number up to ten could have, during the Stone Age, quickly developed into the ability to add and subtract even double digit numbers. For example, by flashing all ten fingers twice (representing 20) could have been given a name and from that simple process mathematics grew in complexity.
As proof counting occurred is the 37,000 year-old Lebombo bone discovered in Swaziland. It consists of notches deliberately cut into a baboon’s fibula and considered to be a ‘mathematical object’. While it’s the oldest known evidence of counting, it also demonstrates it was common. In this case it is believed by the archaeological community that a woman used it to keep track of her menstrual cycle – having 29 scratches. Why menstrual cycle? Well, apparently because other bones and stones were found with 28-30 scratches followed by a distinctive marker. This analysis is doubtful however. Most likely the marks represented the cycle of the moon which held importance to farmers ever since farming began. It could be considered a crude version of the lunar calendar the Chinese used prior to 2,357 BC. Whatever the case, it indicates counting was common.
So why is ‘common use’ important? Well, common use suggests counting wasn’t a big deal which, in turn, suggests the development of mathematics was well underway. Then there is 18,000 to 20,000 year-old Ishango bone which contain a series of carved tally marks suggesting the act of inventorying and/or commerce (trading).
While archaeology was responsible for finding these ancient artifacts – and while we’re all grateful for their discoveries – the point is… why hasn’t such knowledge been incorporated into what is taught in the classroom? Will academia forever tell us cavemen were dumb and that we evolved from an ape? Well, at least our ancient ancestors didn’t create institutions full of blooming idiots.
So, whether the Babylonian sexagesimal (base 60) system or the deductive reasoning of Thales and Pythagoras, their roots go all the way back to the Stone Age.
Leverage of course would have been discovered during the Stone Age as well… although the various ways in which leverage could be utilized was discovered exclusively by experimentation and by accident. During the course of a single lifetime many things would have been discovered through the course of toil which would include things related to biology and even chemistry. In fact, almost every single law of physics would have been recognized by any caveman in the very beginning… gravity and centrifugal force just to name two more.
Modern science only determined their properties more precisely and gave them names. But even without a scientific explanation, the caveman was still able to utilize these forces. It wasn’t Isaac Newton who ‘discovered’ gravity, but the very first humans. Cavemen were also the first astronomers, the first navigators, the first mathematicians and first to discover countless other things… the rest of mankind was left only to fill in the blanks. Most all elementary discoveries therefore were made during the Stone Age.
Consider this… only by observation could it be known initially that leverage, gravity and centrifugal force exist. They would have never been discovered in a purely scientific fashion. One must first know such things exist. For example, if leverage hadn’t been discovered accidentally by now, it would still remain unknown… unless someone like Einstein was to conclude, in theory, that leverage existed. Cavemen would have been experts in the use of leverage too… in fact, all men before the 20th century were experts compared to modern man. Powered machinery made us no longer experts. From this accidental Stone Age discovery, only later would science determine its qualities in precise detail.
The point is… these forces were effectively utilized by man long before scientific-thinking came along. Ancient man may not have utilized 100% of what modern science and a greater understanding would later demonstrate… but the caveman knew enough to serve his needs. And as his needs grew, so did his knowledge in how to apply these forces.
It’s as if ancient man was siphoning from apperception only the information he needed.
The caveman’s dependence on health
Gaining medical knowledge would have been a long drawn-out process however. The recognition of body organs would have began from butchering animals but in order to acquire just a rough idea the function of each organ took tens of thousands of years. This lack of medical knowledge would not greatly impede a healthy caveman of course… if he was fortunate enough to avoid serious injury and illness. Nonetheless the caveman knew many things about health and medicine still. Experience would have told him the importance of a balanced diet for example. Bowel movements and stomach aches would have dictated to him what he should and shouldn’t eat. And hundreds of biological remedies were discovered within a wide range of plants.
Besides lacking advanced medical knowledge, the caveman knew all he really needed to know for a man of his circumstantial environment. A circumstantial environment is the stage of development in the surroundings one must contend with. It is circumstantial because it happens to be the environment in which he was born. Therefore, it was not necessary to know things not yet applicable (i.e., things related to modern technology).
If intelligence was scored on the curve, as it should be when taking into account one’s circumstantial environment, then intelligence is a relative matter. To wit, Plato and Aristotle weren’t dummies.
Although primitive by modern standards, the caveman utilized almost every law of physics and had enough mathematical skills for the tasks at hand. Cavemen had enough chemical knowledge as well (enough to fill their needs)… like how water reacts with and affects other elements. He knew, for example, how certain soils would react (behave) with water in order to make durable mud pots. Taste may have been his gauge to determine acidic and alkaline levels. He learned a multitude of these things by trial and error however, not scientifically. But compared to an outdoorsman today, the caveman had more useful knowledge because he dealt with nature in-the-raw everyday.
Back to the Stone Age
If, for example, a highly educated outdoorsman could propel himself back in time, his advanced knowledge wouldn’t do him much good at all. Not unless he could live a dozen lifetimes or more… long enough to set the stage in order to utilize his knowledge. After all, he would first need to find, dig and smelt ore in order to make himself the tools he wanted. In that he would also need to make shoes, clothes and cooking utensils would be just a few of the hundred other things he would need to do.
Being low on his priority list, paper and pencils would have to wait and generating electricity would remain a pipe dream for millennia. No, not even a Rhodes Scholar could live better than the average caveman… that’s because progress requires the collective effort of hundreds just to begin. After all, one field is often dependent on another. There wouldn’t be dentists without dental tools or typewriters without paper. The best a scholar could do is to try living like the Swiss Family Robinsons… and we can’t rule out that some cavemen, if not most, did exactly that. That evidence would be long gone however… just as evidence has largely disappeared as to how the American Indians once lived. Except for a few remaining hogans (Navaho), what we see today was recreated for historical purposes.
Yet with only wooden and stone tools, and without any ‘how-to” books or a formal education, the caveman flourished. Under these circumstances, one must recognize just how resourceful a caveman needed to be… and resourcefulness equates to intelligence better than any other gauge. In a sense, resourcefulness IS intelligence. It’s what digs out the next logical step in one’s thinking process.
Delving into the mind of a caveman
So, it’s not individual knowledge but collective knowledge and inventions upon which living standards depend. Aside from cultural wars and language barriers – which greatly impeded progress – an idea or invention had to be ripe for the times as well. Premature ideas are almost always useless. What good is a chariot if harnesses had not yet been devised or it was still unknown whether horses could be tamed?
What good would it be to know powered flight was possible in the Stone Age without engines, tools, gears, plywood, belts and wire? And cavemen surely thought of flight. Even wire, the simplest of these, would take millennia to ultimately produce. Since food and shelter must come first, for just one individual building and maintaining a shelter and obtaining food would be a full-time job… leaving little time to concoct amenities.
The physical evidence that cavemen were just as intelligent as modern man is lacking only because of their circumstantial lifestyle. Like the American Indians, the caveman didn’t have iron or other such durable materials in which to creatively fashion an object, something to serve as lasting testimony. Unless buried in muck somewhere, like the 5,000 year-old “solid and elegant” door found in Switzerland recently, their wooden structures, tools and devices would have long since turned to dust. Those items which did survive, their stone tools, were merely ‘heavy construction’ equipment much like a sledge hammer would be considered today. This is what archaeologists and anthropologists have failed to recognize – and point out – leaving us with the mistaken notion that cavemen were ignorant.
I suggest instead this demonstrates the shallow mentality of the archaeological community… often incapable, it seems, of accurately deciphering what their finds represent.
If anthropology were to approach the questions concerning the life of a typical caveman by first trying to establish what the caveman should have known, and with that project his capabilities, then schools would be teaching something entirely different. Such a study should only be done by those who can fathom the logic within the sphere of primitiveness however. It’s not as easy as it sounds but I believe I’ve done just that. Strangely, as a result, I feel as if I’ve been appointed, as if by their ‘spiritual committee’, to be spokesman for the caveman … and have been commissioned to wrest away from the clutches of academia the fate of their legacy.
By: A.O. Kime
Resource Box: © A.O. Kime (2003)
A.O. Kime is the author of two books plus 70+ articles on ancient history,
spiritual phenomena, political issues, social issues and agriculture which
can be seen at http://www.matrixbookstore.biz