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Cavemen... a cultural overview of Stone Age societies

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A determination on the mentality, demeanor and ethics of cavemen

(7th edition - June 2007) by A.O. Kime
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Despite the fact cavemen haven’t been around for 4,500-12,000 years, depending on which archaeological timeline you prefer, the Stone Age continues to yield more information. While much has been written about the discoveries of the Java Man, Peking Man and the Neanderthal who once lived in Europe and even the later Pre-Clovis, Clovis and Folsom Paleo-Indians in America, which might include their cave art, stone tools, axes and spear-points... there remains little knowledge about the personal qualities of cavemen so this overview will be a quite different.

Largely unaddressed has been the caveman's mentality, demeanor and ethics but the prospects of determining this about such a people, being practically anyone who lived before recorded history, would seem impossible. After all, we're talking about cultures and societies which haven't been around for ages. Yet, in the opinion of most folks today, cavemen weren’t sophisticated enough to be considered a 'culture' or 'society'. Well, sophistication shouldn’t be determined by the most recent of standards... raising the bar creates misconceptions. Despite their Spartan living conditions, lack of amenities and a written language, they weren’t much different than modern man.

Sophistication, to expand of this briefly, should not be based on the available amenities but instead on one’s mental attitude ... to wit, it would be an imposition on the term to consider a lot of people today as 'sophisticated'. However, if one was to steadfastly insist sophistication should be based on the standard of living, then they should take into account that kind of sophistication takes eons to develop. One cannot justifiably demean a people who, by happenstance, didn’t inherit a high standard of living like we did. Further, it was they who took the first steps towards civilization, the most difficult steps. They struggled with tools made of rocks and wood which, thanks to these, later developments were born. It was they who had nothing to begin with yet discovered and developed all known survival techniques in order to perpetuate the species. It was they who first utilized most laws of physics too... modern man merely scientifically explained them and gave them scientific names.

Under similar circumstance a man of today wouldn’t progress any faster or fare any better. We should have some admiration for a society as tough and resilient as cavemen and more respect for their close relationship with Mother Nature. This close relationship, after all, yields more than meets the eye. Another misconception… most people mistakenly believe their intelligence was sub-par but this cannot be judged fairly by modern-day standards either. Intelligence is about fulfilling needs... resourcefulness.

More liker a learned man

In his works ‘Why Savages Acquire Extensive Knowledge’, John Wilson (1785-1854) theorized that, in short, necessity begets knowledge… rather extensive knowledge. If you knew that, he said; then you knew the savage. He based it upon how much the mind of a savage was daily challenged due to the dynamics in their natural lifestyle. He was referring to the North American Indians “before they were visited with the curse of an intercourse with Europeans”. In contrast to this, he saw that civilized man, due to modern day safeguards, did not use their faculties fully and had largely rendered them passive (inert).

“Then add to this; his observations of air and the skies, from his dependence on their changes, and I think, my lads, if you have imagination to represent to yourselves one-twentieth part of the knowledge which a savage will thus be driven to possess by his mere physical necessities, you will be astonished to find how much liker a learned man he is than you be.” John Wilson (1785-1854)

Other cavemen qualities

While one might be able to easily conceptualize their way of life, the everyday drudgery and dangers, not so evident would be their demeanor, mentality, ethics and beliefs but there are ways to determine this. Based on our knowledge of human nature we can get the general picture even though anthropology seems to be fighting the idea cavemen were much like us. We've been left with the impression cavemen were more beast than human. That perception is simply wrong. So, hopefully with that idea dispelled, human psychology and sociology would equally apply.

In order to determine the qualities of cavemen, one must take into account their harsh conditions. After all, it’s not hard to imagine their thoughts were primarily on survival. To miscalculate often meant starvation or death. They lived a violent life often, to a great extent due to the type of meat, and amount, they preferred in their diet. Whether it was deer, bear or bison or whether it was rabbits or birds, determined how much violence and risk they were willing to deal with. In either case however it revolved around death, blood and stench. It revolved around coping with unchecked pain and disease. Even those cavemen who were primarily vegetarians didn’t escape the violence associated with killing; they needed furs and hides too so they also hunted. Death wasn’t just limited to the animals they killed though; often their own died prematurely due to accidents, disease, gangrene and childbirth.

So, what would be their demeanor under these conditions? Well, these conditions were commonplace just 100 years ago... and while it would 'harden' a person somewhat, it's been proven it doesn't greatly affect one's personality. In other words, there should be no difference in how cavemen dealt with it than folks from the 19th century. It’s the human ability to cop an attitude... in this case to accept killing as a necessity and death an ever-present reality. Even today, a hunter, butcher or family farmer can relate, after all, butchering animals is still necessary. Then, it would seem, the attitude of cavemen would be largely unaffected by this killing and blood.

Did cavemen occasionally stop to smell the flowers, kiss their wives and play with their kids? Did they smile and laugh? Well, we could reasonably assume so, at least on occasion. We could also reasonably assume some cavemen were cheery in the mornings, talkative and friendly. After all, we all know people today in dire circumstances who somehow remain extroverts... it's because they soon learn humor and a good attitude generally lightens the load. But as it would be today, bad experiences, disappointments or pain can dampen these spirits. Territorial lawlessness would have made cavemen generally less pleasant however... although surely no less pleasant collectively than in the lawless regions of some countries today. Ever-present threats cause fear and uneasiness.

Living with anarchy in the Stone Age

Under anarchy cavemen tried to survive... great caution was always taken in respect to strangers and proper conduct was often violently enforced. Cavemen had to rely on body language to determine a threat and that’s when social graces came into being. Often it was a smile or certain gestures which indicated a desire for a peaceful encounter and body movements were intentionally slow. Quick movements cause alarm and an instinctual reaction. Depending on an individual’s past experiences with strangers dictated how they would normally react, much as it is today. A caveman may either run a stranger off or interact with him to some extent but most often it was probably at arms-length. As it would be today, it would take several contacts before a mutual trust would develop. While being cautious would limit this trust, a prudent exercise, it was also restrained due to womenfolk. Sexual passes made by strangers would be dealt with harshly and the killing of rivals was probably common.

The degree anarchy affected the demeanor of cavemen probably depended on the frequency of threats from strangers. If it was rare, it could be safe to assume their demeanor was no different collectively than today. Yet, animal instincts were called upon more often, without law enforcement it was a time of fight or flight for cavemen. The merits of both were always weighed and the former developed into a matter of honor as exemplified in medieval times. Except... choosing honor could be a deadly decision. Flight, on the other hand, often meant the loss of property and possessions... so cavemen had to remain alert and calculating. So depending on the frequency of looming dangers undoubtedly determined how often they were outgoing and friendly. The American Indians and the cowboys of the Old West were much the same, always suspicious and cautious.

As far as ethics, cavemen undoubtedly had the same ethical standards as would be considered proper today. Indeed, they were the ones who established these standards. If a group was to stay an effective functioning group, in varying degrees it would have been recognized as essential. No one tolerates being cheated or wronged for long. Assuredly though, they had their bullies just like today... but also they had their sweet old ladies, venerable old men and rowdy, promiscuous teenagers.

The religious beliefs of cavemen

Existing long before the days of organized religions, it was most likely cavemen did not worship anything. The concept of ‘worship’ is something organized religions invented as scheming men began to exploit the mystery. Exactly when organized religions (polytheism) began to appear is unknown but they existed at least as far back as the Egyptian dynasties, or about 7,000 years ago. Cavemen were therefore pagans but being a pagan does not necessarily mean being an atheist; it simply means having beliefs outside of church doctrine. Early man would have never seen the need to worship anything, neither idols or gods... it is not a natural tendency. It is only natural to be in awe of the mysteries.

The most significant difference between cavemen and modern man would be their level of spirituality. Cavemen had a special relationship with nature, one which had spiritual meanings… much as nature meant to the American Indians. Cavemen expressed themselves with a primitive and natural curiosity about life and having no scientific explanations, they were surely captivated. It was a time of wonder and awe... of thoughts uncorrupted by organized religions or despoiled by scientific explanations.

It goes beyond that however; it goes beyond a reverence for nature. It amounted to actually interacting with nature in a spiritual way. The caveman’s senses were keen to this; he could hear the spirit world and could communicate spiritually on a regular basis. Their harsh circumstances were ideal for this to occur and a phenomenon few modern men can comprehend or would believe. Guidance and blessings were often sought and miracles were undoubtedly more commonplace.

Therefore, we should honor these cavemen instead of holding them in low esteem, as if inferior. They were by no means inferior. People might also have visualized cavemen as being brutish and ugly. Why? Because they’ve always been depicted that way? The young didn’t look any different than the young of today, with an equal proportion of handsome men and pretty women. This must be true... otherwise these pleasing-to-the-eye features wouldn't exist today. We tend to forget... everything we are today we inherited, and why the differences between cavemen and modern man are negligible.

The exception was that their youth was short-lived... the harsh conditions would age them faster. Old injuries were more telling because of the resulting deformities and lacking dental care meant teeth would be missing. So with few comforts, the lack of advanced medical care, it wasn’t a good time for the elderly and deadly for the weak. It was a time when the survival of the fittest also applied to humans but a process modern man should be thankful. From natural selection, we should feel indebted to the cavemen for our better health and greater resilience. The cavemen paid an enormous price for this and suffered often so mankind would survive. We owe our very existence to these ancestors due to their tenacity, resiliency and courage... and they should be appropriately honored. They are deserving of a huge statue... as big or bigger than the faces on Mount Rushmore, perhaps as big as the ongoing Crazy Horse project. After all, leaders are but a cog in the wheel.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 10/25/13