How did our ancestors live thousands of years ago? It may seem difficult to answer this question. The constant progress of this science of Prehistory and the new discoveries brought to light by archaeologists provide us with more and more data that allow us to better answer them. In this book, we are exposed to the current state of discoveries on the life of prehistoric men.
The authors, Brigitte and Gilles Delluc, PhDs in Prehistory, are also attached to the Prehistory Laboratory of the National Museum of Natural History and researchers at the Pataud shelter. They are also the authors of scientific articles and numerous works for the general public.
This book seeks to show prehistoric man with a new perspective, that is to say as a man from whom we have inherited a technical know-how, a part of spirituality, a cultural base, and not as a simple "savage. of the past ”as we still imagined it in the last century (a representation unfortunately still strongly present among part of the general public).
It consists of several chapters from the first hominids, which are not humans, but pre-humans. The oldest, Toumaï, was discovered in 2001 in Chad and seems to be 7 million years old.
The first man is Homo habilis, who appeared in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago. He is credited with the first manufactured tools, a roller fitted with one cutting edge (chooper), or with two cutting edges (chopping-tool).
Homo erectus, which appeared 1.8 million years ago, left Africa rapidly and in tens of thousands of years reached the Middle East and then Eurasia. "From them will be born the Neanderthals" and the Cro-Magnons (Homo sapiens sapiens).
The work will mainly deal with the life of Cro-Magnon men through their way of life: their artistic manifestations (cave art, furniture, etc.), their environment and their diet (flora, fauna, etc. and consequently their techniques of hunting), and what we can glimpse from their world of representations (graves, pseudo-cult statuettes, etc.).
They are documented in Western Europe around 35,000 years ago. They are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who move to intercept the migration of reindeer. This practice is evidenced, for example, by the use of exogenous flint instead of habitat, but also by the age of the slain reindeer which reveal seasonal hunts. Thanks to meticulous excavations, the daily life of Cro-Magnon men is no longer unknown to us. The work clearly shows that the advancement of knowledge from prehistoric times requires the complementarity of the contributions of archeology and ethnology. Observing the last hunter-gatherer peoples like the Lapps can shed light on their way of consuming meat, for example (one reindeer per week per family). In this same area, the recovery of the skin of reindeer, horses or bears is attested by the traces of flint very characteristic of this action visible on the surface of the bones found. Were also discovered in great numbers, the tools for sewing and piercing the skins (bone punches, flint punches and eye needles).
This book is very comprehensive and answers many questions we ask ourselves about prehistoric humans. Nevertheless, some of them remain unanswered like the meaning of cave art, for example. During the studies made on the prehistoric sites, various assumptions were made. For the most part, they are repeated and commented on.
The authors present the current state of discoveries on prehistoric humans, with specific and well-detailed examples. But they also take care to show that these conclusions are the fruit of a slow evolution of scientific knowledge, from where many returns on the false interpretations which marked the beginnings of prehistoric research. This approach tends to prove that our knowledge is constantly evolving, even in the short term. So much so that even certain points of this book, which was reissued in 2012, could quickly be called into question by the current debates. Thus, they expose us the theory of Yves Coppens about the bipedalism of Australopithecines linked to the dry climate and to predators: this theory has not been accepted by all specialists in Prehistory and now Yves Coppens himself recognizes that 'it is no longer valid.
In addition to synthesizing the latest research results, this book is very illustrated with mostly unpublished photographs. The choice of each image perfectly illustrates the point of the authors and allows readers to visualize the way of life, but also the art and the environment of prehistoric men. Talking about cave art without showing representations could have seemed anti-educational ...
Finally, the authors have a clear style with a few touches of humor that allows a non-specialist audience of this period to learn very simply aspects of the lives of our ancestors.
DELLUC Brigitte and Gilles, “The life of prehistoric men”, Editions Ouest-France, Rennes, 2012, 127 p.