Sophisticated Stone Age People

 In Neolithic, Pagan Economy

When I posted a short while ago about people surviving in the Stone Age, it triggered a thought. This was that we rarely appreciate how sophisticated Stone Age people actually were. The word stone doesn’t help, of course. In truth, in Northern Europe, the stone enabled people to cut wood. Consequently, it would have been more to the point to call it the Wood Age. For certain, by late in the Stone Age, people prospered and decent accommodation was one of the reasons. The further north they lived then the more importance they applied to keeping warm and dry. The people living in Dorset took this to a new level.

The wood in a hut?

In my latest book I include a chapter on building a hut. If this sounds a crude construction then think again. It is clear that around the time Stonehenge was built, in 3000 BC, wood skills were very evident. They were coppicing, that is, growing wood to order. The various age of coppiced wood meant that they had older, thicker wood, for building hut frames and lighter wood for roof spars and wattle. Once the wood was cut, say, from a coppiced hazel, then it regrew over a few years. Consequently, this wood needed very little trimming before it was used. They were masters at keeping work to a minimum. They had to be because they only had stone, and bone, tools.

Keeping the rain out

However, no matter how well you build a hut, it’s the roof that really matters. A dried mud roof had to suffice in many parts of the world. In wetter Britain, heather, grass, even turf, was used for roofing and it leaked. However, in the south is an ideal roofing material still in use today, some 4,000 years later. The reed grows on many of our rivers. It needs wet silt to flourish which means slow, meandering rivers. These rivers, incidentally, are also ideal for the log boats of the day. A thatched roof was, I believe, an aspiration for our Stone Age people. The hut needed to be big enough for a family group, with a hearth in the centre. The smoke then sterilises the hut against insects and, as carbon monoxide builds up under the thatched roof space, it snuffs out all sparks. How sophisticated is that?

Sophisticated Stone Age people

In my research about huts, I spent some time at a hut fireside. It was warm and cosy, helped by the aroma of woodsmoke. Unfortunately, the fumes hid the assassin. They fostered TB, a new illness at the time. Lung infections must also have been rife. Whether they lived long enough for these to have actually shortened their lives is impossible to say. However, we must not call them ignorant. Only recently have we identified how modern wood burners create minute carbon particles that enter our lungs and kill us. Keeping warm and well is as much a challenge today as it was in the Stone Age.

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Humans surviving the Stone Age