Big Era Two Human Beings almost Everywhere 200,000 10,000 Years Ago Panorama Teaching Unit What Does It Mean To Be Human? The Early Career of Homo sapiens

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Big Era Two

Human Beings almost Everywhere
200,000 - 10,000 Years Ago

Panorama Teaching Unit

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

The Early Career of Homo sapiens

200,000 – 10,000 BCE

PowerPoint Overview Presentation

Human Beings almost Everywhere

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




Introductory activities


Lesson 1: Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens: Kissing cousins or distant relatives?




Lesson 2: Be an archaeologist at a 24,000 year-old settlement

physically human?...........................................................................................


Lesson 3: Art before 10,000 years ago


Unit summary activity: What is important?


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards


Why this unit?

This unit aims to help students understand what makes our species, known as Homo sapiens, unique. It also shows what humans shared with their near relatives among the genus Homo. Ninety-five per cent of human history falls within this Big Era, which spans the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens to the beginnings of agriculture.

The unit raises several big questions:

  • What makes a human being human?

  • In what ways did early Homo sapiens, the species “like us,” differ from or resemble other representatives of the genus Homo, particularly our near relatives, the Neanderthals?

  • What can historical evidence tell us about how our ancestors lived before about 10,000 years ago? How reliable are our conclusions from that evidence?

  • What features of the way of life of modern humans before 10,000 years ago paved the way for the emergence of the complex societies, or civilizations?

  • How do we assess what is historically important using information about this Big Era?

The lessons in this unit focus on three important aspects of the era.

  • In Lesson 1 students compare Neanderthals with Homo sapiens of pre-30,00 years ago, discussing the question, “Should the U.N. Declaration of Human

Rights apply to both species? One of them? Neither of them? Why?

  • In Lesson 2 students draw conclusions about the way of life in an imaginary sub-arctic settlement of about 24,000 years ago. Their investigation is based on site-plans, pictures of finds, and descriptions in form of field-notes.

  • Lesson 3 considers on the questions of how well art of this era fits definitions of art, what part it played in the societies creating it, what attempts have been made to decode its meaning, and what it reveals about ways of life and thought of its creators.

Unit objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Explain large-scale patterns of change that occurred between 200,000 and 10,000 BCE.

2. Explain the shift in human history from change associated with biological evolution to

change associated with culture.

3. Evaluate cause and effect connections between developments in Big Era Two and the

emergence of complex societies (civilizations), which occurred in Big Era Three.

4. Assess archaeological evidence, including both its strengths and limitations, and to infer

conclusions from archeological evidence.

5. Pose and assess questions about the meaning and significance of historical events.

Time and materials

Each of the three lessons may stand on its own, and each should take one-to-two fifty-minute class periods. Time taken will vary, depending on how long the class spends on introductory activities, discussions, and assessments. If teachers have time for only one lesson, Lesson Two is recommended.


Dr. Anne Chapman served for many years as history teacher and academic dean of Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. She has been a history education consultant to the College Board, the Educational Testing Service, and the National Center for History in the Schools. Dr. Chapman wrote the Student Handout in the Lesson based on published sources.

Dr. David Christian is Professor of History at San Diego State University and Associate Director of the World History for Us All project. His most recent book is Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (University of California Press).

Introductory activities

  1. Ask students to come up with a list of the things that might be found in the trash (including recyclables) of a family like theirs in a week’s time. This listing may be done individually, in groups, or as a class. Then ask students:

  • If all the items they come up with were taken to the dump, covered with ten feet of earth, and left there, what would still be identifiable if someone dug the items up after 100 years? After 20,000 years? After 100,000 years?

  • Suppose the whole contents of a neighbor’s home was covered by a volcanic eruption with ten feet of ash, then left to be further covered by twenty more feet of wind- blown earth. What would still be identifiable if someone dug the house up after 100 years? After 20,000 years? After 100,000 years?

  • What might be told about how we live and think by looking at our garbage dumps? What could not be told?

2. This activity could serve as a review of the Big Era One Panorama Teaching Unit.

  • Divide class into groups, and assign each group one of the types of hominids studied in Big Era One (such as the Australopithecines, Homo habilis, or Homo erectus).

  • Ask half the students in each group to pool their ideas and information about ways in which their type of creature was like humans. Ask the other half to describe ways in which their creature was unlike humans. (Prompts might include upright walking, brain size, controlled use of fire, or per cent of shared DNA.)

  • Ask students to come up with hypotheses about possible reasons for changes in the direction of increasing resemblance to anatomically modern humans.

  • Then ask, “What kinds of evidence would help to disprove or confirm their hypotheses?”

3. Ask the class to share their answers to the following:

  • If you had to choose the one characteristic that, for you, defines a human being (that distinguishes clearly between what is human and what is non-human), what would that characteristic be? Why?

  • In a follow-up discussion of students’ answers, encourage them to think not only in terms of evolution but also about contemporary legal or moral issues, such as abortion, disconnection of life-support machines, or the “dehumanization” of groups considered to be inferiors or enemies.

As an extension activity, suggest that students consider a cluster of characteristics that might define humanness, rather than a single one. Discuss their selections.

Lesson One

Neanderthals and Homo sapiens: Kissing Cousins or Distant Relatives?


Ask students to discuss in groups or as a class:

  • What kind of a person would you think of if someone said: “Oh, he’s a Neanderthal!”?

  • If a group of living Neanderthal people (Homo Neanderthalensis) were discovered today, should the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to them? Why or why not?

Ask students to read the following information about differences and similarities between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Then expand the discussion about the application of human rights to Neanderthals by considering the questions that follow Student Handouts 1.1-1.3.

Lesson 1

Student Handout 1.1—Similarities and Differences

Similarities between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens up to about 30,000 years ago:

  • Both were hunter-gatherers.

  • Both lived in small bands.

  • Both controlled fire.

  • Both produced the same style and range of tools using the same technology: striking flakes off a core of rock and then shaping the flakes into various scraping, cutting, and chopping tools; both set chipped stone into hafts.

  • For neither is there evidence for storage of food or raw materials.

  • Brain size of both is in same general range.

  • Casts of brains show evidence suggesting that they were both right-handed.

  • Casts of brains suggest that the two main brain areas involved with language were as well developed in both as they are in living Homo sapiens

  • The one undamaged Neanderthal hyoid bone found, a bone associated with pronouncing words clearly, looks like that of Homo sapiens..

  • Both practiced human burial showing evidence of a deliberate arrangement of bodies and grave-goods.

  • For both there is evidence that ill or injured individuals were cared for by the group.

Differences between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals up to about 30,000 years ago:

  • Genetic study shows that Neanderthal and Homo sapiens DNA differ significantly.

  • Neanderthals had larger brain capacity (1245-1740 cc) than Homo sapiens (1220-1600 cc).

  • Neanderthals’ larynx (which contains the vocal chords) was higher up in the throat, leaving less of the airspace that helps in pronouncing words.

  • Neanderthals had an average height of 5’4” compared to 5’8” for fossil Homo sapiens.

  • Neanderthal bodies were more cold-adapted with large noses and sturdy, stocky builds, and heavy bones. Those living in warmer conditions in Western Asia were lighter in build.

  • The Anatomy of Neanderthals' hand suggests they had a stronger but possibly less precise grip than Homo sapiens.

  • Between about 200,000 and 30,000 years ago, Homo sapiens spread from Africa to Asia, Australia, Europe, and perhaps America, while no Neanderthal remains have been found outside of Europe and Western Asia.

  • Neanderthals used raw materials from no more than about 30 miles away; Homo sapiens, from hundreds of miles away.

  • Neanderthals continued to produce the same kinds of tools the same way during their entire existence, though evidence from about 35,000 that at some sites suggests that they made tools like those of nearby Homo sapiens. Also, Homo sapiens began to use radically new raw materials and technologies from about 40,000 years ago, and did so increasingly fast.

  • Neanderthals tended to occupy their living sites, often caves, year-round, and had to range far daily to find and carry back food to home base. Homo sapiens’ sites were quite often in the open, and the species moved seasonally or occasionally to be near resources, which overall meant less walking and carrying.

  • Neanderthal life expectancy was less than 40 years; Homo sapiens’ life expectancy was about 50.

  • Neanderthal populations numbered fewer than sapiens under the same conditions. Their more robust bodies and their need to walk and carry more required more calories. Therefore, even with similar resources and methods of resource use, a given environment could support fewer Neanderthals.

Lesson 1

Student Handout 1.2—Similarities and Differences: Skulls

Neanderthal Skulls

Homo sapiens Skulls

Lesson 1

Student Handout 1.3—Similarities and Differences: Tools

Sample of Neanderthal Tools

Sample of Homo sapiens Tools Made before 30,000 Years Ago

Discussion Questions

  1. What would you say were the three most important similarities and the three most important differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens? Explain your answer, including how you decided what was “important”.

  1. Do you think Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were more different or more similar? Explain your answer.

  1. What important questions about Neanderthals and Homo sapiens does the information above leave unanswered? What additional kinds of evidence might help answer these questions?

  1. Compare what different students considered “important” in establishing similarities and differences between the two species? What measures did students use to establish importance? How would you account for the differences in what people considered important?

  1. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ First Article reads: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” How would you argue in favor of the hypothesis that both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were “endowed with reason and conscience”? On what basis would you argue against it? What questions would you like to have answered before you would vote on giving either Neanderthals or Homo sapiens before 30,000 years ago “equal dignity and rights” with yourself?

  1. Would you agree with the statement that “a human is anyone other humans accept as human?” Why or why not?

  1. Besides the question of “how human were they,” what other question or questions about Neanderthals would you consider historically important? Why?


Assume that a small population of Neanderthals has just been discovered living in a remote area. At a meeting of the United Nations, delegates are arguing the case for including them under the protection of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You are a lawyer charged with arguing the case. It is up to you, based on the information available to you, to argue in favor (taking into account all the possible objections) or against (taking into account all the possible points in favor) the case. Write out your argument, based on as much as possible of the information available to you.

Lesson 2

Be an Archaeologist!

This lesson asks students to reconstruct the way of life of a people who, about 24,000 years ago, shared their world with glaciers and mammoths. The clues in the student reading, and the accompanying illustrations, will help them do this. They will have to draw on the detailed evidence given, make inferences from it, decide what information is important, and use their imaginations.

The settlement described in their reading is an imaginary one based on a composite of information from real archaeological sites. These sites are located in the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, and Russia. Archaeologists date them to between about 28,000 and 14,000 years ago. The sites share many cultural features.

Teachers who wish to simplify this lesson may do the following: Use Student Handouts 2.1-2.3 illustrations and in the student reading use the first three paragraphs (omit preparing way for civilization), the Location and Date of Site, and the first four paragraphs of the Background Information. Omit discussion question 3 and adjust Assessment 1 as needed.


Imagine that you are the archaeologist who has just finished excavating a site. The following description is a summary of the field notes from your team. After reading the description, and discussing it with your classmates, you will be asked to report either to your home newspaper or to the research foundation that financed the excavation. Also, refer to Student Handouts 2.1-2.3. You as team-leader are going to:

  1. Draw conclusions based on the evidence discovered about the people who inhabited the site.

  1. Identify features of their way of life that might have prepared the way for the more complex way of life often called “civilization.” That complex way of life included stored economic surpluses, specialized jobs, organization of people in increasingly large groups, unequal power-holding, and communication using writing systems.

Location of Site

The site is in modern Ukraine. At the time of occupation by humans, the site was located on a plain with a few outcroppings of rocks and about 15 miles from a river rich with fish but frozen over in winter. The site was about 300 miles south of an ice sheet that extended from the Arctic. Temperatures dipped to -35o F in winter and rose to 70o F during the short summers. The earth was permanently frozen at depths of 2-4 feet. The surroundings were a tundra/steppe ecology with sparse vegetation and few trees. Large herds of mammoth, wooly rhinoceros, reindeer, bison, horses, wolves, arctic foxes, as well as ground squirrels, grouse, and other birds and rodents occupied the neighborhood.

Date of Site

Dated by carbon 14 method to between 24,000-23,000 years ago.

The Site and Finds at the Site (See Student Handouts 2.1-2.3)

There are five areas, two of them roughly elliptical and three of them roughly round. They were shallowly hollowed out to depths of about 1-3 feet, varying in size from about 450 (Area 3) to 990 square feet (Area 1).

In each area were several holes about 12-24 inches deep and some 10 inches around, as well as mammoth skulls, jaws, tusks, long bones, and shoulder blades. Bones of the same mammoth were found in different areas. More than half of the mammoth bones came from individual animals (850 different individual mammoths’ bones were identified at the site) that had lived at very different time periods, some long before the human occupation of the site. Different bones (skulls, long bones, or jaws) were dominant in the different areas.

Area 1, the largest, contained numerous mammoth bones and several large limestone chunks. There were 5 depressions, each 2-3 feet around with ashes in them, partly from burnt bones. Also found were 7 smoothed bones pointed at one end and split at the base, 2 of them broken; 362 shaped flint flakes with more than a dozen different kinds of tools, some of them broken, and several hundred flint fragments; 8 baked clay figurines 3-6 inches in size representing meat-eating animals and, in one case, a human female; one holed wolf-tooth and 12 holed mammoth-ivory beads. (See Student Handouts 2.2 and 2.3.)

Area 2 contained 23 tons of mammoth bones, a single mammoth skull elaborately decorated with lines and dots in red ochre paint, two rings of stones with traces of ash and a few partly-burnt bones of hare and reindeer, and flint blade tools of two dozen different types. A small pit near the inside edge of the area contained an upright female figurine of carved mammoth bone, earth mixed with red ochre, and a mammoth shoulder-blade over the top. (See Student Handout 2.3)

Area 3 contained 385 mammoth bones. Near its middle, a depression roughly 3 foot around and outlined by stones had in it a layer of ashes and charcoal identified as burnt mammoth bones. There were also multiple examples of 17 different types of flint scrapers and a selection of flint blades, a few broken. Many paw-bones of small mammals were found inside, but not other parts of mammal skeletons.

Area 4 contained 12 tons of mammoth bones, 15 large chunks of limestone, two circular patches of ash about 2 feet around, broken animal bone pieces, 3 large chunks of flint weighing 25-36 pounds each, and 29,000 flint waste flakes and fragments (10 per cent of them of a superior flint found only some 300 miles away). The team also found two small pits about a foot deep and two feet around filled with completed flint blade tools with many examples of a few types. Finally, the area included a few each of some three dozen different kinds of tools; 86 wolf and 21arctic fox teeth, many with holes; 7 pieces of red ochre showing use-wear; and 3 stones hollowed out as though for grinding, with remains of bones and pigments in the hollows but no traces of vegetable matter. (See Student Handout 2.3.)

Area 5 contained 215 mammoth bones; 11 complete animal and bird figurines about 6 inches and made of clay mixed with powdered bone ash and fired; and more than 5,700 figurine fragments. The area also contained a fired, clay-lined depression with ash deposits and fired clay fragments and a narrow channel leading from it to the area’s edge. Tests show that the figurines were fired at temperatures of 500-800 degrees centigrade and that breakages were not accidental. The way the figurines fractured shows they must have been deliberately placed in the hottest part of the fire while still wet. Therefore, they were deliberately caused to explode.

Between Areas 1 and 2 were found complete skeletons of two male adults (one in his 20s, the other in his early 30s) and one teenaged male Homo sapiens. Holed ivory beads and wolf-teeth were laid around the adults’ skulls and hips. A large patch of red ochre was next to the right hand of the teenager.

At distances of 12-18 feet from Areas 1 and 5 and from each other were 6 pits each about 6 feet in diameter and 3-4 feet deep, extending below floor level. Pit 1 had piles of small mammal skeletons mostly complete except for missing paws. Pits 2 and 3 contained mixed animal bones, broken terra-cotta and flint pieces. Pits 4 and 6 contained a layer of ashes mixed with some charred bones. Pit 5 had several dozen flat baked clay pieces 3-16 inches in size, some of them showing imprints of twisted and interlaced plant fiber, which suggested traces left by baskets, netting, or weaving. (See Student Handout 2.1.)

The many bones, other than mammoth, found at the site were identified as about 30 per cent small meat-eating mammals (such as fox and wolf), 20 per cent hares, 20 per cent reindeer, 10 per cent bison, 9 per cent birds, 7 per cent horses, and 4 per cent fish. Many of these bones show cut marks and/or traces of burning.

A number of sea-shells were found in several places on the site. Some of them were holed and they can only have come from sources over 1000 miles away.

In several locations within a 5-mile radius of the human-related remains, large, random accumulations of mammoth bones were found, weathered to different degrees. They dated from various times (some from centuries before human occupation of the site) and showed no cut marks or charring.

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