In our review of ancient primitive technologies, we’ve looked at evidence of stone tools dating back to around 2.6 million years ago, and control of fire from at least as far back as 750,000 years ago. Now we step forward in time to around 400,000 years ago for our next big step in technology – shelter.
With all these other advances, where did ancient humans go to retreat from the elements, protect their children, and store food? In other words, what was the first shelter?
According to the Smithsonian, the Terra Amata Shelter has been dated to about 400,000 years ago, and suggests the use of fire and hearth, stone tools, and post holes. Although there is still some controversy about the site, I think it is fair to say that ancient people gathering in an open air site, especially near a large body of water, such as a coastline, would need protection from the elements. And if nature didn’t provide an convenient boulder or tree to protect you and the kids, it would make sense to build your own.
From a practical point of view, learning how to make a shelter allows you to greatly expand your range in which to gather resources and protect yourself from adverse conditions. I would wager that the best shelters were the ones that required minimal effort – meaning they already existed as-is in nature. And example of this is a rock shelter, or cave.
But sometimes you’re not so fortunate to have these locations available, especially while traveling from one place to another, or if exploring unknown territory. In that case, you’d use your wits to bring your cave with you, or look and see what the animals do to survive.
In today’s video, I will introduce a few possible options for primitive shelters, some which wouldn’t leave a trace in the archaeological record. Next week, we’ll take our primitive technology discovered so far and test it in the wild. Let’s go!
Let’s talk about that nesting instinct. A simple shelter that chimpanzees and gorillas use is the nightly nest. By bending branches from a bush or tree inward to create a hammock of sorts, you’ve created your first shelter. This can be good give you protection from predators, and keep you off the ground and away from insects and critters. But, if you don’t grow a fur coat of your own, you’re vulnerable to rain and wind.
The next easiest shelter is the rock shelter. If you have boulders, you’re in luck. Finding an outcrop that protects you from the elements and gives you a good view of the landscape is key. Add fire and hearth, and you are in good shape. And since it is all about the location and geology can change with time, in the long run there might not be a trace of this shelter left behind in the archaeological record.
Sometimes, a bush is all there is. But that can be ok. Low crowned bushes can create an effective microenvironment that can do in a pinch. With your other survival technologies, a bush can be a simple, low-effort shelter that can get you safely through the night.
Lastly, by rearranging and nesting with rocks and branches, you can artificially construct your own outcrop, bush, or combination shelter. It takes effort, strength, and good health to do this, but if you can build up to this stage you are now able to open up vast new horizons with a treasure of new resources to explore.
In conclusion, I suspect that shelters have been built and used long before we found suspected evidence of them 400,000 years ago. But by then, there seems to be a record that were were building them for ourselves in order to better our lives. In our next video, I will test out what it is like to use one of these shelters in a harsh new environment, and share insights into what ancients humans might have experienced that drove them to create ever better shelters. Stay Tuned!