69. Easy Does It in North America in 10,000 BCE
APR. 06, 2023
It’s off to North America, in 10,000 BCE when early man roamed the land. Learn how he lived, hunting towering bison and huge mammoth and gathering delicious nuts and berries to survive. Bonus content – you can also discover seal hopping!
It’s off to the continent of North America for this episode, an area of about 25 million square kilometres (9.5 million square miles) - about 5% of the planet’s entire total surface.
North America contains the five major biomes: Aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra and whilst the United States and Canada take up a lot of the space, there are actually 23 countries and 9 dependencies in the continent which accounts for 7.5% of the world's total population – that’s about 590 million people.
Being a continent, there is no flag, but the North American Vexillological Association have their own flag, and it’s white with a blue globe with the letters ‘NAVA’ written in white.
There is no national anthem either, but if you had to pick one, you might go for ‘This Land is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie. Guthrie wrote the song in response to Irving Berlin’s song ‘God Bless America’ which he thought was too overly patriotic and unrealistic. It wasn’t popular at first, but gained traction during the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements.
North America Facts:
• If you were to line up every car ever made in North America bumper-to-bumper, the resulting line would stretch for over 2,000,000 miles – the distance to the moon and back - four times.
• And if you put the 20 million miles of roads and highways in North America in a straight line, it would be enough to circle the Earth almost 800 times
• There is an estimated 15 trillion ants in North America, which would collectively weigh about 30,000 tons - the same as a fully-loaded aircraft carrier
• If you were to lay all of the spaghetti produced in North America each year end-to-end, it would circle the Earth more than 7 times. HOWEVER, If you were to line up all of the tacos sold in North America each year, the resulting line would be long enough to circle the Earth more than 17 times.
Early man in North America are called Paleo-Indians (or Paleo-Americans). They were the first settlers and were a group of humans who were the first peoples who entered, and subsequently inhabited, North America during the final glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period.
According to which theory you prefer, they either crossed over by foot using a land or ice bridge, or they sailed there. But when they did this is even more of a debated subject.
The original view was that people travelled across the Bering Sea 10,000 years ago, but this date has shifted further and further back in time as new discoveries appear.
In 2013 a bashed-in mammoth skull that looked "deliberately broken" with blunt-force fractures typical of human activity was carbon dated as roughly 37,000 years old.
In 2017, an archaeological site called ‘the Cerutti Mastodon site’ found hammerstones and stone anvils close to the butchered remains of a single mastodon which dated to 130,700 years ago.
Whenever it was, early man eventually settled in various small groups across the continent.
And as the climate stabilized, population numbers grew, technology advanced, and things settled into a more sedentary lifestyle with improvements in agriculture resulting in less time being spent hunting and gathering.
Several thousand years passed during which time megastructures like Mayan pyramids start to appear in Mexico.
The first Europeans appeared in 985 CE, with a Norseman, Erik the Red, being the first to arrive and subsequently founding a colony in Greenland. But the occupation didn’t develop into much and Europeans remain relatively ignorant of North America until 1492, when Christopher Columbus set out from Spain on an adventure to find a new route to the Indies but lands instead in the Bahamas.
This is just the beginning of a swarm of explorers:
o In 1497, John Cabot travelled down the east coast of Canada
o In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the East Coast from Florida to Newfoundland
o And in 1534, Jacques Cartier made a series of voyages to North America on behalf of the French crown.
It started with exploration and trade, but eventually and inevitably roots began to take hold and Spain, England, France, the Netherlands and Sweden all did their best to stake a claim to the “New” World.
This culminated in the Spanish claiming all of North and South America (with the exception of Brazil).
In the 17th century, though, a new era of more aggressive colonialism took hold and most Native nations found the visitors to their lands becoming more aggressive, driving them out of their homes and even wiping them out.
It’s hard to know exactly how many people were killed due to European colonisation, but it is estimated that pre-contact populations were around 5 million people and that declined to around 250,000 people within just 200 years.
The 18th century was a period of revolution worldwide and the 13 North American colonies were no exception, joining forces to claim independence from British rule. The resulting American Revolution resulted in the creation of the United States of America.
Following independence, the land grab continued with the United States expanding rapidly out west, but also to the north into Canada, where they were prevented from taking over by the British who help the Canadians fight them off.
US plans for expansion were further complicated when a division erupts between the northern and southern states over a disagreement about the right to own slaves. Civil war raged until it 1865 when slavery was outlawed.
Meanwhile, the Northern neighbours in 1867 were also consolidating. Four Canadian colonies agreed to federate and establish the Dominion of Canada.
The second half of the 19th century saw Canada and the United States welcome a massive influx of immigrants to help settle the country’s vast lands. Problem was, these lands were not unoccupied, and numerous wars were subsequently fought against the indigenous peoples.
Moving on to the 20th century, which was marked by rapid growth and war in Europe which cemented North America’s power on the global stage.
Today, North America is a diverse and complex region, facing many cultural, political and economic issues. Indigenous peoples continue to face discrimination and marginalisation, but there is a growing recognition of the need to address historical injustices and work towards some reconciliation.
But it is of course also a region of tremendous potential, ability and power, possibly the most powerful continent on the planet.
EASY DOES IT
“Easy does it” is an axiom, first appearing in English around the 17th century, supposedly as a nautical term used by sailors to warn against reckless sailing in rough waters.
Today, ‘Easy Does It’ is still used as a warning to be mindful of dangers such as a manager concerned for the safety of an employee climbing a rickety ladder or a parent telling their child not to eat too much pizza and ice cream.
It’s a reminder for people to stay calm and focused on the present, something that was certainly good advice for Early man in 10,000BCE.
“Easy does it” was probably good advice to give early man when he went out to hunt his dinner – the bison.
The modern American Bison is not the same Bison from 10,000 BCE. This was another, now extinct, animal called Bison antiquus, and it was much larger.
Adult males reached a shoulder height of around 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) and weighed up to 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms) – the same as an adult male Asian elephant.
They had sharp horns on their heads which measured around 3 feet (0.9 meters) in length and they had the ability to run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kilometres per hour).
So, for early man, hunting this was a dangerous prospect!
And yet bison were still one of the main animals that Early Man enjoyed eating. A number of sites across North America show evidence of Bison bones with cut-marks made by stone tools.
Of particular note is one site in Colorado, where in 1957, two archaeologists named Sigurd Olsen and Gerald Chubbuck stumbled upon a prehistoric bed of bones. As they dug deeper into the site, they discovered that the bones were the remains of nearly 200 bison dating to around 10,000 BCE.
Each of the animals had been killed, butchered, and consumed by Paleo-Indian hunters, specifically the Folsom culture, who lived in the area at that time. At first it was thought that this was a midden, a rubbish dump, with the cast offs from multiple kills dumped in a pit perhaps over many generations, but as they analysed the bones, they soon realised that all of the animals had died at precisely the same time.
This was remarkable as a huge number of kills, and the researchers wondered how it was possible that a small group of hunters could have possibly massacred so many giant animals.
They tested to see if the animals had died of disease and had been scavenged rather than hunted, but analysis of the bones showed no signs of illness in the Bison.
After further research, they finally realised something even more remarkable had happened. Ancient Bison were social animals, forming vast herds literally in the millions. They ranged across the grasslands and river valleys, migrating every season searching for food and water.
This meant that early man had an opportunity to capitalise on this herd behaviour.
They devised a method called "game jumping” whereby they would deliberately cause a stampede and drive the animals toward a 12-foot-deep trench which they’d previously dug.
Unable to stop, the Bison would fall into the hole, one on top of each other, and suffer fatal injuries as they crushed, kicked and stabbed each other to death.
When the dust settled, the hunters would simply step up to the edge of the pit and dispatch the remaining Bison with their spears.
When the creatures were dead, the hunters then set about using an array of stone tools like scrapers and knives to butcher and process the carcasses.
Despite the Bison’s great numbers, it eventually went extinct around 10,000 years ago, the reasons for which are unknown. Some think that overhunting by humans was a contribution to its decline, but more recent evidence seems to conclude that a traumatic change in the climate was ultimately the cause.
Paleo-Indians relied on hunting, targeting large game animals such as Bison, but also Elk, and even mammoths and mastodons. We know this because in 1977, Emanuel Manis was digging a pond on his property when he uncovered the remains of a mastodon which had a spear point embedded in one of its ribs, a spear 13,800 years old, providing evidence that the mastodon was hunted and killed by humans.
Once killed, the animal would be eaten, but it is likely some form of preserving would be required to help the meat last as long as possible. Analysis of food remains on sites across North America show that early man utilised a number of techniques to do so, like drying, smoking, and fermenting
Sometimes they constructed underground storage pits lined with grass or clay, to keep their food cool and safe from the weather and hungry animals.
Sometimes, to smoke meat, they created large wooden racks over which they laid thin strips of meat which could then be placed over a smoky fire.
The heat of the smoke dehydrates the meat and kills off any nasty bacteria or micro-organisms that might cause it to spoil. And even better, the smoke itself contains a compound called Phenols which have antimicrobial property that also go towards preserving the meat.
Depending on how the food was then stored, it could last for several months, possibly even a year.
And it wasn’t just meat. Another typical early North American food source that was often smoked, was fish. Early North Americans used hooks, nets and spears to catch fish of all shapes and sizes.
Although very few fishhooks have been found that date to 10,000 BCE, some examples do exist. One group of modern archaeologists digging on the Channel Islands off the coast of California discovered several small fish-hooks which had been carved from the bones of birds and mussel shells - each one shaped and into a J- or U-shape and polished to create a smooth surface with a sharp point or barb at the end.
But what were they catching?
In the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Northern Rockies early fisherman had access to a large variety of fish – but to make life easier for themselves, they would often fish for salmon, which during their spawning runs would swim upstream in large numbers to reach their breeding grounds and because they concentrate in one area could be caught using nets, spears, or traps.
Of course meat and fish doesn’t make for a healthy and balanced diet, but what else did early man eat?
In the 1930s some lucky researchers exploring a series of caves in Oregon known as the Paisley Caves found some fossilised faeces which they dated back to 10,000 BCE. These faeces, known as Coprolite, were later analysed using sophisticated techniques to look for DNA and were soon found to have been excreted by humans.
The study revealed the presence of parasites, bones of small rodents, reptiles, fish - and a variety of plant foods, which proved that as well as being expert hunters, early North Americans were skilful foragers too, boosting their diet with a variety of leafy plants, nuts, berries and seeds.
It has been concluded that early man’s diet would have included foraged items such as:
o Sunflower seeds
o Pinon nuts (like Pine nuts)
Most likely, a basic porridge or gruel would have been made using stone tools to crush or grind the seeds and nuts into a coarse meal which they’d then mix with water.
The berries were picked fresh, but like the fish and meat, they were also dried for later use too.
And finally, in terms of making their lives easier, many researchers believe that early North Americans experimented with plant cultivation too - selectively gathering and propagating wild plants, and gradually domesticating crops – basically, transforming the way that humans interacted with their environment.
Whilst there is no direct archaeological evidence of any games being played, researchers believe that early North Americans did play a variety of sports and games on the grounds that within most social groups there is a natural human tendency towards competition.
One example of a sport believed to have been played at this time is the ‘Knuckle Hop’ or ‘Seal Jump’. Said to originate from a unique style of hunting by the indigenous peoples who lived in the Arctic regions of North America, the Knuckle Hop describes the way in which their hunters would try to sneak up on seals.
The Knuckle Hop mimics the way the seal moved, and involves the hunter entering a plank / push-up position on their fists and toes and then leaping forward again and again, hopping closer and closer towards the seal.
This is a challenging exercise, so it’s not suprrise that the Knuckle Hop or Seal Jump has been a game played by those living in the northernmost parts of North America for thousands and thousands of years – and in fact is still played today by descendants of these early people – the Inuit, or Eskimo.
In fact, the knuckle hop is now regular sports event. Canadian athlete, Chris Stipdonk, holds the current world record. He was able to jump 206 feet (62 meters) in the 2022 Indigenous Summer Games.
Chris actually retired from the Knuckle Hop in 2023 after winning gold in the Arctic Games and coming incredibly close to beating his own record, saying: “It’s incredibly difficult to do, it takes up a lot of time training.. I’ve done the knuckle hop about six times now and for the most part I’ve improved each time.. but you know, my hands are in good shape and I want them to stay that way, so it’s time for me to call it quits on that event” he also added.. “I’m exhausted. I’m too old for this shit.”
But as well as sport, there was art.
In northwest Nevada is a dry lake bed known as Winnemucca Lake. It’s about 45 km (28 mi) long and about 7 km (4.3 mi) wide.
The lake is dry today thanks to a dam that was built in the 1930s, but in the past, it was said to have been at least 26 meters (85 ft) deep.
This made it an important stop for migrating birds, which made it a perfect ground for early man to live and hunt.
More interestingly, at the western end of the lake are several limestone boulders which show some curious carvings known as Petroglyphs.
First described by Frances and Robert E. Connick in 1992, the petroglyphs include simple straight lines and swirls as well as more complex shapes that resemble trees, flowers, the veins of a leaf and even an intricate diamond pattern.
Carved about .4 to .8 inches (1.0 to 2.0 cm) deep into the rock, the smallest of the images are about 8 inches (20 cm) in width, while the largest are 3 feet (0.91 m) wide.
It is thought that hard volcanic rock was used to chip away at the softer carbonate formations on the boulders. Later studies by geochemist Larry Benson and his team of researchers from the (aptly named) University of Colorado Boulder revealed that the rocks themselves were between 16,200 and 14,800 years old.
They also looked to establish a window of when the lake level was low enough to allow access to these rocks and so sedimentary cores were collected and analysed to determine the rise and fall of the waterline over time.
Looking at algal formation dating they concluded that the waterline was sufficiently low for someone to access these rocks and carve the glyphs from 14,800 and 13,200 years ago and between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago.
This date range was consistent with the date of various human artifacts previously found in 1940 in a nearby rocky alcove in the Great Basin Desert, known as Spirit Cave.
These included the partial remains of a mummified corpse, known as the ‘Spirit Cave mummy’ which is considered to be the world's oldest natural mummy. It is a 40-year-old male buried wearing moccasins and wrapped in a rabbit-skin blanket.
Together with this evidence, the date range for the petroglyphs makes them the oldest art found in North America to date and corresponds to the estimated time of the first human migrations into North America.
Sadly, the meaning of the carvings is unknown, but the suggestion is that the petroglyphs represent meteorological symbols, such as clouds and lightning.
And it just goes to show that when these ancient people weren't just surviving – they were being artists, too.
But much of this evidence is limited, because we don’t have a tremendous wealth of information left behind by these people – nothing was written down and so it’s hard to pinpoint with accuracy anything that actually occurred in precisely 10,000 BCE.
Except for one particular civilisation in North America which was home to a remarkable group of people who created one of the most advanced urban developments of its time.
Known collectively as Cobblestone County, this was a civilisation that was made up of a surprising number of settlements, including sites called Red Rock, Granitetown, and Arkanstone – some of which are believed to have been home to humans for as long as 2 million years.
In Arkanstone on the 2nd February, 10,041 BCE, an early North American couple called Edna Hardrock and Edward Gladstone welcomed the birth of their first and only child - a baby boy whom they named, Frederick Joseph.
And to help the boy have the best start in life, the young family relocated from their home in Arkanstone to a nearby settlement called Bedrock, where they changed their family name, first to Flagstone, and then finally to Flintstone.
As a young boy, Fred Flintstone was educated at Bedrock High School where he met two people who would go on to become significant parts of his life: his best friend Bernard Matthew Rubble, and his future wife, Wilma Anna Slaghoople.
As a young adult, Fred and his friend whom he called Barny were working as bell-hops at a holiday resort when they met Wilma and her best-friend, Elizabeth Jean McBricker, otherwise known as ‘Betty’ – who were also working at the resort selling cigarettes.
Fred and Wilma fell in love, and so did Betty and Barney, and eventually they were both married.
Gaining employment as a geological engineer at the Rockhead and Quarry Cave Construction Company (later renamed the Slate Rock and Gravel Company), Fred spent much of his life then working as a bronto-crane operator, moving large rocks and boulders at the local quarry and trying to navigate around upper-management.
Later in life, Fred sought out other employment too, working for the Bedrock police department, as a news reporter, a baseball player and a circus performer
But these were often short-lived thanks to Fred’s natural ability to frequently find himself in a good deal of misadventure.
But the notable thing about the life of Fred Flintstone, and in reference to our topic of ‘easy does it’, is how he so accurately reflected an ‘easy does it’ attitude
This was exemplified by his habit of, when the work siren signalled the end of his shift at the quarry, Fred would shout out a unique expression of joy, saying: ‘Yabba-dabba-doo!’