Common Needs of Early People

Common Needs of Early People

Background Information

Anthropology, the study and analysis of human culture, behavior and development, has provided historians with information that allows them to generalize about what early people were like.

Social organization provided early people with many benefits, such as finding comfort and security and being with others, sharing food, and learning from others. At first, groups were small and far apart. The members of each group shared the labor of gathering and hunting for food as well as caring for and protecting the young. When food was scarce, tase groups may have separated into smaller family units and spread out. Contact with others beyond the family or group was infrequent and possibly stressful – strangest could be friendly or frightening.

From anthropological studies of Native Americans over the past century and a half, historians know that early people likely passed on information from one generation to the next through myths and legends, stories that exaggerated actual people and eves to make them more dramatic and memorable to those who heard them.Such stories were the main way early people passed on information about good places to hunt, good animals and plants to eat, or any other subject that interested them. The early myths and legends would have been acted out in dance or dramatic presentation, or sometimes depicted in drawings. In these ways, information, skills, and family relationships were passed on and shared before people had a complex spoken language with which they could communicate and long before they wrote things down.

Fossils, refer tot the remains of plants and animals and people that existed long ago and were preserved in some way. Fossils can appear as impressions on rock – the outline of a fern or an animals skeleton, for example. Fossils cab appear in sand and even in ice.Paleontologists are scientists who study prehistoric life through the analysis of fossils. Paleontologists have found that how early people met their common needs differed with time and place and showed incredible creativity.

Food & Water

Early people primarily ate the leaves, roots, seeds, and fruits of plants and hunted for meat and eggs. At a site called Zhoukoudian near Beijing, China, paleontologists have found thousands of foo remains in the form of bones from animals such as pigs, sheep, rhinoceros, buffalo, and deer. Small game bones are there too, like birds, turtles, rabbits, rodents, and fish. Early people who lived by the sea also ate oysters, limpets, and mussels, as evidenced by the shells found where early people are known to have lived. Paleontologists also know that early people gradually began to cook meat over fire, perhaps to tenderize it and make it more digestible.

Early people appear to have divided the work of obtaining food. The daily gathering of the roots, leaves, nuts, and fruit formed the bulk of the prehistoric diet was typically the work of women and girls Hunting of large animals was usually done by males with both men and women hunting smaller animals. At first, it was a case of one hunter going out and to find and kill a small animal that he or she could carry back to a few others. Gradually, early people learned to cooperate, and a group would go out out to hunt, making it possible to catch larger animals. One large animal could feed a group for a day or two before spoiling.

Water was easier to obtain than food as long as a family group remained close to a reliable source, like a lake or a river. By observing the behavior of the indigenous peoples of the Kalahari desert, modern historians believed that early people learned to squeeze every ounce of water possible from plants, fruit, and underground sources of water.

Clothing and Shelter    

The first hominids likely had dark skin and thick body hair to protect them from the  elements. In time, early people learned to make clothing from animal hides and find shelter in caves to protect themselves from extremes of wether. Climate would have determined the amount of covering needed in hot climate, early people likely wore nothing except a few strips of animals skins as protection from the sun and insects. In cold climates, layers of skins were required . Archeological evidence shows that early people living in North America we skilled at weaving grasses and bark to make cloth that could be worn and at making clothing, moccasins, and shows from leather. These early people dried animal skins on poles anchored in the ground.

As with clothing, climate determined what kind of shelter was needed Early people used caves and rock shelters for protection from heavy rain and cold, and eventually used animal hides and sticks to make crude huts. Eventually, early people discovered that they could make their shelters warmer with animal furs and that boughs, dried grasses, and dried seaweed made good ground cover and bedding.


At this time, there was only one form of transportation – early people walked where they needed to go. While horses appeared in cave drawings in Europe as early as 30,000 BCE, no one appears to have had the idea of riding a horse instead of hunting it for food until about 4500 BCE. Once the idea caught on, it seems to have spread quickly. Within 500 years, horses were being domesticated – bred and raised by humans.


On the basis of fossil evidence, paleontologists believe that early people likely used stones, sticks, and clubs to defend themselves against dangerous animals or attacks by other people. In time, early people also started to build fires to keep animals away. In the Mesolithic Period, early people started making and using spears, arrows, and sharpened tools.


Illness and injury were likely mysteries to very early people. People survived, or they did not. How early people met their common need for medicine was okelly based on trial and error. Archeologists believe that as early people acquired experience and began passing on information to each other, they began to see that their actions could sometimes affect whether someone recovered from illness or injury. One day, maybe someone covered a bleeding cut with mud  and leaves and stopped the flow of blood. The next time someone in that person’s group had a bleeding cut, it was likely that a poultice of mud and leaves would be applied. If these were not available, maybe something else was applied.

In similar fashion, early people might have gradually discovered that a broken leg held between two straight sticks, tied with leather strips was less painful, that an aching tooth could be relieved by chewing a certain leaf – and that someone would die if they ate a particular berry.

Fossils of plants found buried with early people suggest that as far back as Neanderthal times, certain plants were already being used to treat illnesses and injury. One example is the marshmallow plant. , which grew extensively in what is now called Europe and North America. When bruised or crushed, this plant’s roots and leaves release a mucilaginous substance effective for stopping bleeding.


Fossil evidence shows that early people made and wore objects for personal adornment. A leather strip strung through apiece of carved bone could make a simple necklace, for example. Sometimes a necklace could also have a practical use. For example, an animal horn hung around the neck could hold some berries or a few fragrant leaves for cooking at a later time.

Early people also expressed themselves through art. Paintings found on the walls of caves have been traced back to the Paleolithic Period and similar paintings from later times have been found in caves in many parts of the world. These prehistoric painted images, called pictographs, often showed animals and plants and sometimes illustrated significant events such asa successful hunting trip.

Early artists appear to have used their hands and sometimes sticks as painting tools. For paint, they used ocher, a reddish or yellowish-brown rock (iron oxide). Ground to a poor to make a pigment, then mixed with water or animal fat, ocher produced a reddish or yellowish color on cave walls. The color lasted a long time when protected inside a cave. If these painting had been done outside where they were constantly exposed to sun, rain, and snow, few would have remained to be studied by today’s historians.

Early people also made petroglyphs, engraved rock pictures, by using a sharp stone to carve images in rock. Petroglyphs have been found in many places throughout the world. Historians can not be sure whether the earliest pictographs and petroglyphs were intended  as a way of communicating with others or simply reflected what artists do today – show the world they see around them.


As far back as the hominids, early people appear to have valued their connections with those they saw every day. Some early people painted the bodies of their dead and may have buried them with a ceremony of some kind. The earliest ceremonial burials known are those of the neanderthals, who painted bodies  with ocher and placed objects such as flowers and horns with buried remains. In one case, a circle of bear skulls was found over a burial site. Some early people seem to ahem worshipped the sun and the moon. From archeological evidence and anthropological observation, it appears that many early cultures had great reverence for nature and a belief in its spiritual powers.

Activity 1: Focusing in the Time Known as Prehistory

Purpose: To review the time encompassed by prehistory


  • Clock of Eras
  • Timeline of Life
  • Timeline of People
  • Whiteboard and marker
  • Globe
  • World History journals and pencils


Most Montessori teachers review this concept in Year 4. Since it involves both review and new material, this activity is presented in parts.

Announce that the students will have an opportunity to look at a time called prehistory.


Place the Clock of Eras on the floor or table and review it briefly with the students.

Place the Timeline of People on the table or floor and review it briefly with the students.

Explain that by looking at the Chart of Eras, the Timeline of Life, and the Timeline of People all at once, the students have an overall view of the history of people on Earth. Emphasize that the time people have been on Earth represents a small part of the Earth’s history.


Define and discuss what is meant by prehistory. Explain that prehistory encompasses the Stone Age, from about 2.5 MYA to 5,000 BCE.

Invite the students to refer to the timelines to identify the earliest stage of the Stone Age (Paleolithic Period) and its timeframe.

Invite the students to name the three parts of the Paleolithic Period (Lower, Middle, Upper) and their timeframes.

Explain that human-like beings called hominids lived in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Define and discus several examples (Australopithecus, Homo handles, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis), writing the hominid name on the whiteboard and providing a brief description. Discuss how changes in brain size allowed for advances in flint-work.

Explain that the hominids most similar to modern humans, Homo sapiens, appeared in the Upper Paleolithic and that Homo sapiens are often referred to as early people.

Invite students to refer to the timelines to identify the middle stage of the Stone Age (Mesolithic Period) and its timeframe. Define and discuss micoliths and how they improved what people could do with tools.

Invite the students to refer to the timelines to refer to the timelines to identify the last stage of the Stone Age (Neolithic Period) and its timeframe.

Explain that the Neolithic Period, early people began to cultivate food and raise animals. Discuss how these two activities would change early people’s way of life (they had to stay in one place more often to tend crops and tend to animal’s needs).


Invite the students to share ideas about what materials historians rely on to find out about prehistory, when there are no written records. Emphasizes that dates and times are constantly changing as historians find more evidence about when early people lived and what they did.

Define and discuss the Bering Land Bridge as an example of where historians have found evidence of early people and how they moved around the world.

Demonstrate the globe. Show where the Bering Land Bridge was located. Describe when it formed and explain why it was covered against with water.

With the students, trace the route that early people might have traveled to cross the bridge.

Discuss recent findings (e.g., Kennewick Man on the Columbia River, stone tools in South America) about how long ago early people might have crossed the bridge to reach North America.

Ask the students to use their journals to define prehistory and name and describe the time periods it encompasses.


Draw a map showing the Bering Land Bridge as it might have looked when early people were crossing it.

Make a poster illustrating several examples of microliths and what they could be used for by early people.

Act out a play showing how a small group of early people might learn to grow and harvest a particular crop. Remember that these people had few spoken words and no writing skills yet. How might they have thought of planting a crop? What crop might they choose to try first? What tools might they have used to plant the crop, and how would they make them? How would they find out that it was not as simple as planting the crop, then coming back in four months to harvest it?

Activity 2: Exploring the Common Needs of Early People

Purpose: To investigate the common needs of early people and link them with the needs of people today.


  • List of common needs of people (prepared in advance by teacher or students).
  • Timeline of People
  • Summary chart: Common needs of early people
  • Resources about early people, including examples of fossils studied by anthropologists and paleontologists
  • World history journals and pencils


Most Montessori teachers present this concept on Year 4.

Announce that the students will have an opportunity t think about the common needs of early people.

With the students, briefly review the kind of work done by paleontologists and anthropologists and the importance ffossils in this work.

Demonstrate the lit of common needs and review it briefly with the students.

Demonstrate the Timeline of People. Its the students, indicate on the timeline when early people appeared in the earth. Briefly review how the climate changed in various parts of the world throughout prehistory, what food might have been available, and son on.

Choose a given time in prehistory as set forth on the timeline of People and choose one common need (e.g., need for food). Talk about different ways various family members living at that time might have helped meet this need.

Invite the students to imagine how early people in prehistory passed on information about how to meet this need before much spoken language was possible and long before written language. Explain the important role myths and legends played in communicating information.

At the same place on the timeline, choose a different need (e.g., need for medicine). Discuss how this need might have been meaty a group of early people then.

Demonstrate the summary chart, Common Needs of Early People, and review it with the students. Encourage the students to refer to the chart for basic information on the chart – for example, by referring to encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference materials.

Demonstrate the resources about early people. Encourage the students to explore these resources later.

Invite the students to use their journals to write and illustrate a short story comparing how they met one of their common needs today with how a chid living in the time discussed the activity might have met that need,


Research how a child of early people might have met one of his/her common needs at particular time and place in prehistory, then make a labelled illustrated poster comparing how this child met his/her need with how a child today meets that same need.

Research and make a labeled, illustrated poster showing how a child of early people might have met all his/her common needs at a particular time and place in prehistory.

In a small group, imagine how to convey information about something (e.g., location of a good source of food or knowledge of a poison berry) to others without spoken or written words. Present to the class a short play or dance that dramatically conveys the information without spoken or written words.

Activity 3: Exploring the Common Needs of People for Spirituality/Religion and Art

Purpose: To explore how early people met their common needs for spirituality/religion and art.


  • List of common needs of people (prepared in advance by teacher or students
  • Timeline of People
  • Resources showing examples of jewelry, body adornment, musical instruments, and spiritual/religious objects of early people.
  • Pictures of petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Resources about early people, including examples for fossils studied by anthropologists and paleontologists
  • World history journals and pencils


Most Montessori teachers present this concept in Year 4.

Announce that the students will have an opportunity to further investigate some common needs of early people.

Referring to the list of common needs of people, briefly discuss the difference between needs that are essential to life (e.g., food, water) and needs that are not essential to life, but are so common that they are considered needs (e.g., spiritual beliefs, religions, art, music).

Invite the students to imagine what their lives today would be like without spiritual beliefs, religion, art, or music. Discuss what might have drawn early people to feel these needs.

With the students, indicate on the Timeline of People when early people first appeared.

Briefly review what natural materials might have been available for early people to make art and body adornments or to express religious/spiritual beliefs (e.g., wood, stones, plants, ocher, charcoal, leather).

Demonstrate the resources showing examples of jewelry, body adornment, musical instruments, and spiritual/ religious objects of early people. Review some interesting examples with the students. Encourage the students to explore these resources later.

Demonstrate the pictures of petroglyphs and pictographs and discuss how these activities might have served both as creative outlets and as ways of communicating information without words.

Demonstrate the summary chart, Common needs of early people, and review it with the students. Discuss with the students was they could expand on the information in the chart – for example, be referring to encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference materials. Encourage the students to refer to the chart for basic information as they carry out projects.

Ask the students to create an example of either a pictograph or a petroglyph. Encourage the students to refer to the resources for ideas and to use materials that will give the finished products a time-worn effect. For example, students can use natural colors, like brown, rust, and grays.


Research and wrote short report about how a particular group of early people showed a need for religion/spirituality.

Research adornments made by early people, then recreate some examples using only natural materials (e.g., gouge a hole in a piece of bone with a stick and weave a necklace out of dry glass to hold the bone).

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