Key Concept 1.1 Big Geography and the Peopling of the Earth

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World History is not just a traditional history class with the added burden of a huge subject. It's a relatively new method of doing history. Instead of chronicling an encyclopedic volume of information across all ages and locations, World History considers global currents and trends. This approach is called Big Geography. Dispensing with most details, Big Geography uses broad historical themes to analyze history. Dates, individuals, belief systems and political forms are only considered as they explain changes and continuities in these themes. This is the approach of AP World History.

The first such trend we see in World History is the migration of Paleolithic people throughout the world. The word Paleolithic, or “old stone age,” refers to a way of life in which stones were the most prominent tools and people led nomadic lives of hunting and gathering for food. Not strictly a time period in history (people today live the nomadic lifestyles of hunter gatherers), it is to be contrasted with agricultural and industrial economic systems and the social patterns emanating from them. Archaeologists have found evidence that paleolithic people traveled around in small, foraging bands that were basically egalitarian. Because they had no consistently reliable source of food, they were almost always on the move.

I. Archeological evidence indicates that during the Paleolithic era, hunting-foraging bands of humans gradually migrated from their origin in East Africa to Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas, adapting their technology and cultures to new climate regions.

A. One of
This map show the migrations of early man from Africa to the other continents.
the first major advances of early man was the ability to harness fire. Fire sterilized food, brought people together in small groups and protected against predators. It helped people adapt to colder climates and became the focal point for the telling of stories through which values and knowledge were transmitted. Moreover, food cooked with fire eased the digestive process. Consequently, more of the body’s energy became available for the development of the brain. This may have helped Homo sapiens develop the capacity for language, giving them a tremendous advantage over other mammals. (See short video on fire and early man.)

B. As you can see from the map on the right, over the course of thousands of years humans migrated from their place of origin across the face of the earth. They moved into areas with vastly different environments, each with their own terms of survival. The peopling of the earth required human beings to adapt to a variety of climates. Tools made this possible.
In the Paleolithic era, most tools were made from stones.
Bones, rocks with sharp edges, and small pieces of copper were used to scrape hides, hunt, fish and sew. As these mobile bands came in contact with each other, they borrowed ideas and tools.

C. Foraging, or hunting and gathering, does not produce a large quantity of food. This limitation of the food supply kept foraging people in small groups of only a few people. It also meant that they were nomadic, moving on to a new location once they stripped an area of its edible plants. The study of hunter/gatherers today gives us insight into their social relations. These small groups preferred not to marry in their own societies and would send girls to other foraging groups for marriage. [1] Related by kinship bonds, hunter/gatherer groups would meet to exchange tools and gifts, and to participate in rituals. It was likely there was movement of individuals among groups. There was also relative social and gender equality. Men may have taken leadership roles in some groups, but generally everyone was equally involved in the acquisition of food. It was impractical for nomadic people to accumulate more than a few things, so material possessions did were not an indicator of economic or social class. Such categories probably did not even exist for hunter-gatherers. Some modern researchers have argued that paleolithic people had more leisure time, more varied and nutritious diets, and were healthier than those who settled and became farmers. [2]

Key Concept 1.2 The Neolithic Revolution and Early Agricultural Societies


  1. This Fleeting World, (2008), David Christian, p. 10.