I. Prehistoric Times > I. After the Ice Age: Holocene Hunter-Gatherers (12,000 Years Ago to Modern Times)
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
I. After the Ice Age: Holocene Hunter-Gatherers (12,000 Years Ago to Modern Times)
 
Global warming began in earnest after about 15,000 years ago. The great ice sheets retreated irregularly from northern latitudes, ushering in Holocene times. Dramatic climatic and geographic changes ensued, as glaciers melted and sea levels rose irregularly toward modern levels. The Bering land bridge was severed by rising water, and the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia emerged from beneath vast ice sheets. The Southeast Asian islands were isolated from the nearby mainland. Thick temperate forests covered much of Europe, while familiar Ice Age animals like the mammoth became extinct by 9000 B.C.E. The Sahara enjoyed slightly higher rainfall and supported semiarid grasslands and shallow lakes, ending millennia of isolation for tropical Africans.  1
By this time, the world's human population numbered perhaps 5 million, scattered over the Old World and New. All hunter-gatherers were faced with the problem of adapting to constant climatic change and often acute environmental uncertainty. In response, they developed ever more specialized tool kits and intensified their food quest. They often specialized in a few resources, like fish and sea mammals on newly exposed Scandinavian coasts or annual nut harvests in the North American Midwest.  2
The intensification of hunting and foraging was marked by two long-term trends. The first was a gradual shrinking of tool kits; the second, the development of highly sophisticated artifacts and weapons designed for exploitation of specific food resources like acorns or sea mammals. Among these was the bow and arrow, first developed in Europe, Africa, and the Near East perhaps by 15,000 years ago. It enabled the hunter to shoot at his quarry from a distance.  3
As people adapted to the challenges of local environments, human culture became greatly diversified. Human populations were rising gradually, so the world's hunting and foraging grounds were filling up, given that only the most favored environments could support more than one human being per square mile. Reduced mobility, rising local populations, and new strategies for dealing with unpredictable climatic change—these problems were common to postglacial hunter-gatherers in every part of the world. A few of these societies, especially those living in areas with rich and diverse food resources that included fish and sea mammals, achieved a high degree of social complexity, with, for the first time, some signs of social ranking.  4
 
1. African Hunter-Gatherers
 
For thousands of years during the Würm glaciation, sub-Saharan Africans lived in isolation from the rest of the late Ice Age world. The arid Sahara was uninhabitable for much of the Würm. African savannas and grasslands supported a rich mammalian fauna and many species of plant foods. The hunter-gatherers who subsisted on these diverse resources developed ever more efficient ways of hunting and foraging.  5
After the Ice Age, these cultures became more specialized, with the densest populations concentrated in large river valleys like the Zambezi, or near lakes, where fishing became of great importance. The Sahara now supported a sparse population of hunter-gatherers adapted to arid, open country. The people of the Nile Valley lived much of the year in permanent base camps, subsisting off a bounty of game, plant foods, and river fish. The ancestry of the San of the Kalahari Desert and other living African hunter-gatherer peoples can be traced back to extinct groups that flourished on the savanna thousands of years earlier in prehistory.  6
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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