What was childhood like in the Stone Age? Well, despite what The Flintstones might have told you, there were very few toys, and a lot more hippo butchering.
Using a bunch of footprints found in the muddy valleys of East Africa, archaeologists are finding out how our ancient ancestors spent their childhoods some 700,000 years ago. The new study can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.
The footprints mostly likely belonged to Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct species of large-brained hominin that shared numerous similarities with both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens (aka humans). Judging by the shape and size of one of the footprints, it's believed that it belonged to a child no older than 12 months.
Along with the numerous hominin prints, there’s a huge variety and number of animal prints. The tracks were left in the silty shores of a former watering hole where large mammals and birds once gathered near Melka Kunture in the Upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia. With little doubt, the hominins were here to hunt, not just to enjoy the wildlife.
Most remarkably of all, they also discovered footprints leading to the remains of a butchered hippopotamus carcass and evidence of stone tools being used. Their analysis of these discoveries indicates that they were all created within the same narrow time frame, almost certainly during the same season.
The proximity of young children and butchering suggests that hominin children were allowed to tag along to the sites of hunting, perhaps even learning how to hunt. After all, this could have been how the children brushed up on the much-needed skills of tool-making, hunting, and butchery.
“They clearly were not left at home with a babysitter when the parents were hunting. In the harsh savannah plains of the East African Rift Valley, it was natural to bring your children to such daily tasks, perhaps so they could observe and learn,” study authors Matthew Robert Bennett and Sally Christine Reynolds wrote in an article for the Conversation.
“So, if we picture the scene at Melka Kunture, the children observing the butchery were probably allowed to handle stone tools and practice their skills on discarded pieces of carcass while staying out of the way of the fully-occupied adults.”