1.1.4- Early Economic Structures

By: Emily Mertz

The Basic Gist:

  • The time periods are different for every location because humans developed at different times in different locations.
  • General time periods:
    Paleolithic and Neolithic Sites Map
    • Paleolithic Era:“Old Stone Age” 1,900,000 to 10,000 B.C.E.
      • Upper: 2,000,000 to 100,000 B.C.E.
      • Middle: 100,000 to 30,000 B.C.E.
      • Lower: 30,000 to 10,000 B.C.E.
  • Neolithic Era: “New Stone Age” 9,500 to 2,500 B.C.E.
    • Agricultural Revolution: 8,000 B.C.E. to 3,000 B.C.E.

  • Wherever human population existed
    • Humans populated every continent except Antarctica
  • There were particularly concentrated amounts of humans in:
    • Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas during the Paleolithic Era
    • Fertile Crescent, Southern Mesopotamia, North Africa, Europe, The Americas, and South and East Asia during the Neolithic Era

Hunting and Gathering Economy

  • Humans living alongside other humans
  • Paleolithic Era:
    • Homo Erectus first emerged at the beginning of this era
      • Early human groups of this era consisted of
        • Nomads
        • Foraging societies
        • Pastoral societies
  • Neolithic Era:
    • Early human groups of this era are made up of humans staying in the same area, living in cities and towns


An economy is the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.

  • Paleolithic Economy: Based on archaeological artifacts including animal bones, lithic tools, and plant and fruit remains, scientists accept the economy of paleolithic people to be:
    • Hunters and Gatherers
      • Hunted animals and birds
        • Bears, cave lions, rhinoceros, mammoths, horses, wolves, deer, chamois, wild bulls, pigs, donkeys, small mammals (including badgers, beavers, and weasels), rodents,
          Paleolithic Fish
          birds, fish, land and marine gastropods
        • Used stone or antler tools
          • Primarily flint and quartz stone tools were used
      • Gathered herbs and fruits
        • Stone (flint and quartz) or antler tools
          • used to process foods
      • Hunted and gathered either in groups or individually
      • Worked fewer hours to meet needs than later human groups, such as agricultural and industrial societies
      • Humans moved around, had little possessions, and had no permanent homes
    • Pastoral Societies
      • People living in societies began to domesticate animals
        • Because animals constantly need to be moved to new grazing and water areas, humans in pastoral societies did not live in towns
        • People used small-scale agriculture to supplement the main food supply of animal products
      • Humans had very little possessions
      • Social status was based on the size of one’s herd

        3000 B.C.E. Neolithic Arrowhead

  • At the end of the Paleolithic Era,people began to domesticate more animals and learn to cultivate plants which led to the Neolithic Era.
  • Neolithic Economy:
    • Neolithic Revolution: People learned how to cultivate crops, and domesticate animals which allowed them to stay in the same place
      • Agriculture was based on cultivation of cereals and pulses
      • Animal husbandry was based on rearing animals such as goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs
      • Hunting and fishing played a secondary role in the economy
      • Pottery, weaving, and basketry became necessary to store food
    • There began to be a new emphasis on manipulating and increasing production of products within the economy, including food
    • Humans begin to lead agricultural lifestyles and live in cities
      • Neolithic cities are still relatively small, made up of independent groups and communities
      • Humans began to feel a sense of ownership in terms of land
      • Cultural traditions began to form and shape the human way of life

  • Paleolithic Economy:
    • Hunting was possible because hunters were aware of the seasonal movement of animals, which therefore enabled them to track the animals year round
    • They had important rules and structures
      • Gender-based division of labor
        • Men were hunters
        • Women were laborers
      • Rules about distribution
        • Food was shared evenly, which allowed for more people to survive
      • Rules about who could hunt in particular territories
        • Helped regulate economic activity.
  • Neolithic Economy:
    • Humans have more control of their food source, which allows them to stay in the same place
    • Staying in the same place began to change the way humans thought
      • Humans no longer had to worry about survival as intensely as previous eras
    • Because people spent less time farming, a more elaborate economy began to form
      • Specialization arose, and humans had time to:
          • Build towns and other structures, develop writing systems, create art, discover new technologies, and organize armies

  • Paleolithic Economy:
    • Why Hunters & Gatherers?
      • Survival
      • Life was completely centered around finding food, water, and shelter
        Paleolithic Hunters
      • Life in the wild was very dangerous
        • Climate changes, famine, disease, and natural disasters could destroy entire civilizations
        • Humans had little time to do anything more than survive
        • Had to keep moving because nature is inconsistent
        • Life expectancy was only 35
          • Early death meant humans helped hunt and gather food at an early age
      • Considered to be “the original affluent society” by many scholars because they wanted and needed far less than in later eras
        • This is because their sole purpose was survival.
    • Why Pastoral Societies?
      • Pastoral Societies were often found in mountains and in areas with little rainfall, where the other nomadic forms of living were not as supportive
      • Pastoral societies allowed humans to have a more stable source of food
  • Neolithic Economy:
    • Why Permanent Towns and Cities?
      • Humans understand that living in the same place, using cultivation of crops and domestication of animals, will ensure a longer, and less dangerous life
      • Humans are able to expand their purpose
        • Their sole purpose in life is no longer to simply survive
        • Humans are able to have specialization
        • Economies are able to be more structured, more organized, more elaborate, and be more successful

Case Study:
Paleolithic Japan 35,000 to 14,000 B.C.E.

Ancient artifacts that have been found in present day Japan reveal that over 16,000 years ago, early groups of people lived in Japan during the paleolithic era. While scientists are not able to infer anything about this ancient civilization’s culture, language, religion, or ethnicity from these artifacts, they are able to conclude a great deal about the economies and general lifestyles of these paleolithic people. Because of artifacts such as cooking stones and arrowheads, scientists have been able to conclude that humans that lived in Japan during the Paleolithic Era had a hunter and gatherer based economy, and humans of that time lived in caves or covered pits and had a basic knowledge of fire.The humans would migrate in search of b
Paleolithic Japan
etter hunting and gathering opportunities, and would eventually adopt more advanced hunting and fishing techniques. For example, they eventually developed bow and arrows for hunting, and traps to catch fish such as the Yana trap to catch Ayu fish. The Paleolithic inhabitants of Japan are excellent examples of the hunting and gathering economies of Paleolithic people.

Final Summary:

During the paleolithic and neolithic eras, economic structures began to arise in early human groups on every continent except Antarctica, which was too cold to efficiently sustain human life. The paleolithic era consisted of pastoral and foraging societies, both with economies centered on finding food for survival. The economy of foraging societies was based on hunting animals and birds, and the gathering of herbs and fruits. Within paleolithic society, men were mostly hunters, while women were mostly gatherers. Pastoral societies had an economy that was based on the domestication of animals. After the paleolithic era ended, the neolithic era began, consisting of the first agricultural and city lifestyles. The economy of the early neolithic people was based on the domestication of animals, and the cultivation of cereal and pulse crops. The technological advances in this era allowed for the economy to have specialization, including developments in military and the forming of religions. Overall, the economies of the paleolithic and early Neolithic eras were centered around the basic human needs of survival. A great deal of art from the paleolithic era are drawings of animals, which shows how important hunting was to the economies of early groups. These early economies are very important to the big picture of history because the intellectual and technological developments made in the paleolithic and neolithic eras created a basis for ideas that would evolve and strengthen with every century. Without the developments made in the economies of early world groups, our own economy would not be nearly as successful as it is today.




  • Ways of the World by Robert W. Strayer
  • Cracking the AP World History Exam 2012 by the Princeton Review