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We modern folks tend to think of ancient people as hunched, hairy people swinging rocks around in a cave. However, archaeology has revealed that people are more resourceful than that hypothetical “we” thought. For instance, some of the earliest inventions people came up with include:
The first ropes were made of twisted human hair, and first appeared 28,000 years ago (22,000 years before the wheel appeared in Mesopotamia).
The first paints (naturally-occurring pigments) have been in use since prehistoric times, but the oldest pigments and grinding instruments were found in a cave in Zambia, estimated to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old.
The earliest-known use of adhesives was in Italy 200,000 years ago. Two stone flakes were found covered in birch-bark tar.
Sewing is one of humanity’s oldest hobbies (besides burning things and killing/eating things, that is). One particular needle point was found in South Africa, dating to about 61,000 years ago.
Ancient dyed flax fibers found in a cave in Georgia (the country, not the state) suggest that people had developed textile-like materials dated to 34,000 years ago.
Mudbricks are actually somewhat complicated. To make them, you need to combine loam, mud, sand and water with a binding material like straw before letting the brick dry in the sun for a month and a half. People figured that out in what is now Syria and Pakistan between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago.
Flint was a very important rock to ancient people – you can sharpen it and have it remain sharp, so it can be made into a huge variety of tools. When people needed more flint about 43,000 years old (the age of “Lion Cave” in Swaziland, the oldest known mine), though, they saw that seams of it went down into the earth and followed them.
Remember the first time you ever blew across the top of a soda bottle? At some point, some ancient person discovered that, if you drilled a hole in a bone and blew through it, it makes an interesting noise, and presto – you have the flute. The oldest flute ever found (from the Swabian Alb region in Germany) was dated to between 43,000 and 35,000 years ago.
Surprisingly, the oldest shelters we ever found didn’t come from China (where many of the modern world’s inventions appeared a few hundred years before we achieved it). Instead, the oldest shelter suggestions (two sets of five holes drilled in the ground) were discovered in Japan and are believed to have been the work of Homo erectus, an ancestor of humans. The site is estimated to be 2.5 million years old.