Before The Wheel There Was Fire – Early Inventions

9 Inventions of the Palaeolithic Period

palaeolithic inventionsWhen we think inventions, most of us think of computers, TV or the latest drone. But have you ever thought about where these current inventions come from? Where did it all start and how we got to this point?

And Then There Was Fire

We have to go back in time to when prehistoric man roamed the earth and learned how to use fire to cook food,  keep warm and keep predators at bay. Now… it can be said that fire itself is not an invention, but in seeing fire and feeling the heat, man decided that this was something that was beneficial to the human race so came up with creative ways to start fires without having to rely on natural causes.

These inventions included using a flint-like rock struck against another rock to create a spark on a bed of flammable organic material. Others were a little more sophisticated as they had moving parts. Types of these are the hand, bow, pump drill and the fire plow.

Fire Plow

Hand Drill

Pump Drill

Bow Drill

Wood, Bones, and Stones

Tools made from wood were probably some of the first ever known. Very primitive wooden spears have been found in buried in ancient graves.

At the same time, bone tools would have been used. These were usually the leg bones and hip joints that were used as clubs and throwing sticks to hunt animals and protect their communities.

Another tool that was made out of bone was the needle. This was invented to have a way of creating garments, fashioned out of the skin of animals to keep them warm.

Along with fire came the advent of tools made out of stone. These were mainly made by chipping away a stone with another one to get a sharp edge that could be used for hunting. Flint was highly prized as a stone that could be easily chipped and yet kept its edge.

stone axestone axestone axestone axe

Rough-hewed tools were created at first like the hand axe but as people learned how to craft stone, the points became finer and spears and lance heads were created. It wasn’t long before the advent of a very primitive bow that allowed them to shoot longer distances and made it easier to hunt game.

As nomadic people settle in one spot, there came the need to process grain and seeds to use in cooking. You can find many examples of these tools in museums as they were fairly large stones and well preserved.

A process was used of a large stone on the bottom, putting the grain or maize on the stone and then taking a smaller stone, rubbing it over the top, to crush the grains below.

stone grinderSource

Carrying and Storing Food

They needed a way of carrying our food and storing it to last during times of drought and hardship. Leaves would have been one of the first containers or a piece of bark or a hollowed out piece of wood.

As people became more adapted, they would have created leather bags to carry food and leave their hands free for hunting and gathering.

Basket weaving also came into existence around 26,000 years ago which allowed people to store and carry larger quantities of food.

Pottery can be dated back to 20,000 years ago and some of the oldest examples have been found in china. This not only gave people a way to store food, but it could also be used for cooking and carrying water.

Shelters and Homes

The earliest known shelters were caves either natural or carved into the rock. People would gather together in a clan or family and keep them warm with a fire at the entrance.

As people started living away from the mountains and onto the plains a different shelter was needed.

 Japanese archaeologists have uncovered the remains of what is believed to be the world’s oldest artificial structure, on a hillside at Chichibu, north of Tokyo. The shelter would have been built by an ancient ancestor of humans, Homo erectus, who is known to have used stone tools. The site has been dated to half a million years ago, according to a report in New Scientist. It consists of what appear to be 10 post holes, forming two irregular pentagons which may be the remains of two huts. Thirty stone tools were also found scattered around the site.  Source

Decoration and Adornment

Even as early as 400,000 BC, humans were using pigments to draw and paint on themselves and the walls of their home. Cave paintings can still be found today as well as the tool used to grind the paint into powder so it could be mixed with water.

The paint consisted mainly of iron oxide and ochres. Minerals that could be found in the earth. It wasn’t until much later that the colors started being traded and blue and purples were considered royal colors as only royalty could afford them.

Along with the paints came the invention of the paint brush, which was made from the hair of animals attached to a stick or bone. This allowed them to be more creative with their paintings.


Tally Stick

What we take for granted today such as a computer, the ability to add and subtract and keep track of items, early man had to devise a way to do the same. They developed what was called the tally stick. This stick (usually an animal bone) was inscribed with notches and divots which are believed to be the first ever form of legal transactions. It was also used for messaging and scheduling.


Most of the clothes that we wear today are made out of woven materials but did you know that the first cloth ever discovered has been dated as far back as 7000 BC? This was about 3500 years before Stonehenge was even built just to give some perspective.

Archeologists digging at the site in southern Turkey, a place known today as Cayonu (pronounced chi-O-noo), have found a fragment of white cloth wrapped around the handle of a tool made from antler. The material, about 1 1/2 by 3 inches, was preserved because it was semi-fossilized from contact with calcium in the antler. It is probably a piece of linen, woven from the fibers of the flax plant.

Dr. Robert Braidwood, professor emeritus of archeology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and co-director of the Cayonu excavations, announced the discovery yesterday, saying the cloth had been dated at 7000 B.C. by radiocarbon testing. Although clay impressions of textiles of about the same age have been uncovered before in the region, no other piece of prehistoric cloth produced earlier than 6000 to 6500 B.C. had been found anywhere in the world. Source


With having to hunt and forage for food and build shelters to survive, it’s hard to imagine that they would have time for entertainment. And yet… a flute was once of the first known instruments to make it through the centuries. One of the oldest found is made from a vulture’s wing bone and had 5 holes.


Rope was made by twisting together plant fibers or animal hair or guts and was used to hold things together and carry items. Much the same way we use rope today.

Egyptians were the first known people to actually create tools to make ropes out of reed fibers. These ropes were very strong and allowed them to haul rocks up to build the pyramids.

End Of An Era

As we leave the Paleolithic period, humans have already set in place inventions that we still use in the world today. Basic skills and tools that made their lives easier were constantly being improved upon as they became more skilled in the process.

At this point in time, some of the people on earth were starting into agriculture and getting away from the nomadic lifestyle.

They domesticated sheep and a whole new set of inventions were needed which leads me to the next phase… the Neolithic period.