Prehistoric times are a particularly murky spot in the pool of human history. Still, we all have at least some idea of what went down back then: hulking, fur-clad cavemen bashing their prey (and each other) with massive clubs, attempting to invent essentials such as agriculture and the wheel on the side.
Of course, as always, things are a lot more complicated than we tend to assume. It turns out a lot of what we think we know about prehistory is brought to us by Hollywood and Geico commercials.
5Hunter-Gatherers Lived a Life of Hard Labor and Near-Starvation
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Imagine that you live in an alternate reality where the concept of agriculture doesn't exist. You're feeling slightly peckish, so you walk up to the fridge to get that delicious taco you were planning to reheat for lunch. Except that there is no taco. In fact, there is no fridge. All of that "food cultivated by others so you can eat it" stuff was brought on by agriculture, which you now have no concept of. You're a hunter-gatherer: What you have is a spear, and your lunch is somewhere in that forest to your left. Bon appetit!
Yes, at the hunter-gatherer stage of human history, getting groceries sucked giant mammoth balls. You were forced to eat what you could find and/or kill, which led to an unholy amount of dangerous work, not to mention relatively poor nutrition and health. Meanwhile, the tribes that had figured out how to grow their own food were thriving and living large until everyone finally started doing it their way.
"Not going to lie, kind of miss the killing."
The dawn of farming actually made our ancestors' lives far more difficult.
We're not debating the merits of agriculture: It's what enabled humans to settle down, and by extension it's the sole reason you're able to sit in a roofed building reading this article. Still, there is some evidence that prehistoric people actually had a great time being hunter-gatherers. Their "meat and vegetables" diet was in fact very varied and healthy, and obtaining food was no biggie: Tribes living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle today only "work" around 14 hours a week. Compare this to the back-breaking labor of keeping livestock and making things grow, and you'll see why no prehistoric person in their right mind would have voluntarily touched a plow.
Some theories indicate that farming was, in fact, invented out of desperation. The lax schedule of prehistoric hunter-gatherers left them plenty of time to sit around and bone, which in turn led to an expanding population and not enough game to feed them all. Boom! Agriculture or death by starvation, baby!
Had they figuratively "worked their plows" and "tilled their fields," they wouldn't have had to do it literally.
The first farmers soon found out that although agriculture did provide food, manual labor was far more grueling than the relatively bohemian lifestyle hunter-gatherers enjoyed back when food was abundant. This showed in their build: Compared to the big, meat-fed hunter types, agricultural people were a small and bony folk. It wasn't just because of all the hard work, either: Early farmed food was the kind of muck Taco Bell would hesitate to offer its customers, since early herders had no goddamned idea what they were doing in terms of breeding. This, combined with the fact that livestock lived practically under the same roof as their human owners, led to a number of animal diseases becoming more prevalent and figuring out how to jump from animals to people.
"Uh, STDs too ..."
The food the farmers were growing wasn't much better: The sugary grains agricultural societies fed on started decaying their teeth.
Incidentally, the dawn of farming also messed up our relationship with our fellow man: It marked the start of social inequality. Tribal hunter-gatherers had to work together in order to obtain food, so they were all more or less equal. This egalitarian attitude went right down the toilet the second one farmer had enough surplus crop to hire others to do the bullshit manual labor for him. As this trend continued and societies evolved into larger and larger groups, these boss/subordinate roles escalated to the point where we suddenly had kings and slaves.