Scientists believe that early humans crossed the Bering Straits into what is now called Alaska about 20,000 years ago. Somewhat taller and more robust than their earlier counterparts, these humans had to concern themselves with keeping warm. They built sturdy huts (from animal hides wrapped around strong posts, bound together with sinew) with central hearths for winter quarters, made innovations in stitching their garments (bone needles with eyes in them, for instance) from animal skin and developed new methods of weaving cloth and better methods of tanning skins. In the summer, they followed the
herds and lived in easily moved tents.
As with their predecessors, the daily life of the Ice Age human centered primarily around the hunt. Game was plentiful and varied – large game birds, mammoths, caribou and bison flourished. It was at about this time that the bow and arrow was developed, allowing for greater flexibility in the hunt.
A more socialized tribal structure was developing. Art and story telling are said to have flourished, and items such as beads, shells and small carvings were used to barter for items, much in the manner
of modern currency. Based on some artifacts found, it seems religion also began to develop – carved female figurines known as “Venus figures” hint at Earth or Goddess worship.
The Ice Age human’s day began before sun-up. As with his predecessors, he shared hunting responsibilities with others of his tribe. The few not out hunting for the day would remain behind to
help protect the women and children from predators (bears and saber-toothed cats chief among them), to tan hides, cure meat, and assist in repairing huts. Others were responsible for making tools, spears, bows and arrows.
While the men were out hunting, women foraged for wild grains (such as wheat and barley), root vegetables (such as yams and wild potatoes) and assorted berries and nuts. They were also responsible for catching small animals (squirrels and hares) to help supplement the diet of the tribe. Like the men, they divided the labor – some women would forage, others would see to catching small prey, others would remain behind to mind the children and dogs (who were becoming domesticated around this time), grind flour for unleavened bread, cook, weave cloth from plants such as nettles, and sew garments and boots. Evidence indicates that nets and ropes were also made, to aid in the capture of small prey and in the catching of fish in coastal communities.
Tasks alternated daily to help provide a fair division of labor.
The hunters typically returned shortly before sundown with their catches, which were immediately skinned and cleaned, and portioned out for curing or cooking. Meals were communal, and consisted of that day’s kill, as well as the nuts, fruits and vegetables gathered that day.
In the evenings, those skilled at carving would take up their tools to create beads, decorative carvings, and figurines. Evidence points to some worship rituals that included the entire tribe, perhaps a collective giving of thanks. Most members of the tribe retired to sleep shortly after sundown, exhausted by the day’s strenuous activity. Bedding consisted of furs and skins, and exhibits at Chicago’s Field Museum indicate that sleeping arrangements began including raised beds fashioned from wood and rope at about this time.