What did Stone Age People Eat and Drink?

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  • 0:04 The Stone Age
  • 1:35 The Stone Age Diet
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Human life was much different during the period known as the Stone Age. If you want to learn more about the lives of humans during this period, this lesson is for you. In this lesson, we'll learn about the kinds of food that humans ate during the Stone Age.

The Stone Age

If you travelled back in time 2.5 million years ago, the lifestyles of our ancestors would pose stark contrasts to our lives today. From this time to about 4000 years ago, our ancestors used stone tools for weapons and survival, which is why we call this period the Stone Age. It was very cold during this time period as well, as much of the earth's water was frozen, exposing more land than is visible today. For these reasons, much of the Stone Age period is also called the Ice Age.

As humans advanced in their technology and understanding of the world around them, both mankind and their tools developed during three distinct periods of the Stone Age. The Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age) began around 2.5 million years ago and ended about 11,000 years ago. This part of the Stone Age was known for its simple stone tools as well as the first cave drawings.

The second part of the Stone Age is called the Mesolithic Era (Middle Stone Age), and it began around 11,000 years ago and lasted until around the end of the Ice Age, roughly 9,000 years ago. The earth began to warm up more, leading to less exposed land due to the melting of the glaciers.

The last part of the Stone Age, called the Neolithic Era (New Stone Age), began roughly around 9,000 tp 7,000 BCE and marked the start of a revolutionary new way of life. For the first time, mankind began to farm and domesticate animals for food and labor. This change in human behavior was called the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution.

The Stone Age Diet

Much has been made in recent years of the new fad diet trend called the Paleo Diet, characterized by foods that are non-processed for a more holistic and natural lifestyle. However, there are many aspects of this Paleo Diet that our Stone Age counterparts did not enjoy.

Neanderthals & Cro-Magnons

During much of the Paleolithic Era, Neanderthals still existed, and they had much larger bodies than modern humans have, and thus would have needed a diet that was richer in proteins and carbohydrates in order to navigate their painstaking, energy consuming lives. Toward the end of the Paleolithic Era, the Neanderthals died out and were replaced by Cro-Magnons, which were more like modern humans, but still had larger bodies in much the same way as their Neanderthal counterparts. Their jaws and foreheads were much more pronounced than ours are today, and their bodies were also much larger and muscular (and therefore, in need of the same protein-rich diet).


Much of the diet of humans who lived in the Stone Age and the Ice Age would have been dependent on the areas in which they lived. Farming was not done until the Neolithic Era, so Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons would have been what were called hunter-gatherers, or nomads who followed the animals they subsisted on as they migrated due to weather and mating habits. As animals migrated, humans wouldn't have been far behind. The animals would have been used for not only meat but also for clothing.

Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons would have also eaten the berries and fruits that were in season as they migrated along with the animals. There were, however, no grain foods to eat, like wheat, sorghum, or barley, as these foods would have needed cultivation. Grain foods did become prevalent during the Neolithic Era, but during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic Eras they would have been a non-staple food.

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