But, of course, mainstream academia is dominated by Darwinian thinking, so the idea that prehistoric humanity is dimwitted and unsophisticated fits in well with the Darwinian concept that humanity has been consistently 'evolving' and progressing over the years.
But there is plenty of evidence to suggest even some prehistoric humans were sophisticated and intelligent.
Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, for instance, appears to be an 11,000 year old temple complex. Supposedly, 11,000 years ago, people were still supposed to be hunter-gatherers that had no system of writing. So how is it that prehistoric humans were able to build a megalithic temple in what is now modern Turkey? Here's an excerpt from a Smithsonian article about the site:
Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.
"Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides.
Moving ten ton stones and elaborate carvings? Not bad for hunter gatherers, huh? Sometimes signs of prehistoric sophistication just seem to pop up out of nowhere. Even the sophisticated civilization of ancient Egypt, though it may not be considered prehistoric, seems to have just sprouted up out of nowhere on the archaeological time scale. What were its origins? How did the ancient Egyptians go from being hunter-gatherers to megalithic builders so quickly? And how did the people of ancient Turkey manage to do that thousands of years earlier?
There are other signs of sophistication in the prehistoric world though; some much older than the temple at Gobekli Tepe. It's often been said that writing first developed in ancient Sumeria around the 4th century BC, but art, and possibly even written communication, existed earlier than that.
For instance, rock art dated to be around 7500 years old has been found in Baja California. Read more about that in a National Geographic article here.
An article in the Globe and Mail reports that a graphic code uncovered by researchers at the University of Victoria suggests that written communication may have existed in France 30,000 years ago. Read that article here.
But there is more evidence of sophistication in prehistoric times than just art and written communication. Tools dated to be 40,000 years old have been found as far south as Tasmania (read more about that here), but prehistoric humans weren't just making stone tools. Ivory carved figurines dated to be at least 33,000 years old have been found in Germany in a cave called Hohle Fels (read more about that here). One figurine, called the Venus of Hohle Fels, may be a representation of some sort of fertility goddess, suggesting the figurines may have been idols.
Figurines were not all that was found at Hohle Fels though, a flute was also found. The flute, according to a report in a New York Times article, is at least 35,000 years old. So not only were prehistoric humans carving figurines in Germany, it seems they also had an appreciation for music.
Prehistoric humans in Germany may have been playing music, but according to a report in the Guardian, Neanderthals in Spain may have been concerned about their appearance 50,000 years ago. Here's an excerpt of that report:
For decades, our low-browed Neanderthal cousins have been portrayed as dim savages whose idea of seduction was a whispered "ug" and a blow to the cranium.
But analysis of pierced, hand-coloured shells and lumps of pigment from two caves in south-east Spain suggests the cavepeople who stomped around Europe 50,000 years ago were far more intelligent – and cosmetically minded – than previously thought.
In 1985, archaeologists excavating the Cueva de los Aviones in Murcia found cockle shells perforated as if to be hung on a necklace and an oyster shell containing mineral pigments, hinting that the cave's Neanderthal residents had developed a taste for self-adornment and makeup.
Ok, so some prehistoric humans enjoyed art, music, were concerned about their appearance, and some apparently knew how to build megaliths. But what about travel? I've written before about people who may have visited the Americas long before Columbus did, but there is evidence of seafaring people even in prehistoric times. Prehistoric tools found on Crete indicate that seafaring people reached the island at least 130,000 years ago, according to a report in the New York Times. Here's an excerpt from that article:
Early humans, possibly even prehuman ancestors, appear to have been going to sea much longer than anyone had ever suspected.
That is the startling implication of discoveries made the last two summers on the Greek island of Crete. Stone tools found there, archaeologists say, are at least 130,000 years old, which is considered strong evidence for the earliest known seafaring in the Mediterranean and cause for rethinking the maritime capabilities of prehuman cultures.
Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say. Previous artifact discoveries had shown people reaching Cyprus, a few other Greek islands and possibly Sardinia no earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
The oldest established early marine travel anywhere was the sea-crossing migration of anatomically modern Homo sapiens to Australia, beginning about 60,000 years ago. There is also a suggestive trickle of evidence, notably the skeletons and artifacts on the Indonesian island of Flores, of more ancient hominids making their way by water to new habitats.
Even more intriguing, the archaeologists who found the tools on Crete noted that the style of the hand axes suggested that they could be up to 700,000 years old. That may be a stretch, they conceded, but the tools resemble artifacts from the stone technology known as Acheulean, which originated with prehuman populations in Africa.So even in prehistoric times, there is evidence of sophisticated and intelligent humans. I think archaeologists would do well to look for potential underwater excavation sites in areas that were once above water during the last ice age (I've written about that before here). I think the prehistoric world may have been a much more interesting and sophisticated time, compared to what we've been taught it was like by mainstream academia and popular culture.