Stone Age Kids: What a Life!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

August 2006

No school! Lots of time to play. Hang out with your buddies. No dress code! Could that have been what a kid's life was like a few thousand generations ago?

It's a common misperception that life in the Stone Age was short and miserable and that those folks were constantly on the brink of starvation. This is simply not true. Fossil studies show that persons who lived tens of thousands of years ago, wandering in small bands of 20 or 30 individuals, were taller and stronger than the great majority of us today. Life was not as short as you might think but life expectancy was, because a high infant mortality skewed that number downward. In fact, about 10 percent of them made it past the age of 60 years.

How about those children who made it beyond those precarious few days after birth? For two years or more they drank breastmilk that protected them from infections and provided them with better nourishment than modern infant formulas do.

The relationship between mother and infant became so fine-tuned in the course of a couple of million years of evolution that breastmilk changes from day to day as the baby grows and requires different nutrients. Modern infant formula is one-recipe-fits-all. When the time came for weaning they readily accepted whatever foods mom provided. No picky eaters here; they had gotten used to various food flavors that came through in breastmilk. They also watched what others in their group ate and imitated them.

If you've ever watched kittens, cubs or puppies tumble and chase each other in play, you're seeing them engage in instinctive behavior. What seems like play is actually conditioning for hunting and fighting. Should it be any surprise that humans do the same, especially male humans? Back in the Stone Age these play situations helped youngsters to develop strength, skills and strategy, the traits that would help them to survive. Slow learners didn't survive the real situations and they didn't pass on those sluggish genes. Keep that in mind the next time your kids — both the boys and girls — fight over toys or territory or for no obvious reason at all. You wouldn't want them to go out into the real world without practice, would you?

The few remaining hunter-gatherer societies that still exist on the planet mirror what life was like 100,000 or more years ago. Young children walk a lot as they tag along with mom in her food-gathering forays. By the time they reach their teens the boys have had hundreds of hours practicing hunting skills. Back in the Stone Age they needed to get good at providing food at an early age. Their fathers and uncles stood about a 50-50 chance of getting killed in a fight with another human or in an encounter with an animal that outmatched them.

Just like their Stone Age counterparts, present-day hunter-gatherer girls are strong-boned, having had lots of physical activity since toddlerhood. Their diet, high in green leafy vegetables, supplies all the calcium they need in a form that is better absorbed than the calcium in milk. In the United States, most adolescent girls are setting themselves up for middle-age osteoporosis. Very few of them get enough regular physical activity or enough calcium during the critical bone-building years to build a strong skeleton.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at