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The First Humans
A Reading Comprehension Passage by Common Core Texts

There are many ways to study the peoples of the past. We can look at the cities they left behind. We can read the texts they wrote. But studying the earliest humans can be harder. This is because the first humans did not leave behind great cities or complex texts. So how can we learn about our earliest ancestors? The answer is hidden underground.

The first humans left behind artifacts. Artifacts are human-made objects. They help us to make guesses about the lives of early humans. They are like pieces of a puzzle. These puzzles pieces can be found under the soil. They are our window into humanity’s beginnings.

Human life began during a time period known as the Paleolithic Era. It was a period of time beginning 2.5 million years ago and ending around 10,000 years ago. The word “Paleolithic” means “old stone.” The “old stones” are the stone tools that were used during this time period. About ninety-nine percent of human history took place during the Paleolithic Era.

During the Paleolithic Era, humans did not stay in one place growing food and raising animals. They were hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers are humans who wander from place to place in search of food. They gathered the plants they found and hunted wild animals.

Simple tools helped early humans to survive. Early humans used tools such as spears, knives, and harpoons to hunt megafauna. Megafauna are very large animals. Over time, these hunting tools became better. One example is the atlatl, a wooden rod with a hook at one end. The atlatl was used to throw spears great distances. It appeared some 30,000 years ago and was an improved version of a spear.

Along with stone and wood, tools were also made of bone and antler. These softer materials were good for shaping into sewing needles. Even plants were used to make tools. As early as 34,000 years ago, dried plants were wrapped into strands to make rope. By the end of the Paleolithic era, humans had created tools to start fires, catch fish, and create clothing.

Over time, the tools left behind by humans became more and more complex. Humans began to create tools that were used to make other tools. For example, they made wooden spear straighteners and arrowhead sharpeners from antlers. By the end of the Paleolithic Era, humans were using tools to create cave paintings, rock art, and jewelry. But some 10,000 years ago, a new category of tool appeared: the farming tool. This marked the start of a new era in human history. It is known as the Neolithic, or “New Stone” Era.


Artifacts: human-made objects, often discovered and studied by archaeologists
Paleolithic Era: the earliest time period of human history
Hunter-Gatherers: people who wandered from place to place in search of food
Megafauna: very large animals
Neolithic Era: the period of human history during which humans developed farming

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