History of the World According to the Movies: Part 1- Introduction and Prehistory


Believe it or not, as much as 10,000 BC might be criticized for inaccuracy, it’s actually true that many extinctions of these large prehistoric mammals may very well be attributed to early man hunting them. However, they probably weren’t hunting saber tooths (especially one by that size in Africa) and mammoths by 10,000 BC though and not with that weapon.

Movies are great teaching tools when it comes to history but sometimes they teach us the wrong lessons and give us an erroneous perception about the past. Though many of the events depicted in the film may have happened and the people might have existed, filmmakers often make a mistake or two. Sometimes it’s the presentation such as the costumes. Sometimes it’s history in general. And like it or not, there are people who tend to believe what they see in movies. In the next several days  I list clichés and inaccuracies present in movies that take place at another time. I’m listing things I see in movies that pertain to more serious films that are meant to shape our perception of history not movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Blazing Saddles or period pieces by Quentin Tarantino because these were only made for entertainment and not meant to be taken seriously. I don’t include biopic much unless they are about someone historically significant. I also don’t include fantasy and science fiction films because most of them are told as myths and aren’t meant to conform to historic accuracy. I mean 2001: A Space Odyssey may be totally historically inaccurate but at the time it was written and made (in the 1960s) 2001 was the future. However, I do include westerns and literary adaptations, older movies set in their contemporary settings, and maybe the occasional animated flick or movies based on religion and mythology.

My first post on movie history is prehistoric times from human evolution to the invention of writing like around 2 million years ago to about 3000 B. C. E. (or before a civilization had records) because history ain’t history until it’s written down. Of course, this would include prehistoric mammals, cavemen, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age as well as the invention of many things we take for granted like fire, houses, cities, architecture, agriculture, clothes, tools, art, the wheel, religion, weapons, trade, and a bunch of other things. What we know about Prehistory usually comes from archaeological and paleoantrhopological evidence, which is incomplete. In many ways, there could never be a truly historically accurate movie on Prehistoric man because we really don’t know much about them since they didn’t write things down. However, this doesn’t mean that there are glaring inaccuracies in them which would make any prehistory expert cry.

Early humans looked and acted very much like we did as well as had language and had their hair in similar styles. However, they ate their meat raw until they discovered fire. (Contrary to what Caveman says {which is a parody but still illustrates the inaccuracy}, fire was discovered by Homo erectus at least around 1 million years ago {which was way before the evolution of modern humans}, so cavemen looking like Ringo Starr would’ve been very familiar with the technology.)

Cavemen were predominantly white and existed as one species. (Well, the earliest modern humans probably weren’t Caucasian looking when they first came to Europe from Africa {which says alot about the other humans which certainly weren’t either since they came from Africa where a light skin human being without much body hair would be at an evolutionary disadvantage}. Actually, race is more a of a social construct than a scientific one so let’s leave it at that. Still, most cavemen in movies are usually portrayed by white actors. However, early homo sapiens certainly did exist with human species for awhile.)

Early humans wore animal skins as well as made jewelry out of their bones. Animal parts were used as musical instruments. The fact that they didn’t farm and wore things like that proves that they were uncivilized creatures. They also fought with each other over women that the treated as objects as well as had monosyllabic names. (Archaeological evidence suggests that cave men were anything but brutes and morons.)

A Stone Age diet usually consisted of meat and any vegetation that was gathered. And it was the hunters who contributed to most of the meal. (In reality it was the gatherers who contributed more as well as started agriculture. Oh, yeah, they also consumed grain though I’m not sure about dairy products.)

Neanderthals were hunchbacked, chinless, knuckle-draggers. (This was based on one of the first complete Neanderthal skeletons found, which was of a man over sixty years old suffering from bone wastage and arthritis. They actually looked more like us though they wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests.)

Neanderthals couldn’t speak. (They could, just not like us.)

The Iron Age had superior tools and weapons than the Bronze Age did. (Iron has some properties that make it more useful than bronze such as the grain allowed for sharpening, it was used as a poor man’s substitute for Bronze and that the collapse of the Bronze Age was due to the loss of trade routes which were their only source of tin. Also, iron was cheaper to produce. And before iron, most people used copper since bronze was expensive.)

Cavemen invented the wheel and originally used it for transportation. (The wheel was invented in Mesopotamia in 6000-3200 B.C. E. and its initial use was for grinding grain and would be it’s only use for two or three millennia. Also, by that time, humans were already out of caves and living in fixed settlements by then.)

Dinosaurs coexisted with humans. (For God’s sake, they most certainly did not. Dinosaurs were already extinct for millions of years by the time humans came in.)

Early man hunted prehistoric animals. (This is true, which may have caused extinction of several animals {yet the Dinofelis pictured wasn’t one of them having gone extinct 1.3 million years ago and the Smildon maybe, but only by Native American Indians}. However, they also hunted animals we’d be familiar with like deer. Actually they’d hunt almost anything.)

Egyptians used mammoths to build the Pyramids. (Actually they built the Pyramids closer to 2500 B. C. E. {which is in a whole different era} and the mammoths were very much extinct by then. Not to mention, mammoths were never domesticated, ever.)

Prehistoric women wore fur bikinis. (Whether this is true or not, odds are many prehistoric women certainly wouldn’t look like Raquel Welch around a million years ago. Actually many prehistoric women didn’t even bother covering their saggy breasts, especially if they were nursing babies.)

Prehistoric humans = cavemen. (This is true but only to a point. Most of the familiar imagery of prehistory usually do revolve around cavemen, but this eras spans beyond the Stone Age. Prehistoric humans would eventually move away from that kind of lifestyle in the advent of agriculture. Of course, many Prehistoric humans would have civilization of some sort, just not in 10,000 B.C.E.)

Prehistoric women had no body hair or ever cut themselves shaving their legs. (Chances are Prehistoric women would be much hairier than women today {including those who don’t shave at all}. And if Prehistoric women did shave {which I highly doubt}, they would’ve used a jagged rock.)

Prehistoric women were well made up and had perfect teeth. (Most cosmetics available were clay and crushed berries. And don’t get me started on dental care.)

Prehistoric men wore leopard skins and had bulging muscles. (For God’s sake, most Prehistoric men didn’t look like Tarzan. Nor they were scrawny looking either. I mean these guys weren’t attractive by modern beauty standards.)

Prehistoric humans were larger or just as big as their modern counterparts and stronger, too. (The vast majority were actually smaller. The degree of strength is actually debatable.)

Some Prehistoric Europeans had blue eyes and blond hair. (The genetic mutation for blue eyes existed 6-8,000 years ago at the earliest. And fair hair didn’t exist until 12,000 B. C. E.)

Prehistoric humans ate corn and chili peppers. (In the Americas maybe since they did exist in Pre-Columbian times, but not anywhere else before the 1500s.)

Prehistoric humans had horseback riding, ships, and steel around 10,000 B. C. E. (Horse domestication didn’t exist until 4000 B. C. E. {though horses were hunted and eaten} yet by 10,000 B.C.E there has been evidence of using dogs, pigs, and reindeer in a domestic atmosphere. Metalworking didn’t exist until 7500-5500 B. C. E. {with the earliest metal tools being made in copper}. Sailing didn’t exist until 4000 B. C. E.)

Prehistoric humans had cities around 10,000 B.C.E. (For God’s sake the first complex cities didn’t spring up until around 4000 B. C. E.  though Jericho might’ve existed by then but only as a hunter-gatherer settlement and there was a mammoth bone village in Ukraine from 18,000 to 12,000 years ago. Also, 10,000 B. C. E. would’ve when humans discovered agriculture.)

Humans had contact with large “terror birds.” (The birds were indigenous in the Americas and had gone extinct 1.8 million years ago.)

Prehistoric man used bows and and elaborate spear points for hunting as early as 10,000 B. C. E. (Bows and elaborate spear points weren’t used for hunting around that time {though humans had been hunting with stone tools for thousands of years prior}. Humans wouldn’t use elaborate spear points {those were ceremonial} though they may have hunted with bows and arrows {existing since 30,000 years ago} and spears.)

Cavemen walked crouched down like apes. (Prehistoric humans mostly walked upright since Homo habilis.)

Prehistoric men shaved their faces. (We really don’t know whether they did or not or whether beard styles varied from tribe to tribe.)

Prehistoric humans used telescopes and maps on papyrus in 10,000 B. C. E. (Telescopes weren’t invented until the 1600s, moron. Also, maps weren’t invented before writing and papyrus didn’t come around until 2650 B.C. E.)

Cro-Magnon hunted mammoth with a net. (They may have hunted mammoth but there’s no evidence it was with a net {they did have nets at the time}. Though absence of one doesn’t mean they didn’t.)

Cavemen lived in caves. (Well, we assume many did because they were nomadic but they had other kinds of shelter. Of course, very early man lived in trees or under them. The earliest house in archaeological record was found in the Czech Republic is dated to have been built 25,000 years ago. Rock shelters have been found in India with artwork possibly done by Homo erectus and dating between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago. Also, wooden buildings were said to have been erected in South America as early as 11,500 B. C. E. to 10,000 B. C. E. Oh, and pit residences weren’t uncommon either.)

Cavemen dragged chose their mates by bonking their chosen women on the head and dragging them by the hair. (Well, marriage by kidnapping was the norm at the time {it’s the earliest marriage ritual to be exact}. However, dragging a woman by the hair wouldn’t have been a good idea. Chances are a wife seeking caveman probably had his band helping him and possibly the familial approval of the woman in question. Heck, there may even be cavewomen who were kidnapped by their husbands on their own accord.)

Stonehenge was built in Prehistoric times. (It’s said to have been constructed around the same time as the Pyramids {at least the main part of it has}. Not to mention, there may have been some variations of it before then so it’s not 100% inaccurate but not really historically true.)

Hunter-gatherers lived a life of labor and near starvation. (Their diet was said to be healthier than ours and food was plentiful and didn’t take much work to get. Agricultural work was far more difficult and humans only became farmers because the hunter-gatherer lifestyle wasn’t able to support a large population. Agriculture also gave rise to all kinds of diseases and tooth decay as well as social inequality.)

Cavemen had to constantly worry about falling prey to a vicious Prehistoric monster. (Sometimes they had, especially in the early years of human evolution. More modern humans pretty much were the monsters for they were responsible for some extinctions of prehistoric animals.)

Neanderthals lived in what is now North Texas around 33,000 B. C. E. (Neanderthals never lived in North America. However, there may nor may not have been humans in the Americas around 35,000 years ago. However, I don’t think you’re going to find an early man in Encino, California any time soon, especially one that looks like Brendan Fraser.)