Despite the images created by popular cartoons and television commercials, we all know cavemen didn’t labor in quarries on the backs of dinosaurs 9-to-5 or dress in suits and ties like we do today.
So, what did cavemen really do for a living? Did they work all the time? What would they think of a 40-hour work week?
First, they would have needed an idea of what “work” meant. Today, we define it as “physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something.” Work must show results.
Perhaps the greatest exertion of a caveman’s week would be directed toward obtaining food. Yet researchers have found that hunting and gathering activities—the main work of nomadic clans—did not consume nearly as much of cavemen’s time as we might think.
According to Gary and Rain Klepper of Beck Natural Medicine University, Paleolithic groups of people worked together in their hunting and gathering tasks. To get enough food to eat, their “subsistence time” averaged roughly six hours a day, two days a week.
How hard would life have been if cavemen had been forced to hunt eight hours a day five days a week? They would have been tired all of the time—probably totally exhausted—much like their modern counterparts.
For cavemen, everything that led up to a hunt was preparation. Our ancestors probably spent a couple of hours a week preparing their spears. They had practice spears and spears for the hunt, all of which had to be sharp.
It’s also likely that they spent time pretending and practicing for hunts. This might be the time that the grown men involved the boys of a certain age in the training.
It was work, sure, but it was fun work—which boils down to what we like to call “play.” Imagine the pouncing, sneaking and throwing that went on. There was laughter, healthy competition and lots of learning.
Another tradition of ancient people was storytelling. Some might argue that relating stories isn’t working, but in their way it was a form of education.
They would be handing down techniques, methods, cautions and insights. This was how the cavemen did a lot of their teaching—a very enjoyable form of work.
So our idea of working 40 hours a week would be very different from theirs. Their lives included no clock punching, no hourly wages and no paychecks, but they still got the job done. And no matter how they measured time spent working, it’s a good bet their lives were quite full 24/7.
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